April 01, 2005
| by Lisa Montgomery
How’s the view at your house? If you’re lucky enough to own a slice of heaven by the lake, the mountains, a city skyline or rolling flower-covered meadows, the landscape outside is probably one of your home’s best features. If you were smart, you probably lined the exterior of your house with plenty of large windows to take advantage of the eye candy.
But as great as those windows are at capturing the view, there will be times when you’ll want to cover them up. When you’re watching a movie, for example, you’ll want to close the drapes to prevent sunlight from washing out the bright, beautiful picture on your new big-screen TV. When you’re strolling around in your robe after a shower, you’ll probably want to pull the shades shut for privacy. And when the morning sun is baking the backside of your new couch, you’ll want the shutters closed so that the UV rays won’t fade the crimson fabric into a hideous shade of pink.
Window coverings are good for other reasons, too. They can help keep your house warm during the winter and cool during the summer, and they can add a touch of elegance to the interior design. So as much as you might hate to lose even an inch of the view, in many homes, hanging shades, drapes and blinds simply makes good sense.
Some homeowners have made the best of the situation by buying window treatments that can be controlled electronically. The fabric—be it a heavy-duty shade or a flimsy decorative sheer—is attached to a standard-looking rod, roller or track that has a small motor built in. When this motor is triggered, it moves the fabric over the window. A handheld remote is commonly used to activate the motor, which means you can simply press a button to position the window treatments instead of having to tug them into place manually. “Having that kind of control is a huge convenience, particularly in larger homes,” says home systems installer Jan Vitrofsky of HED South, based in Hollywood, FL.
Convenience is a good reason to outfit your home with electronically controlled window coverings. But recently, manufacturers, home systems installers and lighting designers have started to focus on the importance of these types of treatments to the overall lighting effect of a room. It’s fairly easy to see the connection between natural light (sunlight) and artificial light: The more sunlight a room receives, the less you may need to use the light fixtures to illuminate the space. On the flip side, when there’s less sunlight available, you may want the room lights at their brightest levels. “It’s all about achieving a pleasing balance,” says Gary Meshberg, director of marketing for Lightolier Controls, a manufacturer of residential lighting systems. “When the light is balanced, the entire room looks better.”
The problem is that most people don’t have the time or the patience to fiddle around with the window shades and dimmer switches to get the right look. That’s why lighting control manufacturers and controllable shading manufacturers have teamed up to develop solutions that coordinate the positions of the shades with the intensity of the lights. When a room’s lights and shades are in sync, some pretty amazing things can happen. For example, at the press of a button, a good morning command could simultaneously raise the shades and brighten the lights in the bathroom. Later, you could tap away to turn off all the lights and close all the window treatments while your family is at work and school. It’s even possible to have the shades and lights adjust automatically according to the position of the sun.
One of the first lighting control manufacturers to branch off into the shading business was Lutron Electronics. In 2001, the company’s flagship HomeWorks lighting control system was engineered to communicate seamlessly with motorized window treatments from Vimco. Before long, Lutron purchased Vimco and began selling shades as a complement to its lighting solutions. Today, Lutron manufactures its own controllable roller and Roman shades in a variety of fabrics and colors, as well as motorized tracks for draperies. The move into the window-covering business differentiated Lutron from other lighting control manufacturers and helped establish shading as an important element of a home’s overall lighting scheme.
A few of Lutron’s lighting control competitors have also jumped on the shading bandwagon. LiteTouch, Vantage and Lightolier may not offer their own line of window treatments like Lutron does, but they still make it very easy for homeowners to purchase products that work hand in hand with their lighting systems. “We thought of creating our own window treatments, but why do that when there are companies like MechoShade that have been making them for years?” says Vantage vice president of sales Bob Long. As part of a marketing relationship with MechoShade, Vantage dealers recommend MechoShade’s Soliel brand of window treatments to homeowners. Lightolier has formed a similar alliance with Somfy and AMShade. Thanks to these partnerships, homeowners can get both a lighting control system and controllable window treatments from one source and know that the systems are going to work together without a hitch.
LiteTouch, meanwhile, has chosen to pair up with Solar Shading. Unlike MechoShade and Lutron, which offer a preconfigured line of window treatments, Solar Shading designs motorized rollers and tracks to fit any brand or style of shades and draperies a homeowner might choose. That way, the LiteTouch dealer only needs to worry about designing the lighting control system, which is his forte, explains Paul Self, national sales manager at Solar Shading. If a homeowner is interested in being able to control her shades through a LiteTouch keypad, a Solar Shading salesperson is called in to handle the selection of the window coverings.
Seeing the Light
Manufacturers and home systems installers are convinced that natural light deserves a role in any home’s lighting scheme. Lighting designers, however, aren’t completely sold on the concept. “I tend to look at every room as a black box,” says Monty Gilbertson of Lighting Design by Wettstein, based in Lacrosse, WI. “Mother Nature is the best source of UV rays and other vitamins, but it can really throw off lighting [in a home].” For this reason, many lighting designers view motorized draperies more as a way to block out the sun than as a way to illuminate a space. Dark rooms are where lighting designers’ artistry comes to life as accent lights pick up the details of a piece of artwork and sconces play up the color and texture of a wall. Sunlight, many believe, would only minimize the impact.
Although the aesthetic value of window coverings to a lighting design is questionable, there’s no doubt that they can enhance your lifestyle in many ways. They can preserve your privacy, protect your furnishings from sun damage, prevent glare from interfering with the picture on the TV screen and help maintain a consistent indoor temperature. Oh ... and don’t forget about their ability to reveal that awesome view at the press of a button.
Why Buy Controllable Window Treatments?
- They can protect furnishings from harmful UV rays.
- They can preserve your privacy.
- They can make your house appear occupied when you’re away.
- They can reduce heat gain on sunny days.
- They can let sunlight in to help illuminate a space.
- They can complement your home’s lighting design.
- They can reveal the beautiful view outside.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.