Today's blinds and shades are not just beautiful and decorative; they also offer a variety of options in style and budget.

Although the terms blinds and shades sometimes are used interchangeably, they really are two different products. Blinds typically refer to sections or slats that are uniform in size and connected by cording or bands that are controlled by a pulley system. The slats move in concert directionally as the homeowner pulls the cording or turns the louver wand. Shades are single panels controlled by a pulley or track system, and the panels can be positioned in sections from partial to full covering of the window.

Versatile and Flexible
Blinds and shades offer design versatility as well as flexibility. Choose from vertical, horizontal, or arched and curved selections. Some can be positioned within any portion of the window frame rather than just at the top or bottom. Add decorative elements like colored cloth tapes and valances, and you see that blinds and shades are not only suitable for any room and window in your home, they can also be personalized to accommodate your style.

New technologies in manufacturing ensure that blinds and shades resist UV rays, stand up to humidity and are child and pet friendly. For maintenance, blinds and shades respond well to a light dusting or vacuuming. However, soap and water used according to manufacturer's instructions suit for more serious cleaning.

A Variety of Styles
Today's blinds and shades come in a variety of finishes. Shades can be made in silks or canvas, solids or prints, and in a rainbow of colors. Blinds can be made in hardwoods or synthetic woods, bamboo and grasses, fabrics that are more drapery-like, vinyl or aluminum.

There are styles that fit anyone's price range. For the budget-minded do-it-yourselfer, limited ready-market sizes, colors and style choices may be just what are needed. However, if a homeowner requires a more unique look, custom and special order options will appeal aesthetically.

As you would expect, custom or special order blinds or shades cost more, but you may also expect more benefits. Shades could include privacy or room-darkening liners, for example. Or, additional fabric may be available for purchase for use with other custom accessories such as cushions or tablecloths. The window treatments of your entire room can be coordinated with your existing fine furnishings giving you the feel of a custom room designed by a professional.

Light Control
Ask whether shades or blinds give better light control and encounter a favorites debate. For room darkening, a blind may be easier to operate by positioning the slats to a precise level, but shades--particularly those of heavier composition like bamboo--may block light equally well. Blind slats may be tilted to narrow the bands of light entering a room and direct the rays toward the floor or ceiling. Conversely, shades offer the best in privacy while allowing translucent light to filter through the room. You may find that a honeycomb or pleated shade bathes the room in a subtle glow, like a candle.

Insulation and Noise Reduction
Wooden blinds and shades provide energy efficiency and some noise reduction in addition to beauty and light control. Honeycomb shades are reported to assist in energy efficiency, too, and they come in a range of colors and styles.

Before you shop for blinds or shades, make sure to write down the measurements of each window for which you need a window treatment. Then only your budget and imagination will limit you.