apartment progress: window treatments.

April 6, 2021

I’m puzzling through window treatments at the moment. Window treatments is such a funny and stuffy term, but useful, too, covering the range of shutters and curtains and blinds and shades and other things that a person might decide to use to cover up a window. Why cover a window at all, I’ve often asked, but my older and wiser, now-parent-to-three-young-children self, recognizes the practical considerations of privacy and insulation and, perhaps most pressing of all, getting kids to sleep at times when the sun might suggest it’s more fun to be doing otherwise.

The windows in this apartment are huge and I’m eternally grateful, but the sheer size of them has somewhat complicated the simple and cost effective solutions I’ve used in the past.

In our kids’ room in particular, I’m after something that’s easy to open and shut, relatively good at blocking the light from the daylight and street lamps, free of hazardous cords, and not too much of a pain to keep clean. I’m back to unicorn hunting, in other words, and pinning my hopes on finding something before we hit the summer solstice.

If I can help it, I’d love to avoid vinyl and find instead something that’s relatively gentle on both the environment and my bank account. And while I’d love to make something myself, even a DIY enthusiast has to know her limits, especially when she still hasn’t found the time to finish painting the place.

On my mind lately are simple roller shades of the kind championed by my friend and former colleague, Christine. Something that tucks out of sight and is easy to open and close without cords has real appeal these days. Roman shades are also a possibility, and easier to find without vinyl, but harder to find at a truly frugal price point.

I’m continuing my hunt, but in the meantime, here are some examples of the window treatments I’ve embraced in the past, in case they’re helpful for you or me as the sleuthing continues:

+ In my first three apartments, I nailed string to the window frames and tucked lengths of unhemmed white tablecloths found in thrift stores to cover the bottom halves of windows.

+ To help young kids get to sleep in our last apartment, I made a super simple doubled-over Linen Blackout Curtain and hung it from an iron rod and two hardware store pipe brackets.

+ In the main room, I spent years refusing to take a measurement and hanging simple white curtains from wire until I finally made very special curtains that could be removed entirely by day and hung up again by night. A mildly laborious but welcome solution for an apartment that didn’t get a ton of light.

+ On the French doors in this apartment we have a bit of a stop-gap solution in the form of a flat sheet turned into four roll-up shades, and on the windows in our back rooms, for now there’s a drop cloth cut in two and crudely sewn pockets for tension rods and good enough has been good enough in a room where nobody sleeps.

How about you? Tell me all about your genius solutions. I’m all ears and eyes.

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  • Reply Sarah April 6, 2021 at 5:11 pm

    No advice, just solidarity. Curtains are so expensive! My dad (puzzlingly) asked me to take down the curtains in my old bedroom that I had bought as a teen, so my hubs and I just used those in the four different rentals we shared over the course of about 8 years. Last summer I finally really looked for new ones, and found ones I loved through Target. They don’t really fit the frugal/eco parameters, but I hope to balance that out by using them for yearsssss. Lately I’ve been eyeing options at Saffron Marigold for other spots in the house, though I don’t think they have options that would be dark enough to fool the kids into sleeping. Good luck!

  • Reply EK April 6, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    Window coverings are truly the bane of my renter existence. Somehow always a zillion dollars when you have large/wonky windows. The cheapest solution I’ve found is Select Blinds – always on sale, has linen Roman shade options, easy to install, and they seem durable. I bet they have a vinyl-free options. But not sure how environmentally friendly they are as a company (?) and still not completely super cheap. Please share what you find, this is such a black hole!

  • Reply Rie April 6, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    In my last house I used fancy paper with imbedded leaves that was so beautiful. Used easy glue dots and glued to the bottom half of the window for privacy and left the top for light.

  • Reply mado April 6, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    My mom made at least one fabric roll up shade when I was a kid. Maybe not within your diy bandwidth but maybe you could get one made? I’ve also been wanting to make simple linen roman shades but I’m not ready to take on the sheer volume necessary in my house. the latter would need cords though. In my teen bedroom I had some fun bamboo shades but again, with cord.

  • Reply Danielle April 6, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    IKEA has linen (still close to $80) but not blackout. You could always hot glue a double layer of fabric onto the existing blinds (peels of fairly easily when you need to move out) for faux Roman blinds, and put a hook in the wall to wind the cord up onto when not in use. Finding good and cheap window treatments is soooo tricky! Why do so many basic adult things have to be so expensive??!!

  • Reply Julia April 6, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    For my bedroom in my previous apartment, I bought Roman shades from Nikki Designs — she has a shop on Etsy that shows the basic design, but more custom options on her website. She focuses on organic and natural fibers. I think they were similar in cost to something comparable from Select Blinds, not exactly cheap but tolerable. We had just the regular lining, not blackout, but they were fairly opaque. There’s also a child-safe continuous-cord option.

  • Reply Helen April 6, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    Our simple, polyester solution was cellular cordless blackout blinds. They’re not perfect but they really do keep out light, and are safe, affordable, and pretty innocuous. Certainly not my absolute dream (which I *think* would be wooden shutters on inside or outside) but working well for us at the moment in terms of managing bedtimes. Also the blackout shades definitely keep the house cool in summer!

  • Reply Katharine April 6, 2021 at 7:27 pm

    In our rental apartment, my kid’s room has a giant floor to ceiling window. Very good for train watching during the day, not so good for sleep! The cost effective solution I eventually landed on was a double curtain of black cotton burlap. Very inexpensive for a lot of yardage, relatively environmentally friendly (though prone to fading on the outer side), and the double layer keeps out a surprising amount of light. I recommend borrowing a serger to both hem the burlap and sew the tops together.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:52 am

      so smart!

  • Reply Taylor April 6, 2021 at 7:46 pm

    Full black-out curtains in my kid room and don’t forget the French rounded curtain rod so you don’t have light gaps on the sides. I’m serious about sleep! Target has sufficient options.

  • Reply Kirsten April 6, 2021 at 7:57 pm

    Currently in the mire one this one. We are moving to an old house with big windows that gets amazing light (and feel so lucky!) but my children WILL NOT SLEEP without darkness and all the curtains I’ve found online are either hideous or plastic or one million dollars or some combination of the three. Faced with three giant windows at this point it might be Target or taped up plastic bags for me 😐

    I do hope you find something amazing and that you share it here!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:51 am

      will keep you posted!

  • Reply Emily April 6, 2021 at 8:58 pm

    I’m just here to say how incredibly nice it is to hear an “influencer” (hate the label, but it’s accurate!) talk about being frugal AND eco-conscious AND tackle one simple thing. After a social media scroll filled with expensive remodels and second homes and marble floors beyond what I or most will ever be able to take on, I found myself hoping the more more fancier fancier influencer trend will be over soon. I can’t tell you how relieving and heartening it is to hear someone talk about beautifying their home in these small, doable-for-almost-everyone ways.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:50 am

      thanks so much, emily! i’m so glad to know you’re here!

  • Reply Traci April 6, 2021 at 9:00 pm

    I like to purchase the large cotton play cloths from Sarah’s silks. They come in a lot of colors and I just tack mine up on a fairly large bedroom window. Even faded it looks pretty and simple. They have one in rainbow colors, too.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:50 am

      not a solution that would work in this space, but makes for a lovely picture!

  • Reply Joy April 6, 2021 at 9:03 pm

    I also think Roman shades are the way to go, and easy to make if you don’t want to spend money on them. You can keep the cords tidy by putting a cleat in place. Also, do an outside mount and you won’t have to touch the existing blinds and will have better light coverage.

  • Reply K. April 6, 2021 at 9:08 pm

    Please keep us updated to any solutions you find! This is exactly what I’m also tackling at the moment; giant windows, a lack of eco friendly options, lots of ambient light that needs to be blocked, and a love for linen without a linen loving budget.

  • Reply Steph April 6, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    After the custom-made Home Depot cell shades got mildew that couldn’t be wiped off in my son’s room, the temporary fix I used is still holding up nicely. I had some denim fabric that I clamped to the top of the casings. During the day I just roll it up a bit and stick it under the clamp. It makes the room nice and dark when needed, doesn’t clank when it’s breezy, and I can wash it weekly as he has a dustmite allergy. Inexpensive, and I love denim anyway, so I won’t probably bother changing it.

  • Reply Rachel April 6, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    We got some navy blackout curtains from Ikea when baby arrived and hemmed them, no strings, just pull the curtain itself open or close. Helps him nap and go to bed before the sun goes down! The vertical blinds in our rental that I hate we just keep tucked all the way open and out of the way.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:48 am

      yes, totally. that was what we did with the black linen curtain in our old space. since these windows are so large and provide the light for much of the rest of the apartment too, i’m keen to try something different in this space!

  • Reply Lia April 6, 2021 at 10:57 pm

    I’m in. NO WAY proposing this as a solution, I just thought it would give someone a laugh. When we moved into our house 4+ years ago I was very pregnant with twins and some things just didn’t get done, like finding a light blocking solution for the sliding glass doors in our bedroom. Fast-forward 6 months, and I’m in bed breastfeeding the twins when I looked out and saw a man trimming my neighbor’s trees level wit our 2nd story window. Shortly after, my husband implemented a “temporary” solution of two giant pieces of insulation cut to fit the doors. We stick it in and it blocks light, heat and noise. It is hideous. I joked we should wallpaper it to make it look less like a construction site and my husband promised me we would find a solution ASAP. Four years later…and we are still using the insulation. It is mortifying and terrible, but very effective!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:47 am

      breastfeeding with a view!

    • Reply jet April 8, 2021 at 9:32 pm

      Yup, that’s what we have in our bedroom. No insulation walls, single pane windows, and forced air heater that I hate.
      The insulation panel was cheap, fits tightly in the window, makes the room very dark, which is what I prefer for sleeping.
      I don’t see the ugliness because at night my eyes are closed and we remove it every morning (takes 5 seconds, max).
      Go ahead and laugh. Works for us because I don’t sew, no one else comes into the room and we don’t plan on being here forever.

  • Reply Janean April 6, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    No genius ideas from me but instead a gentle push toward something professionally made. After five years of cheap rollers and DIY solutions for our rented brownstone apartment windows, I gave in to some custom Roman shades. And just received them today! Expensive? No doubt. Even with stacked discounts. But very beautiful and highly functional with minimal plastic. I’m typing this from our blacked-out bedroom and I have no regret! I only wish I did this earlier.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:47 am

      kismet! so glad you’re enjoying them!

      • Reply Bailey Wagner April 7, 2021 at 10:00 am

        I found some darker roller blinds at Ikea for the glass doors to our deck. They weren’t super pricey and they had them in various widths. I roll them up in the morning and pull them down when it’s dark! Super easy good luck on your search!

  • Reply Rikki April 7, 2021 at 12:00 am

    Cordless Roman shades with black out backing is the way to go. Buy them from JC Penney when they are on sale. i got mine for a steal and they’re awesome.

  • Reply Stella April 7, 2021 at 12:46 am

    Not the most sustainable or nice looking option but I bought a 2 pack of black out curtains at ikea and come springtime i just attach them to the rod/existing curtain in my sons bedroom and in mine. They look nice enough behind a prettier curtain, didn’t cost a lot but sure does the trick. We have street lights right outside our bedrooms + live in Sweden where the sun is up early and sets late in summertime. Hope you find a solution soon!

  • Reply Kate April 7, 2021 at 1:34 am

    So I can’t really take credit for the curtains in our bedroom as they were already in place when we bought our house, but I think they’re very clever so thought I’d share. The people who were here before us just bought a couple of thick cotton curtain panels (I think you could also just use thick cotton fabric) and two lovely cotton duvet covers (twin I think, as the windows in question aren’t that wide). They slipped the curtain panels inside the duvet covers, clipped rings to the whole thing, and hung them up. The three layers (both sides of the duvet cover + curtain panel) make the room pretty dark and the pattern on the duvet covers is simple and neutral so they look great too!

  • Reply Erin April 7, 2021 at 7:50 am

    A simple spring rod (a few bucks) tweaked to window size and a dark fabric hung with café clips could work, but I have six young children and lived in Europe for five years with them (followed by several diverse US cities) and have never used blackout shades, etc., so this comment is probably not helpful.
    As a frequent relocator though, I generally move around with a large collection of white cotton gauze curtains that can be hemmed (or left very long) and hung in several iterations. They were an initial investment but have worked everywhere, and they are beautiful (and easily washable!). Some things just cost that initial investment, not unlike cloth diapers.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 7, 2021 at 9:45 am

      The tops of these windows are twelve feet from the ground clipping isn’t a daily possibility and the windows themselves are far bigger than anything we’ve had, but generally agree that there’s lots in terms of windows that can be rejiggered to fit different scenarios!

  • Reply Bailey Wagner April 7, 2021 at 10:02 am

    I found some roller shades at ikea for our glass deck doors. They weren’t that expensive and they had them in a variety of widths. I love that I just roll them up in the morning and pull them down when it’s dark. Super easy!

  • Reply M April 7, 2021 at 11:27 am

    I, too, have one of those kids who won’t sleep unless it is pitch black. We live near Seattle where the sunlight can linger to 10pm in June. I have tried all sorts of solutions: (1) blackout curtain liner fabric from a fabric store that was expensive and didn’t work, (2) taping black trash bags to the windows each night [I was desperate], which worked but was hideous and it smelled like plastic, (3) blackout blinds, which did not work AT ALL, (4) blackout curtains from Target, which are woefully inadequate. So here’s what I do: I take a big piece of cardboard and cut it to the size of the window. The street side is covered in white paper or painted white, so it looks ordinary. The room side is decorated by my kid however she wants. We pop it into the window cavity every night, then lower the useless blackout blinds, and then close the “blackout” curtains, and then she goes to sleep. By the end of summer the cardboard is worse for the wear but can be recycled (depending on how it was decorated) and was repurposed anyway. We dispose of it and my kid gets to make a new one the next summer. I know this is ridiculous but my kid is not staying awake until 10pm in June.

    • Reply Samantha April 7, 2021 at 6:03 pm

      I am not at all handy, am extremely desperate for the baby to perhaps take a single nap not held by me (maybe if he’d sleep on his own for 45 min I’d have time for a project?) and I thank you SO MUCH for this extremely helpful suggestion…we are on the third useless blackout blind attempt and the earth can’t take another failure. lol. Cry out loud? That’s certainly what he does every time I set him down. THANK YOU!

      • Reply M April 8, 2021 at 11:36 am

        Oh, Samantha. That’s how my kid was. One day she finally did it. This will not last forever, but it sure feels like it at the time. Stay strong, mama.

  • Reply Jo April 7, 2021 at 11:59 am

    Google Luis Barragan shutters and prepare to have your mind blown!

  • Reply Katie April 7, 2021 at 12:23 pm

    I have typed my exact search into eBay and found some solid and frugal options! Ex: washable blackout organic curtains 108

  • Reply Ashley April 7, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    I know it’s not exactly cost effective but solid wood interior shutters some how cobbled together from found materials or made would look stunning in your home. Hanging might be a bit of a beast, especially if they were large, but I’d imagine they’d block out all of that light and, again, look lovely.

  • Reply LH April 7, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    This is a labor-intensive option, but for anyone with sewing skills I highly recommend the roman blind tutorial at https://www.sew-helpful.com/. There are plenty of quicker (even no-sew) DIY blind instructions online, but the sew-helpful tutorial is the most professional-looking way to go. Everything is sewn by hand except for the rod pockets and attaching velcro at the top. I made 13 (!) roman blinds for our house. I used all natural materials (linen outer fabric, cotton lining, heavy twill interlining for blackout blinds, wood rods, metal rings and weight bars) except for the velcro at the top and the blind cord. Each blind took me about 2 weeks so this was a huge project, but they look like a million bucks, are pretty-eco friendly, custom fit my windows, and much cheaper than buying.

    When I was researching blackout lining options I learned that official blackout lining is made of really nasty stuff. Sites that sell “organic curtains with blackout” are probably using organic outer fabric + nasty blackout lining.

  • Reply Maggie April 7, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    Not sure these are big enough, but they are plain, cordless, non-vinyl, and not too expensive. Perhaps combined with café curtains to make up the difference at the bottom?

  • Reply Becca B April 7, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    Sadly I have no words of wisdom and I wish you all the best in your search. I had to laugh at your line, “Why cover a window at all, I’ve often asked.” ME TOO. I know big city life and small children would most definitely change my opinion. But for now, my deepest apologies to my neighbors Richard & Jane who could, if they were at their bathroom or hall window, spot me typing this at my desk. Living my best Alfred Hitchcock Rear Window life right here, right now.

  • Reply Diana April 9, 2021 at 9:20 am

    I think @cassmakeshome on Instagram has a great tutorial for a Roman shade if you’re interested. You can make by fabric or your choice and in the size you want. I think I’ve even seen non vinyl light blocking backing at the craft resale stores. Best of luck 🙂 ikea too has light blocking if you don’t mind doing a bit of hemming!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 9, 2021 at 10:05 am

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply Hayley April 10, 2021 at 4:40 am

    We have paper blackout blinds we put up when the clocks change (in the UK). I’ve just replaced a set I got 3 years ago & putting the new set up today, having recycled the old set. They do need to be clipped up during the day though. £25 for 6 blinds I think?
    Another solution is using stage blackout fabric, usually a heavy wool cloth rather than the nasty ‘blackout’ fabric sold by curtain suppliers. Might be something you can pick up 2nd hand? For large windows it’s ideal as usually comes in extra wide widths.

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