One of the major tragedies of the past few years was IKEA’s decision to change the design of the ENJE roller blind. I’ve probably mentioned this like 30 times on this blog, but only because it was so crushing and significant.
See, back in the good old days, this shade was one of my favorite IKEA products. It’s not a blackout shade or really even much of a privacy shade, but it did a great job of filtering light, softening a view, and providing enough privacy for me to feel comfy with. It came with pretty nice, durable hardware, it was super long (perfect for big old windows!), it was fairly easy to cut down to a custom size, and it was cheap.
Then somebody decided that the pull-chain mechanism that made the shade go up and down was a choking hazard for kids, and all the ENJE shades disappeared from IKEA showrooms across the country, only to be re-introduced under the same name several months later.
New ENJE? Total bastardization of the old ENJE. Gone was the pull-chain mechanism, replaced by a spring inside the roll. The little end-caps on the bottom rail got switched from a faux-chrome finish to a sad, grey plastic. The bottom rail also got this new handle thing…easy enough to just break off and toss, but still totally stupid. At the time I needed a couple of shades for my apartment, so I bought the new ENJE shades, cautiously optimistic.
GARBAGE, I tell you. I mean, I still put them up and they look fine and whatever, but I only realized once I got them home that also gone was the generous length of the old shades, rendering them about 6″ too short for our long-ish windows at the apartment. So dumb. And that spring mechanism? Also garbage. It barely works. If you never want to raise and lower your shades, I guess it’s fine, but otherwise it just sucks.
At the time, I vowed that I wouldn’t buy any more of these shitty Americanized ENJE shades for the rest of my life. I would go to Canada next time I needed shades. I would swim the Atlantic. I would…find a new source for window treatments?
That last option sounds like the easiest, right? WRONG. SO WRONG.
You would think that a basic thing like a super-simple solar shade would be easy to find, right? And how expensive could they possibly be? I mean, I don’t expect everything to be IKEA prices—I knew I’d have to deepen my pockets a little bit. Like maybe 60 or 70 bucks instead of 30?
WRONG AGAIN. I searched high and I searched low. I went to multiple popular blinds manufacturer’s showrooms. I searched a lot of the internet. I even ordered a sample shade that looked promising online a while ago that cost me $75 and it was literally just a sheet of dumb white vinyl around a cardboard tube. This is the appalling world we live in, folks.
I’ve ordered solar shades from The Shade Store for a client and they’re super duper nice, but I think a single shade for one of the windows on the first floor of my house came out to about $250. That’s just not happening. A couple of very kind European readers even offered to go to IKEA, buy the European versions of the ENJE, and ship them to me, but with taxes and shipping it ended up being really expensive and the whole thing just seemed like kind of an absurd premise to begin with, even for me. A few people have suggested JC Penney’s version of the roller shade, which admittedly seems to be very well-priced, but the reviews were kind of questionable and I couldn’t really tell what they looked like from the pictures, and I think they’re all cordless, which I just feel too scarred to gamble on again.
SO ANYWAY. In the meantime, I did the thing I swore I wouldn’t and bought a few of the new ENJE shades for a couple rooms in the upstairs of our house. They’re a little too short for the windows and still crappy, but we needed something so I just did it. I’ll probably replace them someday but right now it’s not a priority.
Then for downstairs, I went to Home Depot and got these super cheap spring-powered vinyl shades for like $8 a pop, just to put up temporarily. We needed the privacy and honestly it’s better to put something up that’s disposable-ish while you’re renovating, since you’re likely to get paint and joint compound and dust all over it anyway. Above is a really horrendous process photo (is there anything uglier than that moment when the walls are painted but the trim isn’t?) showing how charming those looked. They were much better during the day but at night…oof.
Now that we have a couple rooms renovated, though, the “temporary” $8 vinyl sheets in front of my windows were an enormous bummer. They tend to get kind of blown out in photos so maybe you don’t notice them as much, but in real life they looked very crappy. It felt sad to put all this work into these rooms, get them looking good, only to have this big glaring horrible thing remaining in the space because the world of window treatments is so cruel.
Before I forget…yes. I know. I know there are many, many other solutions. Curtains, roman blinds, venetian blinds, cellular shades, shutters—there are lots of things out there to cover windows. I know I’m being more than a little ridiculous and dramatic here. I can’t be the only one who sort of hates 99% of window treatments, though, right? Even the term “window treatment” makes me nauseous. For some reason I actually tend to like curtains for other people but I don’t really want them in my own house? Maybe I’ll want them someday? I don’t know. One of my favorite things about my house are the big, beautiful old moldings, and I guess I worry about curtains sort of hiding/distracting from the architecture of the space. Another thing I like about my house is the natural light, so I like solar shades because they’re super minimal, they give some privacy, and you don’t have to sacrifice your natural light to get it.
I think I just want to be as picky and annoying as possible about everything that I possibly can. I’m so much fun to live with.
At long last, I finally found something I like, and of course it was right under my nose the whole time…at Lowe’s! I don’t know how it took me so long. I’m at Lowe’s several times a week. I’m dumb.
Anyway, Lowe’s carries a few different brands of custom blinds and shades and stuff, including their own Allen + Roth brand stuff. Allen + Roth things tend to be great, by the way. I’ve used some of these little lights around the house (nice-looking and inconspicuous for old houses, right?), I’ve been impressed with the tile options, some of the home goods are cute…they’re doing a good job.
I guess the thing I didn’t realize was just how customizable the shades are! I think they have all the same options that you get when ordering at the Shade Store—different levels of opacity, different fabric weaves, lots of colors, inside vs. outside mount, reverse-roll or regular, finish options for the bottom bar, corded vs. cordless, and on and on! AND they’re about half the price. So. They’re not exactly inexpensive, but after a truly exhaustive search and knowing what else is out there and how much it costs, I think they’re a great value. Our shades came out to about $130 a pop including tax, but the price varies depending on the custom options and the size of the window. I think there was also a 10% off promotion going on when I ordered them, so that’s something to look out for, too. So anyway…not cheap, but not horrible, and feels decently manageable when you’re just buying a couple at a time.
I snapped some photos of the different fabric options, just in case you are as insane as I am and need to know everything? Custom solar shades are typically available in different levels of opacity—that’s what the 3% openness thing means. The lower the percentage, the more opaque the shades are.
One of the things I ran into a lot with other sources was that even if the shades had all the options I wanted, I didn’t like the fabrics. I feel like most of these are really nice, though? It’s hard to judge from these pictures, I know.
ANYWAY, because I am wildly boring and predictable, I went with the Equinox 10% openness in white. I tend to think 10% is the best for getting the most light and an acceptable level of privacy. They’re probably a little more opaque than the ENJE shades. There are 12% and 14% options, too, but that seems too transparent, unless I guess you’re just layering them under something else.
I don’t think there’s a way to order the custom stuff online, but doing it in the store is very easy. An employee enters all your custom options into the system, it spits out a price, and about a week or so later, it shows up at your house! I just ordered one shade to begin with as a sample, loved it, and went back to order two more to round out the living room. All three windows were the same size and they had all my info saved, so I didn’t have to go through the whole process again. Nice, right? I’m saving up to do the three dining room windows next, and then I guess I’ll just try to buy them for each room as we renovate, although I’m paranoid that they’ll discontinue them or the design will change or something and then I’ll just have to give up on life completely.
They come wrapped up all nice in brown craft paper. The ONE THING I wasn’t impressed by is that mine didn’t come with directions for mounting them! But after looking at the shades and at the brackets for about 30 seconds, it wasn’t hard to figure out. The brackets are pretty petite, too, which is good because our window casings don’t have a lot of depth.
It took all of about 5 minutes to get the shades up, and it IMMEDIATELY made the room feel so, so much more finished. There was much rejoicing.
It’s hard to capture with a camera how these things look in real life, but I did my best! I don’t have any reason to block light in this room, so I’m thrilled with how bright they keep things. It’s also nice to kind of soften the views without blocking them. I like being able to see out a little.
The pull-chain is SUCH a relief, too! It came with this little plastic piece to screw into the casing to keep the chain taut, but I broke it off and tossed it. All the hardware really seems very nice and built to last. It seems like these get bad reviews online because the cordless shades have the same operability issues that all cordless shades seem to have, but the corded option is great.
The window sashes themselves need some work, by the way. I’m sort of thinking of the window restoration as its own renovation project, so consequently I really haven’t touched them aside from replacing a couple of broken panes. I’ll get to it!
I chose a white powder-coated metal bottom bar, which I like. There were a few options including different metal finishes and having the fabric wrap around. I’m happy with it! Totally boring, like I wanted.
Privacy-wise, they’re enough for me. I took this lousy picture from the sidewalk at night with the lights inside turned all the way up. You can definitely see shapes and movement but not a lot of detail. Realistically, we pretty much always have the lights dimmed down at night, so you’d be able to see a lot less…I just figured it was worth showing. Privacy is one of those very personal things, though. As someone who has made a habit for half a decade now of constantly putting photos of the inside of my home on the internet, my standards may be a little atypical. Different strokes!
I have no idea how I managed to write this much about white solar shades. This was supposed to be a short and sweet post. Just slapped myself. Bye!