Chorlton Blinds are located just three miles south of Manchester City Centre so are ideally located for serving our ever growing city centre residential community. Our experience of working on the apartments and flats in our city centre means we have gathered quite a lot of knowledge about the issues city centre customers are looking to resolve when they are planning new blinds, curtains or shutters. Choosing the most suitable window coverings often involves thinking about more than just interior design, fashion and style – although of course these things are very important to us too!
If you are planning to fit new window coverings in your apartment in Manchester City Centre and would like some help then don’t hesitate to get in touch. We can come out with samples and give advice to work out what will work best for you. From experience it often comes down to prioritising with you what is most important in terms of the ‘usability’ factors that we describe in our guide below, and the aesthetics of the interior design scheme that you have in mind. Just give us a call on the number above or use the button below to take you through to our contact form where you can give your details for a call back – and if you have time read our guide below to start your thinking process.
In the following sections we have listed some ‘usability’ factors to think about when planning to cover your windows, along with some ideas on what the best solutions may be. If you don’t live in a city centre then it may be useful to still read on, as lots of the points we make should still be relevant for any urban dweller and whatever part of a city you live in.
Privacy at Your Window
In the city centre, privacy levels in an apartment can depend on quite a number of factors such as:
- how far an apartment is above street level
- the types and shapes of windows and balconies
- the nature of the road or street that a window looks out over
- the volume and type of passing footfall, road traffic and public transport
- other co-located buildings that have a view of the apartment windows
If you are Manchester based like us then just by travelling into the city centre by tram or train you can see how many apartments have significant privacy problems. These problems are often worse at night when the internal lights are on and it is darker outside.
Before we go out for a consultation we usually encourage our customers to take some time to go outside and look into their properties from all different angles during the day and also at night. We also suggest they should do this with the lights on and with the lights off, and if possible from the tram, a train or the top deck of a bus if they pass close by, as well as from the buildings opposite and close by if they can get access. By doing this ‘privacy survey’ they will be able to fully ascertain whether they have a problem or not and how and when it occurs. Often a customer will be surprised when they see their apartment from a different view-points like this.
Another possible privacy issue to check for, and which can often be overlooked, is a reflection of the inside of an apartment from open windows. This can give a view inside an apartment to other parts of the block or even down onto the street. In some buildings, and particularly at night, opening a window can create a ‘periscope’ effect and neighbours or passers may be able to see straight into an apartment via a reflected image at an open window.
Finally be aware that ‘privacy’ or ‘obscure’ glazing, or glass retro-fitted with privacy film, may not be as private as you might expect when viewed from outside. Often such glazing may also perform differently under different lighting conditions and can leave little to the imagination at certain times of the day.
If privacy is a problem then window coverings can definitely help. To improve night-time privacy then using blackout fabrics or blackout linings with standard fabrics will usually work best. To improve daytime privacy we usually recommend using voile or sheer fabrics that will allow the natural light to pass through and still afford a view out. Voile and sheer fabrics are just like a modern take on old-fashioned net curtains and in a similar way shouldn’t block so much natural light that the turning on of internal lights is required during the daytime.
For both daytime and night-time privacy not many people are aware that sheer, voile and blackout fabrics can easily be combined at the same window on double curtain tracks or special double blind fittings. This can give you the best of both worlds and with contrasting fabrics look great too.
Light Pollution at Your Window
A common city centre problem that has prompted many of our customers to make their initial call to us is light pollution and glare from outside lighting at night. The customer will often be having difficulty sleeping due to bright light from outside bleeding through or around their current window coverings. Of course this can happen in any residential situation where there are streetlights, however it is a more common problem in the city centre just because there are more streetlights as well as lots of other sources of light at night. Streetlights in particular can be a problem for an apartment occupier if the windows are at the same height as the lamp. Some customers have found upon moving into an apartment that they have only previously visited in daylight hours that there is a streetlight right outside their bedroom window that they had been unaware of.
If light pollution is a problem you can help minimise light bleeding by carefully choosing the right fabric. Using a blackout fabric is best of course though heavier and darker fabrics may also block light sufficiently. For roller blinds and vertical blinds there are lots of ‘standard’ blackout fabrics which are self-backed with a lining membrane and manufactured as such. Almost all soft fabrics can be combined with a blackout lining to give the same blackout properties for roman blinds and curtains.
As important as having the right fabric, is planning where blind or curtain fittings such as headrails and tracks will be positioned. In a domestic situation using conventional products, you are going to have to accept that there will inevitably be some light bleed around the edges of your window coverings. However thinking carefully about how your blinds are fitted and where they meet can significantly reduce the amount of light bleed, and also control to some extent where and how this happens. For example you will probably want to carefully plan an installation in a bedroom to avoid any light catching your eyes whilst in bed. Also think carefully about how coverings will meet at joins and in corners to minimise gaps between fabrics.
For an effective blackout solution in a domestic situation, a combination of both curtains and blackout roller blinds fitted together can be effective. The soft folds of the curtain fabric can be positioned by hand to control the light bleed at the edges of the blind fabric. The curtains need not be full width, which can be more cost effective for a large or wide window.
Overheating Due to Solar Gain in City Centre Apartments
If your apartment has large south facing windows and an unobstructed view of the sky then you will probably have a lovely bright living space with all the healthy benefits of lots of natural sunlight on a clear day. However the flip-side of having lots of natural sunlight in an apartment can be the problem of overheating due to what is often termed ‘solar gain’ on sunny days.
Before we talk about what we normally recommend to our customers here in Manchester (not known for having a problem of excessive sun!) we should point out that the best solutions to control overheating due to sunlight are always externally fitted. Here we are referring to specialist external solar blinds and shutters, and fixed vertical and horizontal shading structures (‘brise-soleil’), that we see on buildings in sunnier climates when we are abroad. Unfortunately these external systems are usually not an option for Manchester City Centre domestic apartment dwellers due to cost, lease restrictions and accessibility issues for installation.
Reducing solar gain using internal window coverings in a flat or apartment is possible and usually worth the investment as most occupiers will plan to cover their windows in any case. Window coverings can help reduce solar gain by reflecting some of the UV light that enters the internal space back through the glass. Therefore, for impacting solar gain, most benefit is gained by choosing the most appropriate fabric. Fabric choice can, if you are inclined, get very technical, particularly if you are looking at fabrics taken from commercial blinds ranges. Some manufacturers produce fabrics with special solar reflective coatings and most blind fabric manufactures now produce data about the UV light reflectivity and heat absorption properties of all their fabrics. This performance data can be used with glazing performance data to make calculations about solar gain to compare the theoretical performance of different types of fabric. For a domestic customer undertaking research on his own, this can all get very complicated.
To keep things simple, when we discuss solar gain with most of our customers we give them our simple rule of thumb which is if you are happy to choose a light coloured blackout roller blind fabric such as white or cream, then you have already achieved 95% of the benefit that can be achieved with an internal blind fabric with respect to solar gain reduction. By exploring other more expensive specialist solar fabric options then you are chasing diminishing returns and the extra benefit may not justify the additional investment.
If a light coloured fabric does not work in with your interior design scheme then there are many darker fabrics as well as patterns available with white or cream coloured blackout backings that will give almost the same benefit. Just ask for a sample and turn it over and inspect the backing. The samples we give our customers are always small pieces of the actual fabric that we use. Also consider soft fabrics in curtains or roman blinds with white or cream blackout linings or even fitting a plain white or cream blackout roller blind in conjunction with your preferred fabric choice at the same window.
As well as covering your windows with a reflective fabric, don’t forget that room temperature can be reduced by maximising the flow of air through your apartment. If you are lucky and your apartment has windows on opposing building façades then opening windows on both sides should give you the best flow of air through the space. Whatever your layout, just try opening all of your windows in different combinations and see how the air flows through. Remember to also open internal doors to allow air movement right through your apartment from the cooler to the warmer rooms. In lots of overheating situations, effective airflow and ventilation can have a cooling effect which has more of an impact on preventing the build-up of heat than any internal window coverings can.
Blinds and Curtains for Large City Centre Apartment Windows
Large apartment windows may well have been designed by the building’s architect intentionally with use of the apartment in mind, to maximise the view out and natural light for the occupier within the apartment. Often though this is not the case and large windows have been designed with the exterior aesthetics of the building in mind, and the practicalities of very large windows for the dweller may not have been fully considered.
A common scenario in Manchester is that the building has been repurposed from a previous use, most often a former office building. In quite a number of buildings that have been converted from former office blocks we have found that some apartments have had unusually large windows, sometimes in strange configurations, which has made covering them a challenge. When these buildings were designed for their former use, the amount of natural light penetration for workplace tasks was intentionally maximised and the covering of the windows not thought about as privacy and light control from the outside of the building was not as important as for a residential occupant.
All in all covering a large apartment window requires careful consideration so we would advise you to take time to consider options to make sure you choose the right solution. When we look at a large window with a customer we will usually go through a variety of different configuration options before deciding on the best solution.
The first thing we consider is how the blind or curtain will be operated in a way that is most usable for the dweller, whilst at the same time thinking about the privacy and light control issues we have discussed above. It is often more practical to break a large window opening up into smaller sections to give more flexibility for opening and closing. For example, if there is an integral door for a balcony then one section could be configured so the door can be opened whilst the rest of the window remains covered. Even for plain windows without a door, breaking a large opening into smaller sections gives different options for privacy, shading and daylight control.
Breaking larger openings into smaller sections will also mean that the ‘heaviness’ of operation of a blind is reduced. For example a very large wooden blind or aluminium venetian blind can require two people to open and close due to the sheer weight of the slats. A very wide fabric blind may require more heavy duty operating components. The lifting mechanism may also sometimes need to be geared so the chain or chord does not require excessive force to lift the fabric.
Another thing to consider on large windows is fabric joins. All blind and curtain fabrics are supplied in rolls and the width of the roll will determine how wide a blind or curtain can be without a sewn join. Wider roller blind fabrics can be sourced, but choice of colour and pattern will be limited. Customers are generally happy with joins in soft fabrics as roll widths tend to be narrower so joins are common and less obvious in the folds and contours of roman blinds and curtains. For roller blind fabrics joins are more obvious to the eye, and some customers do not want to see the clean lines spoiled. Worth careful consideration is having sewn joins in blackout fabrics where pin pricks of light bleed may be visible where the machine needle has penetrated the blackout lining membrane.
Finally for larger windows, where and how to fix will need to be determined. Sometimes covering a larger window may have to be broken into smaller sections just because of the availability of suitable fixing points. Larger blinds and heavier curtains will require larger fixings for the brackets or track, which may also need to be larger. In a repurposed building especially, there may be suspended ceilings or non-structural linings present which are not strong enough to fix to, but which obstruct access to the window framing or solid building structure. In recently constructed buildings it is very rare that an architect has thought in any detail about all the possible positions that an occupier may want to fix window coverings to. This can prove a challenge for both the professional and DIYer alike, and a proper assessment is needed.