Tontine, Dupont et la famille Williams

Venetian Blinds for Windows

Venetian Blinds, a poem by Eric W. Sargent, raises the shades on blinds, poetically speaking. For poetry highlights the artistry in window treatment design, where the perennially old fashioned blind blends naturally in ultra modern decor making it one of the hottest items on the market.

Shades, blinds, and shutters (hard window treatments) and draperies (soft window treatments) appeared almost as early as the first windows. And today's state of the art windows are a long way from the first air conditions--wet towels soaked overnight and hung in window openings and doorways of ancient civilizations near the hot Mediterranean coast and in Egypt, according to Ed Williams, sales representative of Tontine, who recently learned of these beginnings at a convention in Atlanta. Yet, window styles repeatedly waxed and waned over the years and gradually evolved into new designs because of new materials and new ideas. For instance, draperies that provided privacy and warmth around canopy beds in fiercely cold medieval castles became the forerunners to curtains and drapes that later surrounded windows. And shutters first appeared in the medieval ages with the development of glazed, non-stained, glass windows.

“Draperies met their zenith in the Victorian age at the end of the 19th century,” said Williams. And the 20th century began with an attitude towards function that included the more tailored looks of Venetian blinds and shades.

Wood Blinds

The hottest selling item in hard window treatment today is the Venetian blind (2-inch blinds), specifically the 2-inch wood blinds, which are much like the original blinds hanging in the governor's palace in colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, an estate built during the revolutionary war. The wood blind was very popular in the 1960's and 1970's before the development of mini blinds (1-inch and 1/2- inch blinds), according to Williams at Tontine and Alexis Kosman, manager of Grand Openings. And the popularity of wood blinds is in resurgence today. Wood blinds come in a variety of finishes and stains at a cost of $92.75 for a blind that fits an average window, (3 ft. by 6 ft. window used for all pricing) at Grand Openings. The flat PVC blind (a poly-vinyl plastic with the look of wood and called "new wood") costs $73.40 at Grand Openings. The curved PVC blind with shiny plastic slats costs $48 at Grand Openings and $50 to $55 at Tontine. Woodwinds, made of a wood alloy material, by Comfortex costs $96 at Tontine.

Mini Blinds

First developed in the 1960's, mini blinds reached their greatest popularity during the 1970's with such a fever as to change the entire industry according to Williams. They were a definite fashion statement with many followers, including Williams, who put mini blinds through out his home. Today, Williams sells mini blinds on a more modest scale primarily for utility rooms or apartments, he says.

At one time, some retail stores sold 1-inch PVC blinds containing traces of lead (a hazard around children). This problem was associated primarily with blinds manufactured overseas, not in the US, says Kosman. Grand Openings sells blinds constructed basically of aluminum in 1-inch and 2-inch widths.

Honeycomb and Cellular Shades

Another revolutionary product is the pleated shade-- the honeycomb, originally a 1-inch or 1/4-inch single pleat first developed in the 70's and taking off in sales during the late 70's, says Williams. The Duette, an exclusive product by Hunter Douglas, is made from two expandable cells of cloth. When the Duette first appeared on the market ten years ago, it became "the look." Although no longer the sought after look, the Duette is used today for its unique stacking ability, which allows it to fold away almost completely. It's for people who don't want to put anything in the window, but they want privacy. The Duette sells for $110 at Tontine. Grabel manufacturing introduced a double honeycomb construction, which is thicker with material and technically better than the Duette, according to Williams. It was developed as an alternative to the Duette.

"Triple honeycomb is just a big folly," said Williams. He seldom sells them, only once or twice. "We can do a quadruple honeycomb or even five cells, but people draw the line."

Honeycomb shades provide energy efficient insulation because of several different layers of fabric, usually made of polyester, and they're also useful in light filtering or blacking out a room, says Kosman. Honeycomb shades can pop down from a top fixture or raise up from the bottom making them versatile for decoration.

Roller Shades

Williams refers to his grandfather, Eddy Williams who made roller shades for all the army barracks in Texas as contracted by the US government during World War II. Eddy Williams chose tontine, a fiberglass material with vinyl coating, developed and named by Dupont. He also chose to name the store, he founded in 1941, after Tontine. At the end of World War II, Dupont wanted sole rights to "Tontine"; but the courts ruled in favor of Williams' business, which was then well established.

Roller shades, invented around 1741, work with a spring-winding mechanism at one end of a wooden roller and a pin at the other end. They're a part of the old west, at least roller shades with hunter green fabric are always a part of old western cinema-like Gunsmoke, according to Williams. They're also a part of Texas history for Tontine replaced old hunter green roller shades for the Excelsior Hotel in historical Jefferson, Texas.

About ten years ago, a couple in their 90's walked into Tontine looking for new cloth to put on their old roller shade, a 1909 model with a pulley system totally unknown to Williams. Afterwards, pulleys began appearing on new roller shades. And over the past three to four years, pulley-drawn roller shades have become increasingly popular. Cost of a standard spring loaded roller shade is $28.00. A basic pulley-drawn roller shade sells for $81.00.

Roman Shade and Vingette

The Roman shade forms a series of folds that pull up into horizontal pleats. The Vingette, developed and patented by Hunter Douglas, is a cross between a Roman shade and a roller shade. It has the tear drop look of the Roman shade and the unique feature of rolling up like the roller shade. And it costs around $200. People like the Roman shade looks of the Vingette, but not the appearance of the head rail, according to Williams. So, other manufacturers such as Grabel have come out with their own versions.


Introduced about three years ago, Silhouette, a patented product exclusive of Hunter Douglas, operates like a blind and looks like a cross between a blind and sheer curtain. But it's actually all fabric; even the slats are made of fabric. And it costs $204.12 for a standard window blind, according to Kosman. It's a very popular blind in 2-inch and 3-inch widths, and it comes with sheer or room darkening capacity.

Vertical Blinds

"Verticals have gotten a bad rap because people associate them with offices," said Williams. But not everywhere. A couple from Pittsburgh informed Williams that vertical blinds and mini blinds were the most popular window treatments in that part of the country. And vertical blinds are highly desirable in the home for covering large expanses of sliding glass doors, says Williams. The PVC vertical blind with a valence measuring 35" by 72" costs $44.60 at Grand Openings. Since the 1980's, Mylar puts out a vertical blind with silver mirrored backing available on one or both sides, says Kosman. Also, she says that mirror slats open up the room when the blinds are closed. Luminette, a patented Hunter Douglas exclusive, is the vertical equivalent to Silhouette, an all fabric sheer blind with fabric folds that look like a blind and curtain. It costs $396 at Tontine.

Woven Wood Shades

"There has been a real resurgence in woven woods, which were on their way out in the early 80's," said Williams. "Now, they've come back in natural form and in the Roman style." Conrad manufactures the most expensive woven wood shades--selling for $505 at Tontine. "Most of the woven woods-natural stick type-have a sheer factor to them." But they can be produced in thicker texture for more privacy at an additional cost. For instance, a 30% increase in thickness adds an additional $100 to the blind.

Accurate Window Measurements

Accurate measurements are essential for well fitting blinds. Mini-Blind Co., Inc. provides a booklet at Grand Openings with the proper procedure. Blinds can be mounted inside or outside the window frame. Use a steel tape for best results. For an inside mount, measure the width and height of the windowpane to the nearest 1/8 inch in at least three spots taking the narrowest measurements. For an outside mount, measure the exact width between outside edges of the window frame and add at least 2 inches for horizontal blinds and 5-10 inches for vertical blinds. When determining height, measure the distance between the top outside edge and bottom outside edge. Add 3 inches for horizontal blinds and 4 inches for vertical blinds.

Many retailers make courtesy calls to your house to take measurements. Instillation most likely includes a charge.

In Conclusion

Williams often finds blinds and shutters in newer homes and curtains and shades in areas with older homes. But you can mix and match any combination of shades and blinds, alone or combined with curtains, to create your own look. It's worth your time to explore the available products for you may discover an old fashioned idea that transforms your windows light years ahead of the block.

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