Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Cost of Custom Window Treatments

My husband and I had our first home "custom" built. By "custom", I mean that we chose the lot from a dozen or so available options in the neighborhood, chose the basic floor plan from a dozen or so available from the builder, and then paid through the nose for anything other than the cheapest-possible-finishes-and-fixtures.

Everything cost extra.

I think I lived through two or three months of constant sticker shock. I remember one moment in particular that nearly made me faint in horror. The helpful salesperson offered to set us up with an appointment with a local custom drapery shop. Any draperies we ordered through the custom shop could be added to the cost of the home, and paid for by the mortgage instead of out-of-pocket. I probably looked at him funny about the financing, because he patiently explained to me that it can cost $1000 or more per window for window treatments.

One thousand dollars to decorate a window.

Now, I'm not an idiot, and I'd been shopping before. Basic mini-blinds at the time cost about $25 a piece, maybe $100 for fancy wood-look ones. What the heck costs a grand? (I was also mentally calculating the number of windows in the house...19 altogether if memory serves...meaning curtains would cost more than my car).

Clearly, we declined to talk to the custom drapery service.

Now, more than a decade later, I am beginning to understand why custom drapes might require their own mortgage, or at least the surrender of a firstborn child. Not, mind you, that I've ever paid anywhere near ten Benjamins for some cloth and a couple of poles.

We only ever bought two sets of mini-blinds for that first house, one for a closet and one for the basement storage room. Everything else got fabric. The house had relatively common-sized windows, and I sew. Over the years I did and re-did several rooms, spending between $10 and $200 per window. Some windows, like the 48"x48" bathroom window, got a $5 café rod and about $5 of crushed voile yardage (plus about 20 minutes of sewing time, and butterfly-themed shower curtain holders that were a wedding gift). Truly custom drapes for $10, installed.

Some, like the old kitchen sliding door, got a more expensive setup with a ~$100 decorative traverse rod plus a ~$100 premade pinch-pleat patio-panel (the $100 was with a sale and a coupon). We later replaced that slider with a French door and ditched the drapes altogether, and were happier for the trade.

Our newer house is a bit more complex. Our window sizes vary widely, and we have some fancier ones. Half-rounds, bays, extra-tall windows in the 2-story family room (with a second pair of arch-topped ones above the first set). And we are spending a tad more upfront on the window hardware because changing that part later on can be very frustrating and generally bad for the integrity of drywall (holes can only take so much spackle). And some windows are just more of a challenge. The bay window rod "system" for the master bedroom alone was around $300 (after a series of coupons and a sale).

We have been able to re-use many of our non-neutral drapes from the old house (Purple! Red!), so I haven't needed to buy a lot of new fabric (kudos to my re-decorating-and-packrat habits). Still, I'm all about the sales, the coupons, the comparison shopping. And the DIY factor.

Ironically, we have recently installed a new decorative traverse rod over our new kitchen sliding door. Onto it, I hung our old premade pinch-pleat patio-panel. (I really want to change the new door for a French door too, but that would cost me a grand. Or more.). I have yet to make a new custom curtain for the new, 48"x48" window in our new master bathroom, but we have made do for the moment with a concoction that involves two shower curtain rods and a pair of sheer curtains tucked and excess fabric rolled around the rods (it looks better than it sounds).

Lucky for my husband, I decided to only coverthe two lower windows in the 2-story family room. Lucky because the 108" tall windows were more than enough of a challenge. They look lovely with (sale-priced) off-the-shelf sheers and the red fringed window scarves we removed from our previous living/dining room. Adding fabric to odd-shaped upper windows sixteen feet off the ground is not high on our priority list at the moment.

Including installation, with all of the trickiness of window sizes and heights, I can actually understand a $1000 price tag for complicated hardware, lots of fabrics, custom design and sewing, and the risk of installation mishaps. But armed with a ladder, a drill, a level, a sewing machine, and bargain hunting instincts, I didn't have to donate a limb in order to cover my windows.

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