Venetian blinds are an ever present sight each day. In my case, mini-blinds cover the window in front of my desk. Not only do they provide a simple background for my work space, but they enable me to adjust the level of backlighting for comfortable viewing of my laptop screen.
One of the earliest snapshots dad took of me as a baby, showed my investigation of the venetian blinds next to my crib. Perhaps this is why my enjoyment of the window treatments seems so primal. I wonder how many hours were spent pondering the venetian blinds of my childhood.
Window shades of horizontal slats that can be raised and lowered, and the slats can be tilted to different angles are fascinating devices. Children and cats are attracted to them for obvious reasons.
The blinds I like best are those constructed of wide, wooden slats, painted ivory white held together by ribbons of heavy duty fabric. Traditional venetian blinds have two sets of control cords instead of the combination of cords and rods used with modern plastic mini-blinds.
The primary disadvantage of horizontal slatted window blinds is that they require frequent, time-consuming dusting and cleaning. The blinds are worth the trouble because of the special shadow effects that are created when light filters through them.
Have you ever noticed the camera obscura effects that happen when sunlight is projected onto a flat surface through the small holes for the cords in the slats of mini-blinds? Around noontime sunshine is at the proper angle to intersect with tree branches in line with the southerly windows. Small, upside-down images of the tree branches are projected onto the floor and the north wall of the room. Is this how the optical properties of cameras and lenses were originally discovered? Photographers who experiment with pinhole cameras are familiar with this effect.
Venetian blinds are intriguing complicated artifacts. A series of slats made from wood or aluminum, PVC, or plastic are suspended from a frame or rail. Sturdy cords or fabric ribbons or strips support the slats at equidistant intervals. The cords or ribbons also assist in altering the tilt angle of the slats and enable the entire shade to compress and decompress to raise or lower the entire assembly. These functions must be carried out in a reasonably accurate and smooth way. Hence, they must be manufactured to fairly close mechanical tolerances.
The beauty of venetian blinds is that they can be used in nearly every room of a home or office, but I personally advise against placing them in the kitchen, because when they accumulate airborn grease and other cooking byproducts, they’re difficult to sanitize. I learned this the hard way.
Venetian blinds look attractive when hung unadorned on windows or they can be part of a fancier window treatment when used with draperies or curtains. Because the slats can be made from various materials and come in several colors, blinds are suitable for nearly any interior design scheme.
What is it about venetian blinds that make them so modern yet also so classic? The secret is found in their history. No, they were not invented in Venice. Even though the ancient Romans utilized a type of fixed, horizontal window covering to keep out dust, that design doesn’t resemble our modern interior window treatment.
A recognizable version of blinds were invented in Persia. They were popular items in trade with European merchants. Venice was a major power that established regular trading routes to and from Persia. Style conscious Italians happily adopted the Persian blinds. The Venetians adapted the design by laying the slats across fabric ribbons. They were not yet adjustable, though.
The slats on ribbons design began to greatly evolve in the eighteenth century. New designs and patents appeared in Great Britain. Noteworthy is Gowin Knight’s “dwarf Venetian blinds” invented in 1760.
In North America, imported blinds were used to shade the windows of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. The English colonist, John Webster began selling his own style of wooden Venetian blinds in the same city in 1767. Venetian blinds became very popular in colonial New England because the textiles needed to construct curtains had to be imported from Britain and carried a very high tax.
After independence, the next major alteration to Venetian blinds happened in New Orleans in 1841. Railroad engineer and tinkerer John Hampson invented and patented the screw mechanism that changes the angle of the slats. Variations of Hampson’s invention are used in modern Venetian blinds. It is operated by cords on some blinds or more commonly with the plastic rod attached to the blind’s top rail.
The most recent change came in the 1970s with the narrowing of slats to 2.5 centimetres bringing us the ubiquitous mini-blind used in homes and businesses around the world, today.
Looking up from my laptop, I ponder the basic, narrow slatted mini-blind I bought at a department store. There probably isn’t any other window covering with a richer history than our Venetian blinds.