Designing for Privacy

Window treatments for the well-exposed home.

What do you do when you realize that your new old captain’s house in Edgartown has a window that is thisclose to the sidewalk? Or that the adorable Camp Ground cottage you recently acquired has a bathroom window that is uncomfortably open to the bedroom window next door? Or that the nature-in-all-its-glory view from your West Tisbury living room also affords an all-too-personal view of you in your pajamas?

It seems, according to three professional Island designers, that there are many ways to let in the famous blue-tinged sunlight of the Island and access your highly mortgaged view without providing others with a peep show into your life.

According to Rebekah El-Deiry of Island Window Design in Vineyard Haven: “I think it’s all about the light and view, but people should be able to walk nude in their house at any point in time.” She continues with a giggle, “I’m a nudist enabler.”

Rebekah, who has been designing on the Island for ten years, advises, “Often you don’t really need much on your windows. You’d be surprised what you can’t see through. Even with something very sheer that lets in light and only covers half the window, you really can’t see in from the outside.”

It’s also a matter of how or how much the window treatment opens and closes. A popular example, especially in traditional Island homes, is the interior louvered shutter. According to Sarah Vail of Vail Window Design in West Tisbury, “They can really let in a lot of light when the louvers are open. Then you can close them down when you want the privacy.”

Julie Robinson of Julie Robinson Interiors in West Tisbury concurs. “For privacy on a main street, for bathrooms where you don’t want kids raising and lowering the shades, I think they’re great,” she says. “In a downstairs window, sometimes you only have to put in a half shutter for the privacy. Then at night, you either have a shade that comes down over the shutter or a full shutter to cover the whole window.”


A popular choice for Island homes is the Roman shade with top-down and bottom-up options. Dropping the upper part of the shade lets in as much light and view as the homeowner desires, without exposing the entire room to outside scrutiny. Rebekah is so fond of this solution, she used them in her own Franklin Street home in Vineyard Haven. “They’re made out of natural materials,” she explains. “They’re really gorgeous.” With an almost unlimited palette of colors, textures, and fabrics, it’s probably the most aesthetically versatile of window treatments and can be as sheer or opaque as required. They work best on double-hung windows, because crank windows make installation difficult.

Honeycomb, woven, and pleated shades in the top-down/bottom-up style are a big seller for Sarah Vail, who has been sewing and designing for the home since 1988. “They’re about 80 percent of my business,” she says. “There are so many options.”

Sarah, who provides a shop-at-home service with product samples, recently used a natural woven shade in the top-down/bottom-up style in a home in Katama. The bathroom window faces the guest house and people pass it on the way to the front door. “[The shade] can completely cover the window,” she explains, “or the top can be dropped down to chest height for privacy and light.”

Sarah also appreciates the honeycomb shade for its ability to affect the interior climate. “The double-celled honeycomb shades are very insulating. They’re semi-opaque, so people can’t look in. And if you order a light color, it almost makes your room even brighter than if you didn’t have a shade on the window at all.”


Louvered shutters are available in many different styles, basically determined by the depth of the slats. “In the past they were always a very small louver – 1 1/4 inches,” according to Julie Robinson. “Now the louver size is 1 7/8 inches or 2 1/2 inches – which is the most popular size here in New England – and 3 1/2 inches, which is more of a Florida size.” She further explains that most traditional Island homes don’t have the depth of windows to accommodate the larger slats.

Many different grades and types of wood are used in shutters, and they can be ordered pre-primed for paint or stain. Faux wooden shutters, usually made of vinyl, can be very authentic-looking and won’t crack, peel, or warp, so they are ideal for high humidity areas like bathrooms; color choices are more limited, however. Julie’s new State Road showroom, itself flooded with light, boasts an entire wall of shutter options.

As a rule, louvered shutters are fairly easy to install, but Julie cautions there are specific problems with some of the older houses on the Island. Crank windows, again, are difficult. There’s not enough depth, so shutters need to be mounted on a frame on the window trim. “You’re not covering the whole frame,” she informs. “You’re just making enough room on the trim for the frame. If you do a good job on the installation, it looks great.”


A younger cousin to the popular louvered shutters, but not as traditional a choice, is slatted wooden blinds. By varying the amount of “tilt,” they allow in light and the outside view without revealing to passers-by that your visiting Aunt Matilda is eating breakfast in her nightgown. And they can be pulled up completely after she’s toddled off to her ablutions.

Blinds may be purchased off the shelf at an off-Island mega-store, ordered online, and are available in limited sizes on-Island. Ready-made mini-blinds are another affordable choice, are available in several colors, and need little maintenance, but custom blinds offer many more options for fit, design, and quality. Various slat color options can be combined with plain or patterned tapes to complement the hues of the room or add a playful note. And like their older kin, their slats come in numerous size variations.

Ordering custom blinds (or other window treatments) from on-Island designers has definite advantages. It eliminates a lot of guesswork, holes in your window trim, potential trips off-Island for returns – and ultimately can save you money. You can see many options in large showrooms such as Julie Robinson’s and Vineyard Decorators in Edgartown, and designers can also bring sketches and samples to your home. Rebekah, who brings samples to clients in a portable design studio van, elaborates. “You get to see exactly what you’re going to get by me holding that item up to your window.”


Sarah’s favorite choice for solving the specific problem of bathroom windows is café curtains. “It’s less expensive,” she says. “You can have them custom-made, but there are really so many ready-made options out there. If it’s a double-hung window, it would go up to the mid-break or cover the lock. If you put them on metal rings, they slide to the side very easily and take up very little space.” She also likes that they are usually washable and look lovely billowing slightly in the wind when the window is open. Since they only cover half the window when closed, they let in light and some view – a distinct advantage over drapes and full curtains that have to be fully open for the same effect.

Whatever you choose to use on your windows to solve your privacy issues, the one constant is that it should look as good from the outside as it does inside. Although you’re depriving outsiders of a peek into your private life, make sure what they see is pleasing. If the shades are lined, make sure the linings match. When you open shades or shutters, open them with some continuity. “When you have three windows across the house and the shades are at different levels, it does look a little messy,” Sarah notes, so keep an eye on those little details for the best possible view.

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