Folding Windows

Sexy headline aside, today we are talking about screens.  I hear you, boring, boring, boring you say.  But I am championing them anyway!  They are under-acknowledged, under-understood, and under-appreciated.  (Hmmm, that’s bringing me horrible flashbacks of marriage counseling.)  Let’s try it another way… If our windows are, say, the little black dresses for our home - reliably beautiful, functional, seductively practical - then (ladies) try to think about their screens as their secret set of Spanx.  They are the invisible support system and the unsung heroes! Just think about life without them on a still, damp, summer night as dusk settles in.  So, stay with me - let’s give them their due for just a moment.  

First off, not all screens are created equal.  You need to understand the mesh.  Because no matter what you are putting a screen in - you have some choices here: vinyl, metal, dark, light, mesh size, etc., etc.  I’ll let you do your googling for extra credit, but one of the most important elements to consider is view enhancement. It means you are seeing more view and less screen.  There are different brands, UltraVue is a common one.  Take a look, there are some pretty dramatic pictures online. And the difference can be just as dramatic in person.  Are they more expensive?  Of course.  But not over the top.  And if you have any sort of view where you value clarity (the ocean, your pool, your children, your iguana nest) it’s worth the money. 

A cautionary tale: One year, my ex-husband got irritated with me because in a burst of enthusiasm I took out all of our screens in the fall to wash our windows and enjoy that bright, clean view all winter.  (Obviously we did not take my fabulous advice on quality screens and instead we lived with our “vintage” metal storm sets from the 1950’s.  Each with a million adjustable panels and an impossible number of tracks that you needed to align just exactly so or Sweet Mother of Jimmy Crickets!  I know I’m boring most of you, but I sense a few of you raising your fists in solidarity.)  Anyway - I was fed up with the awful look of those old metal screens and wrestled each one reluctantly off their tracks and stacked them down in the basement for the winter.  And what a good idea it was!  What a difference it made!   

For a few days I was dancing around like some woman on a Windex commercial.  But, come spring, it was indeed a vexing sudoku trying put all those screens back into their proper windows.  And don't even talk to me about getting them into their proper tracks.  Like trying to thread a needle with mittens on.  Plus, my Ex was right, I should have labeled them.  I was definitely not doing the happy dance that spring.  Anyway - this is a VERY long way of saying: Go on and treat yourself to that better mesh - you (and your marriage) deserve it. 

Retractable screens have been around for a while, but they are now more flexible and better functioning and are gaining in popularity.  Why are they so great you ask? Because they are retractable of course.  You pull it out when you want it and it rolls back up when you don’t.  Have you ever replaced your front door, or even just painted it - only to realize that it’s really your battered screen door that is stealing the show, and not in a good way.  Retractable screens are good for that. 

Other reasons?  People are using horizontal ones to screen off their garage work spaces.  Or to create instant screened in porches.  Or they are using the vertical or horizontal ones to accompany those cool bifold glass doors that fold back to nothing to welcome all that outside in.  But not the bugs please. 

The downsides to retractable screens?  They are expensive - and honestly, they ought to be.  You want them to come with warrantees and to work seamlessly for many years.  And also keep in mind that they need to retract into something - usually a canister of sorts.  Different companies design these in different ways.  Some canisters are better hidden than others.  So have a clear understanding of how that works before you pull the trigger. 

And the last thing I have to say about screens is on repair.  We all know what happens… the dogs repeatedly scratch, the little humans always push the screen in that same unsupported spot, your tipsy uncle sees no screen at all… it’s life, it happens.  And I’ve also seen your fixes: duct tape, scotch tape even, a patch.  My favorite is the sewing together of an L shaped tear.  There is both ingenuity and an ill-placed optimism in that one.  But guess what?  They all look terrible, and they are all postponing the inevitable which is that you need a new screen.  So, jump to the end game - just get it done!  The hardware store can help you.  As can a handyman.  But google it.  They are usually pretty easy to do yourself.  And when you do?  Go ahead and splurge on the good screen.  You’re worth it! 

Jen Coles is a professional home designer and mother of four who lives in Manchester. Colescoloranddesign.com