A History Lesson on Roman Shades


One of the best selling window covering categories these days is Roman Shades. Any idea how they orginated? The Roman shade the simplest and one of the oldest window treatments, is a flat shade that can be raised or lowered with a cord. While the body of a Roman shade is started out as flat and smooth; today there is a variety of styles from Relaxed to Pleated and Hobble.shade (2)

The origins of Roman shades probably date to Rome’s famed Coliseum, the ancient arena that was the site of the famed Roman spectacles. Excavations of the Coliseum have revealed that the Romans used amazing technological and engineering advances to create shows, including flooding the huge arena to stage mock naval conflicts. One of those innovations was the forerunner to Roman Shades- a system of retractable fabric shades that were part of the luxurious amenities offered to spectators of the grandiose spectales of Imperial Rome. According to the Smithsonian:

During the intermezzos between hunts, spectators were treated to a range of sensory delights. Handsome stewards passed through the crowd carrying trays of cakes, pastries, dates and other sweetmeats, and generous cups of wine. Snacks also fell from the sky as abundantly as hail, one observer noted, along with wooden balls containing tokens for prizes—food, money or even the title to an apartment—which sometimes set off violent scuffles among spectators struggling to grab them. On hot days, the audience might enjoy sparsiones (“sprinklings”), mist scented with balsam or saffron, or the shade of the vela, an enormous cloth awning drawn over the Coliseum roof by sailors- or quite simply- Roman Shades.

These long awnings were constructed to open into the arena and offered some sun protection.  The awnings were held out on poles that extended into the stands.  When they were not in use the shades pleated back on themselves like our modern Romans.  The difference was that the original Roman shades hung horizontally out from the wall.  Today’s Roman shades hang vertically in front of the window.Though today’s forerunner is different from today’s version, the genius system of ropes and pulleys used to move this flexible sunscreen were crucial to the development of the Roman Shade.

Today’s Roman shades offer design clients a huge variety of  styles with endless options when it comes to details.



What’s next in Roman Shade stylings? How about Roman shades hung from poles and rings? Orion’s Milano collection consists of  5/8″ rods , rings and support brackets with almost a dozen finial choices from glass and iron to beads. Next time you’re showing Roman Shades show these on trend options to your clients.



roman with rod



Our Milano Collection Finials


The headrail support bracket

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