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Integration Guide to Smart Shades: Start with Shades

Smart shades should be in customer conversations from the very beginning.

As shades are now firmly established as viable, and valuable, components of the home integration process, a few top integrators shared their techniques for introducing and guiding clients through all the options.

Hive, a Florida-based Hunter Douglas dealer, focuses on both new construction and retrofits, says Markie Harris, vice president of administration. “For our new-construction clients, we create a pre-wiring plan in which shades are part of the conversation right from the beginning. We discuss what the common areas in the home will be and which areas will not be motorized if cost is a concern.

The Hunter Douglas Silhouette as installed by Hive.

“For retro projects, our sales team has a form they go through that includes shades, so we have shades built right into that process. Most of those are battery-operated models, although, if they are doing other upgrades with wiring, that may include shades. It’s what works best for the client.”

Joe Whitaker, president, Thoughtful Integrations

Shades do come up much earlier in the conversation now, as opposed to three years ago, and designers are more involved earlier, too, says Joe Whitaker, president, Thoughtful Integrations, a Screen Innovations (SI) dealer. “This is good, because in the early stage you’re dealing with the treatment of light — whether artificial or natural — and the integrator has more of an opportunity to be involved in what happens throughout the project.”

Increasingly, clients are opting for an open floor plan with lots of large windows and views, and are interested in letting in more natural light. “People don’t want to walk around pulling cords to close or open their shades,” he adds. “But motorized shades require infrastructure and planning, which allows for designers and integrators to come in early and provide cohesive, compatible solutions.”

At Harrison Home Systems, principal George Harrison assesses how familiar clients are with motorized shades, or if they have had them previously. “I first talk to them about the privacy factor offered by shades, and that becomes a real catalyst in the discussion and decision-making process. I also explain the importance of protection for artwork and wood floors. This expands and shapes the conversation.”

Harrison, a Lutron dealer, reports that in his turf, Colorado, the 315 or so days of intense sunlight are a real design consideration. “Our projects include large single-family luxury homes and luxury condos,” he says. “In fact, we are fortunate to have become the largest luxury condo tech provider in the state. We recently completed two large condo projects and are in the midst of five more luxury condo projects. Typically, we approach the developer/builder for pre-wiring and then work with the condo owner for the shades.”

Harrison offers various luxury residential condo technology packages, including one specifically about Lutron motorized shades. “These streamlined AV, lighting, and shade packages are the biggest part of our condo business model,” he notes.

And because Lutron also offers lighting control, shades are a natural progression from that in an early design conversation. “Lutron is our single biggest vendor,” Harrison says, “so it’s a normal trajectory to bring up shades, and that’s how it evolves, with great success.”

Screen Innovations shades in action.

Showroom Power

George Harrison, principal, Harrison Home Systems

Harrison features a shade demo in its showroom, keeping it simple with a five-panel-wide demo created from leftover shades from its first condo project. “Four fabric panels are in the same color; one has a blackout fabric,” Harrison says. “This explains the openness factor, the opacity, to clients. The fabric highlights opacity factors of 3, 5, 7, and 10 percent in this side-by-side mockup, making it easy for clients to comprehend.”

Because so many clients are condo owners, Harrison talks to them about privacy vs. protection depending on what floor they live on. “On higher floors, they may need less privacy and more protection from sunlight with a 10 percent openness factor, preserving the mountain views,” he says. “Conversely, on the second floor they will want a 1 percent factor for more privacy.”

Room variation is also in play. “Master bedrooms typically get near blackout shades, with great rooms fitted to allow 10 percent of light passing through,” Harrison explains. “It’s all an education process for the client. What’s newest are the Lutron Palladiom automated shades with exposed rollers and decorative hem bar. The brackets are designed to be visible, with clean lines. These are a real big hit for us because they are precise and beautiful. Lutron has taken that clean design into its family of lighting keypads as well, providing that desired continuity in luxury environments.”

Whitaker features SI shades in his showroom, but he feels the best way to demo them is in a real, lived-in environment. “Whether that’s the client’s home, a show home, or some other property, the more natural the environment the more likely the client is to support buying shades from you,” he says.

“However, every integrator should have shades in their showroom and use the space to show people what’s possible,” he continues. “Our showroom includes task-based buttons for features such as fireplace on, lights dim, shades down. It has to feel like real-life because, in all-inclusive automated environments, introducing shades and lighting earlier also introduces the concept of task-based events and the benefits they provide. It also allows us to present options and get client feedback on what they’ll want.”

Markie Harris, vice president of administration, Hive

“For us it’s about painting a picture,” says Harris. “We have a 900-square-foot, nuts-and-bolts showroom; it’s like a living room. Here in Florida we have to consider certain very hot times of day when shades help with energy efficiency or black out sunlight in the bedroom, then goes back up to wake you up naturally.”

In new construction, shades are a bigger-ticket item, she notes. “Our shade minimum project is about $30,000 for new construction and $10,000 for retro projects. And, of course, condos have even more of a need for shades because of the floor-to-ceiling glass. These highrise luxury condos will be huge for us.”

Hive became a Hunter Douglas dealer in 2019 because of many client requests, Harris says. “It’s my favorite brand because of their training, their samples, photo books, and our great rep, Nikki Adams. One perk is that they have every style available, so we can offer all the shades for a whole house in the same style.”

Harris also notes the Hunter Douglas Design Studio Program that features artists’ collections from leading textile designers. “As an integrator, they have given us the ability to communicate more from the design point of view because of their custom-milled fabrics; there’s a real designer flair,” she says.

A Lutron shade installation from Harrison Home Systems.


With so many choices in shade styles and fabrics, Harris says it’s important not to overwhelm. “My process, when I first go to a client’s home or client meeting, is to look at where they want the motorized treatment,” she says. “Then I start with the most challenging area, such as a big window. I show a couple of fabrics that will work well for all the areas in the home; that way they won’t be disappointed if a fabric doesn’t work for another space. We have a design van with all of the samples so everything can be done in one visit, and it ensures that we’re on the same page.”

To wit, one of Harris’ clients spent $300,000 on whole-house AV for his 9000-square-foot home’s retro project. That included several tens of thousands in Hunter Douglas shades. “He said his favorite things of all were the smart motorized shades,” she recalls. “They were the coolest elements of all, and very practical.”

Beyond shades there are other options, Whitaker says, including engraved, on-wall keypads, another reason to start the conversation early on. “It’s important to ask how you want your home to feel and how often do you entertain,” he says. “The designer has to be involved. Shades are unique, not just about color or texture but about the combination of those things, the material, and the light coming in. When the sun shines through, a flat, closed-weave, blue fabric will make walls look blue, as will artwork or other items. Different materials will diffuse the light, creating a different effect. Working closely with the designer offers you the opportunity to be a more integral part of the overall project.”

Pre-planning, knowledge of what’s available, options, and having the right resources at your fingertips or a phone call away are important, he adds. “We rely on demo kits, online portals, training, and employee/subject matter experts that SI makes available to us, making all the difference. We did a project with SI to integrate shades into a moderate home with lots of windows. The project required 30 to 40 shades, all motorized. The SI dealer portal made it extremely fast to get the order specified and shipped. Because of the training and support we’ve received, our team was able to install all of those in one day.”

SI has engineered shade products that are smaller, lighter, and much easier to install and in far less time, Whitaker says. “They’ve consolidated all the parts and pieces to simplify the process and that makes shading one of the most profitable categories we sell today,” he says. “With any other category, you will not often be able to finish an installation of this magnitude in a day, let alone with strong margin. I can’t say that about any other line or offering.”

In Texas, he notes, outdoor shades are huge with quotes on almost every project with a bid. “Outdoor living spaces are also a big deal, and being able to partition spaces with shades and screens is becoming a big part of what we do. We use only SI now because of their innovative approach as well as the amenities, service, and support they offer.”

Whitaker notes a customer whose home had many windows but only a handful of motorized shades that were tied to the whole-home system. “The rest were pull-down shades — and some of those were 25 feet in the air,” he says. “Sometimes, the homeowner would open the window and forget to open the shade, so wind would rip through the window and subsequently destroy the shade. We went back, integrated shades into the home system, and resolved the situation. The system is now voice-controlled, so it’s even more convenient.”


All AV integrators should offer motorized shades and add 30 percent to the bottom line, Harris says. “If you get the process down, you will learn how to talk about them. Hunter Douglas has training for that and you should definitely be able to sell shades. It’s not easy but it’s not like programming an entire system.”

Don’t let the idea of working with fabric scare you away, Harrison advises. “Shades are a natural fit and extension for the business model of what we do.”

And get familiar with local interior designers in your area, Whitaker concludes. “Designers provide the fallback for what you don’t know. Shades are one of the easiest ways to generate new revenue and create a larger audience for your company. For safety, if the home’s alarm is triggered, all shades will open on the floor level so fire and police can assess a situation easily from the outside. At Thoughtful Integrations, we provide this on every job.”