What to Know About Exterior Functional Wood Window Shutters :: History, Styles & Curb Appeal
This is the second part of a two-part article on wood window shutters. The article started as a recap of the process I followed to refinish and (re-)hang antique operable wood window shutters (on my own house). As I researched, I found myself exploring also the history and architectural significance of wood shutters.
In this article, I’ll spend some time on not only those topics, but also on the various shutter styles. I’ll explore Installing New Wood Shutters, as well as alternatives – like fixed vinyl . Lastly, I’ll take a look at window shutters’ importance to Curb Appeal.
For me, the process of restoring meant only repainting and making ultra-minor repairs to already installed louvered shutters. We removed them from the 1880s Farmhouse shortly after purchasing it. Because we kept our wood windows, and because much of the existing window trim was either previously replaced (by me) and/or was otherwise intact (enough), re-hanging the shutters themselves was pretty straight forward.
*In the article, I’ll also check in with Carpenter, Lenny Addario of Reputation Builders, working in Coastal Connecticut. He recently completed a shutter restoration job in Milford, Connecticut. He provides some great insight as well as some beautiful pictures. (Below)
Editor’s Note: To see the process I took with Refinishing & Hanging Exterior Wood Shutters on my 1880s Victorian Farmhouse, see the article also on this site – Refinishing & Hanging Functional Exterior Wood Shutters. In it, I discuss – Removing Paint, Painting, Restoring Shutter Hardware & More!
Please Read On to Learn More about the Significance of Shutters. ~jb
Curb Appeal Dating Back Centuries
Builders add shutters today mostly as an exterior decoration. As a window dressing, if you will. These decorative shutters are an essential ingredient in a recipe for curb appeal. While available in a multitude of materials, vinyl is likely the most prevalent. (In most cases, less than $50 a pair.) They affix right to the home’s facade. I’ve installed them myself (pictured below).
They are actually super easy to install – a ladder (or two), a drill driver with a drill bit, a level, maybe some silicone, a hammer, and an afternoon. Voila!
While they often get their inspiration from their forefathers, they don’t come close to a classic coolness of a set of operable wood shutters, and all that sexy hardware.
* American Architectural History & a Little on Shutter Styles
Shutters have taken many forms throughout the American Architectural idiom. Styles include board and batten (see Lenny‘s), paneled (raised or recessed), plank, Craftsman, and more.
Some are inlaid like mine; others overlay like Lenny‘s. Functionally, we’ve also seen them fold or even slide. Today, though, two basic categories remain to battle it out – fixed and/or functional.
Featured in this article, my shutters – functional. And as you will see – louvered. (Note too, that louvered is, in fact, the style of the vinyl shutter installed above.)
* Some Love for the Louvered Shutter
By my research, the louvered shutter is spotted on the earliest colonial dwellings. (Let’s say – Spanish Colonial, late 1600s, and perhaps the first shutter style.) The louvered shutter was of course a mainstay with many architectural styles. They appear all the way and up through say the ’70s Ranch.
Question: Are all Louvered Shutters Plantation Shutters?
Answer: While plantation shutters are in fact often louvered, louvered shutters aren’t always plantation shutters. The distinction – plantation shutters feature movable louvers. This in itself makes them less ideal for exteriors, and especially in some areas. Plantation shutters are typically considered interior shutters.
Interesting Fact: The title of this next section – the phrase “shutter the windows” has a historical, social connotation that I will not cover here. (Google – if interested.)
Shut(ter) the Window! (Practical Functionality)
Antique operable, exterior shutters have a stately and glorious past. They served numerous, super practical purposes. When closed, they:
- Control light (i.e. providing shade), without shutting out fresh air (especially – the louvered).
- Protect glass from breakage (and antique glass for one is delicate).
- Prevent water penetration at openings (Windows & Doors).
- Act as a primitive security feature – a first line of defense to intruders.
- Others say they were even an early form of insulation.
The louvered shutter is likely the most uncompromisingly practical. Scooped slats angled at intervals, the gaps between both creating shade and encouraging cooling (the two hand in hand) in a period before, well, electricity. Think back, no electricity, of course, meant no AC. When closed, and unlike other shutter designs, the louvered shutter allowed for, even fostered, steady airflow.
The louvered shutter, too, came into being before the wide availability of the window screen. In the absence of window screens, this shutter style provided for peace of mind when opening windows. Lessening the fear of invasion of insects and/or the entry of other critters.
Bottom line: The louvered shutter provided cooling on hot and sticky summer days and nights. Louvers when closed were efficient, too, with shedding water downward. (See: Occasional seasonal downpours.)
* Louvered Shutter Roots
While it’s not surprising we trace the louvered’s roots to the south, i.e. Spanish Colonial in Florida (from above), but let’s stop short of the Caribbean. Bermuda Shutters, while also often louvered, more commonly hinge at the top. For me (living in Maryland), and for the sake of this article, think instead of paired shutters – like small french doors for your windows.
Restoring Louvered Wood Shutters
Now, all that said – and all the practical implications, and *everything* that makes the louvered exterior window shutter an understated work of brilliance, also makes them, well – a flat out b*tch to both remove paint from and also to repaint. (More on this in the sister article, linked back there.)
Bottom Line: The process of restoring a shutter would be quite similar for any style, but it is just a little more challenging when you are dealing with the louvered style.
Anatomy of the Window Shutter
It seems all exterior shutters can be distilled down to three styles. Board & Batten (Lenny‘s a fine example), Paneled and Louvered. You will see, however, more sophisticated versions that combine two styles. In my area, part panel/part louvered styles, often with ornamental, decorative cut-outs on top are common. There are, in fact, many variations, and a good bit of local “vernacular.”
* Lenny‘s Coastal Cottage shutters are board & batten, but include a heart-shaped cut-out. (See below.)
* Lenny and the homeowner then took inspiration from these shutters, carrying their heart decoration to exterior doors.
Hearts appear first in an inlay on a nearby porch door.
And in the light used on this exterior door leading to the kitchen.
Both handcrafted, even handcarved, and custom from Lenny Addario – very cool.
Of his client, Lenny said, “They were absolutely adamant about the shutters being operable. They plan to close them during storms.” Located near the Connecticut Coast, that makes perfect sense.
Beyond Board & Batten, though, the anatomy of the other two styles (louvered and paneled) is pretty similar.
Like doors, shutters have both a top and a bottom rail and two longer vertical stiles, one on each side. Some shutters will also at times include a middle rail. In the case of louvered shutters, louvers are set in oblong mortises cut into the inside edge of opposing stiles.
Decorative trim dresses some shutters, while mine had only a functional “meeting rail”. Perhaps site-installed, two L-shaped rabbet cuts – set in opposition of each other. On a set of shutters, these pair or lap when the shutters are, together, closed.
Like doors – they are constructed, then later “handed”.
Shutter Hardware is Sexy
In my project, I had hinges in various states of, well, oldness. The size 3”, as well as a letter – either L or R – was stamped into the back of each hinge part. While these were not numbered, as the shutters were, I was able to use their unique font and, ultimately, their fit to figure which ones could and should go together.
While I would love to tell you I had anything like the highly decorative ACME hinge, mine were more utilitarian – a simple lift-off type, pin-style hinge. The kinda hinge that on a wood framed house requires mortising, like a door hinge.
Editor’s Note: More on hinges in our Guide to Hinges. More on Mortising Hinges in the video – Hang an Interior Door Slab. (Another, I hope to rework soon.)
Shutter hinges come in much more sophisticated versions, combo styles and/or in ornamental, hand-hammered iron. L- or strap- styles which mount not to the inside of casing (like mine), but rather to the face of trim (like Lenny‘s). These are really the only option for overlaid shutters. Strap hinges also work well when there is no wood casing to fasten to as is sometimes the case with brick or stone construction. In almost all cases, your hinge will be easily separable. (More on that further down.)
For holding shutters open, you’ll most commonly see something known as a “shutter dog.” (Usually in the shape of an S.) In lieu of these pieces, some of shutters receive a hook and loop. The loop itself at times actually a staple. My hold backs, aka – stays sit in “catches” and seem to be a part of a local vernacular. (See my notes on this entire set-up in the sister article.)
* Lenny‘s installation, in contrast, included simple “bullets” inserting into catches as hold backs. From this page, and pictured below.
Installing New Wood Shutters
If my shutters hadn’t already been hung – i.e. had the hinges not been installed, the process of hanging them would have been far more complicated.
Do your research and select an architecturally appropriate style of both shutter and coordinating hardware. Measure each to fit.
Establish Hinge Position on Shutters. In an effort to be exacting, shutters should be set in each opening. If trimming is required, it’s typically done with a circular saw or a power planer. Given the weight and the height of a standard window shutter, two hinges should do. Setting the lower hinge first. Its lower edge is located just above the (wider) bottom rail (between 6″ and 12″ from the bottom of the shutter) – in the case of paneled or louvered shutters.
Taking a measurement here, you’ll then also utilize this distance at the top of the shutter. Any mortises are made with an adjustable hinge mortising jig and a mortising router bit. Hinges should be mortised to the exact depth of the hinge’s leaf thickness. Make sure to keep the shutter oriented correctly throughout this process.
Note: Lenny’s hinges are set at exactly 7 1/4″ from both the top and bottom – a common hinge placement location.
Paint the Shutters. As described in the associated article. If finishing more than a few sets, plan to spray. Use only high quality exterior paints and stains. Optionally cap with copper or aluminum.
Install Hinges on the Shutters. (Also discussed the associated article.) Use stainless steel fasteners. Pre-drill with a bit that is slightly smaller than the selected screw or lag / bolt thickness, and to a depth of approximately 3/4rds of its length. Tip: Use a piece of electrical tape or other gauge to set pre-drilling depth.
Check Plumb on Casings & Locate Hinges. Check plumb on window casings. Using wood shims create an ⅛” spacing at the shutters’ perimeter. (Make further adjustments, if needed, now.) Enlist the help of a helper to hold the shutters in place, in the closed position. Mark the hinge locations off. Mark at both the bottom and the top of what Lenny calls the hinge’s “knuckle”. Be precise.
Mortise for and otherwise Set Pintle Locations. If only installing a few shutters, mortising can be by hand, using a utility knife and a wood chisel. If you are doing a whole house of windows, consider employing a method similar to that used on the shutters themselves. Note: Be cautious if working with a router at any height above the ground.
Separate the Hinges & Install the Pintles. Again discussed here. Make adjustments for plumb by either undercutting mortising, or by padding out with playing cards or the like.
Hang the Shutters. Also detailed in the associated article.
Install Shutter Hardware. Install pulls, hold backs and locking hardware according to manufacturer instructions. Use common sense. Here in the associated article.
Check Operation and Adjust Fit as Needed.
Ironically – My house now (a Dutch Colonial) is void of shutters, though the pintles are present on the second story windows. Original plans below show paneled shutters. (It’s been added to the todo.)
More Moxie (Helpful Links)
Sources for Shutters? Sources for Shutter Hardware? and Just Generally Cool Sites
- Measuring Shutters – Colonial Shutter Works
- Movable and Other Shutters – Larson Shutter
- Shutter Fasteners – House of Antique Hardware
- Shutter Hardware – Hardware Resource
- Lenny’s pick for Shutter Hardware – Acorn Manufacturing
- Stays and Bolts – Decorative Shutters
For more from this home improvement series, What to Know About, please click thru. My thanks out to Lenny Addario for his insight and willingness to share. You’ll find him as Reputation Builders located in Milford, Connecticut.
Cheers and thanks for reading. ~jb