Residential Architecture 101: Shutters

Bob Borson —  March 24, 2011 — 64 Comments

A few weeks ago I started a new series called Residential Architecture 101 and the first item we reviewed was material transitions in exterior applications, and yes, it was mind-blowing!! (read it here)  Today however, I would like to take a look at exterior shutters, which are very common and frequently the target of DIY’ers and weekend warriors..

Technically a shutter is either a solid or slated window cover. It is believe that the first shutters originated from Greece and that they were originally designed for light control, ventilation and protection from the elements in a tropical environment. Pretty standard stuff really and I think we are all familiar with how they look but I don’t think people are familiar with how they work. I say this because most current shutters don’t perform any of these tasks – they don’t even to pretend to do any of those things. One of the very basic premises that all shutters should have is that they look like they could actually protect your windows. That means that if they could be closed, they would cover the window. Many houses are designed with windows that were never intended to have shutters but people will stick them on there anyway.

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“Screw you House! Who pays the mortgage in this relationship? That’s right … I do. You are getting shutters!”

Now I don’t want anybody calling me a snob based on the first set of pictures I am going to show you. Just because these are all amazingly beautiful and well designed houses does not mean you have to live in a mansion to have proper shutters. AHEM … If anything, this is a testament to working with an architect because we think about this sort of thing. (climbing down off soapbox).  We are going to start off by looking at shutters that were designed properly. They are all operable, they are sized appropriately, and they look like they are supposed to be there. I also drive past these houses on my way home from work and I don’t have time to be running all over the place looking for examples to photograph…

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Neoclassical style house

Neoclassical style house – a fine example with the windows on the 2nd level adorned with shutters that are both operable, appropriately sized. I have enlarged an image of the shutter to the right.

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Tudor style house

Tudor style house – in this example, the shutters are solid but still sized so the shutter could cover the window when closed. I appreciated the fact that this style of shutter seemed a better fit than a louvered style.

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Italian Renaissance House 12 combo

Italian Renaissance style residence – in the enlarged portion I can’t find any real evidence that these shutters actually close but the fact that they sized to fit above the window sill and below the cornice trim – along with the catch to the side – give the appearance that they could close. Good enough for me.

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Greek Revival style house

Greek Revival style house – just one more example of shutters that are appropriately sized and operable.

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Now let’s take a look at what I like to call “shudders“:

Bad shutters on a house

What!? Is that??! Why is it so far…??!?!

What is going on in this picture flies in the face of all that is decent while breaking all sorts of common sense rules – including material transitions that we covered earlier. All that really needs to be said is – that’s nasty.

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Bad shutters on a house

This is a terrible photo (collected under cover of as I was driving by at 20 MPH). This is a good-looking house with some crazy sized shudders. Looks like they were sized to allow two to fit between the adjacent windows … gotta keep it real yo!

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Bad shutters on a house from Preston C

This photo was sent in by loyal reader Preston who took this with his camera phone while walking his dog. Yes, you are seeing shudders on a bay window. rtjdhruhhkjva-08yah akl;oah;o … sorry, my head just hit my keyboard.

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Bad shutters on a building

This picture make my face hurt – but in an entirely different manner than some of the others. Despite the half-moon window (almost always a no-no) the shudders on the window on the left are actually sized properly and could actually function as real shutters. They even cut into the stucco feature above the window to allow these shutters to close. So what happen to the shudder on right? Since there isn’t any hardware shown attached to the wall (that should be visible when the shudders are closed) I am feeling confident in saying these are impostors. I don’t always hate fake but let’s see some consistency.

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Bad shutters on a house

Here is an example of shudders to either side of a recessed set of doors. I assume they are supposed to be shudders although it really looks like pieces of fencing leaned up against the house. It was quite unnecessary for these to be added and I would argue that things would have been better if they had simply been left off the building.

What I hope you have learned from this post is that shutters weren’t always  about adornment and decoration – that they served a purpose. It is that purpose that should guide you when deciding to add shutters to your own home so that they look like they are supposed to be there. Sizing them correctly so that they look like they could actually do the job is all I am asking for – it’s not so much to ask is it? Yes, this does mean that those plastic beauties on aisle 12 of your local BuyMore big box home improvement center should stay on aisle 12.

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  • Evie

    They’re “shutters” not “shudders”, even though you may think some of them are that bad.

  • Supat213

    I have 2 front windows of 2 different sizes one is 50:w the other 36″ wide. both 49″ H. Would I really make one set 25″ and the other 18″, or just not do them at all? to me they would look off balance? I love the look of shutters on a home.please help

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      email me a photo of your windows – it’s really hard to visualize your arrangement (i.e. are the windows joined together? If they are separate, how much space is between them? You gave me widths but what about heights – are they the same height as one another)

      • Supat213

        Here is the photo, both windows are set at same height and both are same length 49″. thanks

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          In looking at this picture, I am not struck with the idea that you actually need shutters on these windows. However, if your heart is set on installing them, I would make the shutters size appropriate (18″ for one set and 25″ for the other).

          • Supat213

            Thank you

  • Timberlane Shutters

    Thank you for this post. It make me laugh, it made me cry. It made me feel as if there are really others out there who can no longer enjoy a lovely fall drive without being distracted by “nekid” houses, houses with “earring shudders”, and the “oh my no you di’int” houses.

    We love functioning shutters too, but understand it’s a slow process to re-introduce the functional shutters to the mass market, so even our fix-mounted shutters have the proper hardware to make it “look as if”.

    I recently saw one home that just did not get a single thing right. The shutters were not only mismatched, installed upside down, some backwards, and even different shades of colors, with arch tops where there shouldn’t be any …. but in this mess they seemed to get it all right, if only the house had a thatched roof to make it truly appear to be out of a fairy tale, and not a mistake.

  • John

    Hi, how would suggest I shutter my 4 double wide front windows? I too want them to be actual functioning shutters.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      the only possible way that comes to mind is if you were to install bi-fold shutters

    • Allan

      If they absolutely need to be functional (more than aesthetic) you can install “roll shutters”. They are secure, can be partially closed or left in the closed but not locked down state (which allows for some light and a little air) and they can be insulated too.
      Granted, they might not look good on too many styles of homes (unless they are contemporary), but they can also be somewhat easily disguised with proper design and trim.
      Keep in mind that they are also fairly expensive, especially if you get the electrically powered ones, instead of the “manual” type.

  • Ben McGhee

    Saw an article the other day for Habitat for Humanity. Had a picture of a lady screwing vinyl shutters to vinyl siding; caption read, “I never thought I’d learn how to install shutters.” It truly did make me shudder, poor lady thinks she knows what shutters are now. Oh Habitat Houses…

  • Brad

    Good post! You are much more polite than I have been on this subject. Guess I’m a shutter snob too.

  • Steve

    Hello, my name is Steve and I’m a shutter snob.

    Great post. 100% spot on

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Ah [extended, virulent, voluminous rant redacted to preserve the convivality of this site] shutters; that ultimate answer for “Whaddya mean, winders gots trim?”

    Once you go down the road of using an appliqué as a trim device, you are committed. So, you bolt the stuck-on-thing to “close enough” care and quality.

    Sadly, this sort of “bad design” is conditioned into many people by constant over exposure. To the point that a correct installation can offend the eye of one so inured.

  • Bomephus

    I grew up in Florida in an area prone to hurricanes. I thought it was ironic that so many houses had fake sudders – well short of the window widths to boot – and then had plywood nailed over them when the hurricanes came near. On an old house, I saw some shutters once that were only a quarter of the width of the window each, but had opperable hardware which confused me. Then when I looked closer I saw notches on the opposite edges of each where additional hinges were. They were bi-fold shutters, but someone at some point removed the additional leaf on both sides. At least the original designer had it right!

  • Marion

    And if you actually use your shutters, they provide an extra insulation both in winter and summer, and control daylight very efficiently…
    And by the way shutters are used on a daily basis in southern europe. It is not an antic piece of decoration.
    They are shutters that are invisible by daytime and just serve their purposes when closed.

  • Karla Hand

    Thanks for the badly needed advice on shutters. We are in the process of painting the exterior of our home and wanted shutters for the large picture widow in front. I am now re-thinking that based on your expertise. May go with the wider trim and accent color you suggested.

    THANK YOU so much for preventing us from making a huge mistake!!!

  • Anna K

    I have 4 street facing windows. The 2 windows on the ends have shutters. The windows on either side of the front door do not. I feel like the front looks “unfinished” with half of the windows without shutters. I have a light fixture and doorbell to the right of the door. Does that make shutters impossible? Thanks in advance for your expertise!

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  • Bernardo

     Great read once again *thumbs up*. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, really appreciating your view on things, modern things..’un  traditional american’ things. I’m an architect/interior architect living and working in The Netherlands and I’m kind of biased to modernism/contemporary builds. What I love even more Is that you’re a Sketchup user like I am.  We’ve got our  rare share here of shudders, mostly on homes with owners of little chihuaha’s dressed up like children. What I absolutely hate is that we see alot of ‘garage’ type rolldown window shutters, making homes look like closed shop window fronts, even the front door is covered. maybe you know this aswell? Anyway, a salute from Europe!, and I’d love this shutter entry to be followd up by modern shutter sollutions like you did on the garden wall entry

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Bernardo.
      This issue is systemic and I don’t think that it will ever change – sadly.
      I am familiar with the roll-down shutters, we see them in hurricane areas here in the states.

      It is time for me to write another Residential Architecture 101 post, just need to figure out which topic to cover.

      Cheers

  • Cooper2

    I LOVE THIS!  This is one of my biggest pet peeves as well. I drive through the city pointing out all the ‘bad shutter jobs’ driving my family nuts.   =)  THANK YOU AGAIN for a great blog.  

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I drive my 80% of these projects every day on my way to work – at least the good examples. I really need to write one of these Architecture 101 posts on roofs … that would be a good one to cover.

      Cheers

  • anthony zaya

    I think that it boils down to this-If you are going to tell a lie, at least tell it well.
    And that is what an inoperable sutter is.  I feel the same about overhead garage doors that pretend to open outward. Or gas fireplaces that pretend to be burning
    real wood. Shutters are just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Anonymous

    LOL – when we built our house 7 years ago, we had to repeat numerous times that we didn’t want shudders – apparently that is just not done, because we ended up with getting the shudders anyway.  We did not have them installed, however …

    I agree with you: If you have shudders they should prefereably work …

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  • http://twitter.com/TheDecorGirl Decor Girl

    Awesome!  I wouldn’t have been so kind, using bold caps to highlight rule #1 SHUTTERS MUST BE SIZED TO FIT THE WINDOW & like they could close!

    Oh when I see bad ones I just want to put a note on their front door.  I will be referencing this.

  • http://twitter.com/NaplesArchitect Wojciech Kulicki

    I was driving around after reading this and found a double-whammy: shudders (or “pasties” as I like to call them), on a BAY window, and at LEAST 12″ away from the frame. Gross.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Ahh – picture please!

  • http://twitter.com/GinaAlex Gina

    Growing up in Jamaica, I am quite familiar with the beauty and utility of real shutters. Many a great house, mansion and shack have survived category 5 hurricanes with windows in tact. My first project as an intern where the client requested bolted shutters adjacent to hurricane-proof doors…. confused me. Why spend an extra U$3,000 on a beach house for shutters that are bolted to the wall? Quite literally, a shudder in the making. Ever since then, I have been aware of the multitude of “shudders” that exist the world over, on homes, dog houses, doll houses, shopping malls and the like.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Gina, glad to have someone chime in who is from a part of the world where real working shutters exist out of necessity.

      Thanks for adding your voice to the comments,
      Bob

  • jbushkey

    Is there any reason to have operable shutters on a house in 2011? Otherwise like people said why use inoperable ones as decoration.

    This seems to be another example of people’s desire for quantity over quality. Having something “real” isn’t on the radar for most people so we end up with mostly useless junk pretending to be the real thing.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Maybe – you seem to be a little harsher on the topic than I feel. There are certain styles of house that seem to want this sort of accent/ feature (just look at the work of A. Hays Town).

      If they can actually function instead of being a plastic shudder, I have zero issues with them.

  • Eric B

    Great post. This has been something that always bothered me. One of the first things I’ve done to the housed I’ve bought was to take those things off for these same reasons.

    Always enjoy your posts

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Eric – I appreciate you taking the time to say so.

      Cheers

  • http://buildipedia.com/community/profile/64-ryancarpico Ryan Carpico

    Nice work and examples. Hopefully this post will stop a few shutters from being tacked onto another suburban saltbox.

    There are many other non-superficial ways to accentuate and detail a window – use wider trim..add an accent color to the trim…box it out…use creative brick detailing…or call an architect (heard you from the soapbox). Have you considered a follow-up in this series to showcase creative window trim/accent ideas without using stick-on shutters?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      To be honest I haven’t thought about a follow-up post. Not sure if I like the idea thought … it sounds like a lot of work on my part :)

      Thanks Ryan – as always

  • Alistair

    Here in not so sunny England, shutters are often on the inside of the house to help protect us from the cold, rather than stopping the sun, as with you lucky folks. And depending on the window width the shutters consisted of two, three or four leaves which fold back into the window reveal. The outer leaves are often panelled, whilst the inner one or two are plane. There is some suggestion that in the 18th century there was such demand for shutters that the panelled leaves were mass-produced in standard sizes (sound familiar?), leaving adjustment on site of cutting and inserting the plane central leaves.

    So Bob, the question is – have the designers forgotten to add the extra leaves, or is it simply appalling detailing? Save your breath, I know the answer to that one.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – I’m afraid that you do know the answer to that question. The real issue probably isn’t a matter of cost, it’s simply asking the question in the first place.

  • http://www.kitchens.com Kim

    Bob, I have some photos of horrid homes I took with you in mind, actually, hoping you might find them useful for your deconstructions. And now that I think of it, I have a few nice ones that might be useful as well. What’s the best way to get them to you?

    The first shudder is my fave!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That’s great! You can email me at

      bob (at) lifeofanarchitect (dot) com

  • Jeremiah

    For me, if shutters aren’t meant to be functional they don’t belong on a house, so don’t ask me to put them there because I won’t. Nope not now, not ever, no thank you, keep moving along nothing to see here. :-
    The recessed door and the single “shudder” 18″ off the window are the best…need to frame those and hang em on the wall!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Those are some hall of fames ickies for sure. I have a copy of ‘Louisiana Houses by A. Hays Town’ which if you ever wanted to know the proper way to use a shutter, this is the guy. His work is incredibly incredible.

  • http://twitter.com/leSandwichPanel Alan Halpin

    Great little post, have seen plenty of those ‘shudders’ and always questioned them the same way you did lol! Good point by McCArch too about the angle of the louvres and hanging backwards, a nice observation!

  • Pat Leitzen Fye

    I have long wanted to do a series on “what NOT to do” in residential design/remodeling – examples are endless! But in the area in which I live I’d probably end up offending far too many people. Love the “shudders” term, reminds me of “remuddling” aka remodeling . . .

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Ha! I haven’t ever heard of “remuddling” – that’s a good one. Yes, I think I am on thin ice a little because I would be mortified if anybody actually found their house up on display here. I like to play nice and while I fall short of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, I am only trying to bring a topic into focus a little so that other people can think about the topic.

      Thanks for commenting Pat, I appreciate it.

    • jbushkey

      Somebody beat you to it, but another book like this would be great.

      http://www.amazon.com/What-Not-Build-Exterior-Design/dp/1580112935

  • Ayleen

    My husband sent me this because I go on very long rants about this very problem. I found the post funny and very informative. I completely agree and honestly if they are not going to be used why put them up? Be practical! There are many different things that can be done to complete the exterior of a home and why I also agree that architects should be brought because like you said they think of these things! Thank you again for a great post! It rocked!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Ayleen – glad you liked it and I hope I can count on receiving more comments from you in the future!

  • Brenda Lynn

    I have to go out and take some pix to send you Bob, so you can be in pain with me. You know, misery loves company.

    Brenda Lynn

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I keep asking for people to send in photos of terrible construction or design. I will find a way to use them – my inbox is always open.

  • Csphoto

    Not a single photo of a ‘shudder’ covered mobile home? I will check my archives…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Please do – If I was really dedicated to the cause I would venture out north to suburbia where the builder home is King Almighty. Although the photos I could find in those locations might be confusing to the readers because there are so many issues going on – it would be hard to focus on one specific item.

      Thanks Chuck – hope things are well.

  • McCArch

    Hey Bob:

    In total agreement with you on this, but you left out one part of the discussion. Real working louvered shutters, when closed, shed water away from the interior as a result of the angle of the louver. The problem with that is that whe. Open, they shed water into the wall behind them…which isn’t a great thing on a clapboard or shingle house. As a result, most shutters are hung backwards today, since they aren’t really meant to be used.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That is an excellent observation and point. Yes, there are many things I didn’t go into – just trying to get things going so I can let edumacated readers like you play the heavy (these are my neighbors after all).

      Thanks for taking the time, I appreciate it

  • http://profiles.google.com/damian.trostinetzky Damian Trostinetzky

    I hate shutter when they are used just as decoration as shown in many of your examples. Is just silly ornamentation.

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree more. Of course after looking at these “shudders” my head hurts and I need to go lay down.

  • http://modernsauce.blogspot.com ModernSauce

    I was debating posting a few pics of my neighbors houses for mocking but was unsure if it was appropriate. But now since you’ve done it that means I can too! Hooray for mocking! No hoorays for fake shutters. *shudders*

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Shudder indeed. Hopefully it is obvious that I try and hide the house of the icky stuff since I am not trying to call someone out, just using them for their unfortunate circumstances.

      Obviously I had no problems showing the really nice houses though…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Shudder indeed. Hopefully it is obvious that I try and hide the house of the icky stuff since I am not trying to call someone out, just using them for their unfortunate circumstances.

      Obviously I had no problems showing the really nice houses though…

  • http://SLS-Construction.com SLS Construction

    Great article & pics Bob – remind me one day to send you one of my favorites (ok the one that grates on my nerves the most) – the 2/3 shutter. It is a nice looking 1 story house with brick on the bottom half – shutters are basically sized properly except for 1. Yep you got it, they decided to raise the level of brick up and used a window for the transition area & installed a 2/3 shutter

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – you need to send me that photo! I will come back here and amend this post to include it. Sounds fantastically terrible.

  • http://funandfit.org AlexandraFunFit

    And which of those mansions is yours? None of them look like the pictures you’ve posted before so it makes me wonder if you might be a squatter. Wait, maybe you’re a shutter squatter. Yeah, that’s it.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – these house are just a wee tad out of my price range. Since I can’t afford to buy one, I choose to live near them. Makes me all tingly on the drive home.