Residential Architecture 101: Shutters

Bob Borson —  March 24, 2011 — 89 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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  • sally

    hmmm trying to upload again….