Jewelry for houses
Shutters are like jewelry for houses.
They serve a myriad of useful purposes when they’re functional. A closed shutter blocks searing sun, howling winds and pelting rains, insulates in the winter and deflects prying eyes year round. Stroll through nearly any Mediterranean village and the shutters on the buildings express the rhythms of daily life, the weather, and the mood of the people inside. I envy the European appreciation for shutters, because ours have largely been replaced by non-functioning replicas of the real thing. Done right though, even non-functional shutters add a layer of decorative detail and texture to a house that’s hard to achieve otherwise.
Our home was not spared the indignity of a fake shutter installation during its long life. When we bought the place, the shutters were screwed directly to the window casings. Unfortunately, this is the typical installation detail for shutters these days, and is so ubiquitous that it seems normal. When our shutters were removed to be painted, I vowed that they would not go back up unless we did it the right way.
By “right way” I mean mounting the shutters so that they appear functional, even if they aren’t. The windows on our house are protected by aluminum storm windows, which prevent shutters from closing fully. Even so, we invested in cast iron shutter hinges to mount the shutters back to the house. These L-shaped hinges provide a number of benefits over the typical screwed-on shutter installation. They push the shutters off the house, allowing for ventilation and drainage behind the shutter and reducing deterioration of the paint there. They make removal of the shutters a simple matter of lifting them off, rather than tediously unscrewing them. This will make future paint jobs easier. And lastly, the raised mounting position casts deep, attractive shadows on the face of the house, an aesthetic side effect that’s lost when shutters are screwed directly to the siding.
The other piece of essential shutter hardware are tie-backs or shutter dogs. These pivoting metal plates hold the shutters open and keep them from moving in the wind. Shutter dogs come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, from the familiar S-shape to intricate cast seashells. For our house, I selected a tapered tieback with a curled bottom edge. This simple shutter dog seemed suited to the subdued colonial architecture of our home.
Aside from the absence of shutter hardware, shutter installations are marred by a number of common faux pas. Attention to a few obvious details can mean the difference between a beautiful and convincing shutter installation and one that is clearly fake. Among the rules to observe:
- Install shutters with a size and shape that would allow them to cover the window opening fully when shut. This sounds obvious, but drive around nearly any neighborhood and count how many five foot wide picture windows you find that are flanked by twelve inch wide shutters: you’ll need more than two hands.
- Install shutters so that they’d fit tightly in the window opening. Shutters installed this way will sit on the window trim, not on the siding. While you’re out counting wide windows with skinny shutters, observe how many of those shutters sit on the siding next to the window trim, not on it. You’ll to run out of fingers and toes.
- Install louvered shutters with the leading edge of the louvers facing up and out when they’re open. This way, when shut, the louvers would drain water to the outside, away from the window. Since most shutters are permanently affixed in place, it’s surprising how many people think the this mounting orientation is backwards. In fact, almost every vinyl shutter out there is manufactured with louvers that shed outward in the “open” position.
- Install shutters on both sides of the window opening even if there’s something in the way, like a chimney. If the shutter doesn’t open flat to the house, that’s okay; that’s part of the appeal of a real shutter installation. Half of a pair of shutters never did a window any good.
- Install shutters at every opening.
That last rule is the only one that we didn’t observe. For now, we’ve only mounted shutters on the King Street side of the house. Over time, I hope to put them at every opening, as they would have been in the past. Until then, I’m pleased that even if our shutters can’t close, they could.