A home’s shutters are the equivalent of a lady’s pocketbook or a gentlemen’s watch. As accessories they add color and style, but they were in fact designed for function first. These days, most shutters gracing a home’s façade are vinyl facsimiles of the real thing, but replacing them with functional moving shutters is a quick way to add curb appeal and an authentic flair. Plus, they can provide the added layer of protection against storms, strong sun and prying eyes.
When it comes to adopting this look, the first thing to keep in mind is that shutters were originally designed for homes of a different era. Recently renovated homes or ones built after the ’60s may have windows that are out of proportion to the shutters like bay, large picture or double windows. “The goal is to make the shutters look realistic and operable and some windows are simply too big,” said Michael Macrina, a Stony Brook-based architect. “Instead of putting two narrow shutters on either side of a bay window that could never close and protect the window, give it detail with wide trim instead.”
The choice of shutter material correlates directly with how much maintenance the homeowner is willing to take on. Wood shutters made from Western red cedar, mahogany or Spanish cedar are the traditional choice because they are weather-resistant. Wood can be painted any color and can be custom designed to fit odd-shaped windows like arches. And wood is warm, but it also requires maintenance to keep up the paint or finish. For those seeking less of a commitment, manufacturers offer maintenance-free PVC or PVC-fiberglass blended shutters that can look just like painted wood, however most factories offer only a limited color palette.
The shutter’s style, from panels to louvers, should take cues from the home. Older Victorian-style homes lend themselves to either louvers or flat panels while less ornate capes are better suited to board-and-batten shutters. A true colonial most likely would have paneled shutters on the first floor for maximum protection and louvers on the second to shed rain but still let light in. Still, unless the goal is an historically accurate restoration these are only meant to be guidelines. “Louvers are a really popular style and would probably work best for a lot of the neocolonial homes on Long Island,” said Eric Kupferberg, a Long Beach-based architect.
Because they can be painted, shutters can either play a starring role in the home’s color scheme or fade into the background. Bright reds and yellows turn a simple panel into an accent, while a darker green color against a light, cream-colored siding is more demure. “When it comes to color you can go the safe route and match the shutter color to the trim color on your house,” Macrina said. “But I like to use them in a contrasting color, maybe a red, burgundy or black on a gray house with white trim.” Wood shutters are available from the factory raw, primed or painted in a spray booth, which delivers a flawless finish that is hard to replicate in the field.
PVC shutters can be coated with a special paint designed to adhere to vinyl, but check with the manufacturer first as they may recommend a particular paint brand. Some paint might not adhere well, flaking off and actually causing the maintenance nightmare PVC shutters were designed to avoid.
What separates a false shutter from a real one, or even a fixed shutter that looks like it’s real, is the hardware. A big part of this is the hinges, which do the heavy lifting and can be installed on the window trim, jamb or the siding next to the window. Hinge styles range from ornate, hand-hammered strap hinges to simple, almost hidden H-hinges. Shutter dogs are the decorative pieces of metal that hold the shutter against the house and they too can be as simple as a ball or as elaborate as a dolphin or pineapple.
Replacing tired, faux shutters with real ones or very good-looking impostors takes only a couple of hours per window. The result is an added layer of color, texture and shadow lines that communicates the home’s style to the street.
“We need houses as we need clothes, architecture stimulates fashion. It’s like hunger and thirst—you need them both.” – Karl Lagerfeld