For generations, people have selected wood shutters for their windows because of the durability, classic style and easy maintenance that shutters provide. They are frequently thought of as a standard fixture on historical buildings – from Italy to New England. Although shutters are in use almost universally, it is difficult to determine the exact historical origins of the use of shutters.
It is commonly believed that shutters were first used in ancient Greece in order to provide light control, ventilation and protection in that tropical environment. Those first shutters were likely constructed with fixed louvers made out of marble. Eventually, the concept of shutters spread throughout the Mediterranean, and the form began to change. Wood started to replace marble as a more suitable material for production, and designers started developing movable louver shutters to allow varying amounts of light and air into a room.
Window Shutters Gaining Popularity
Shutters generally performed two functions; admitting light and ventilation. Louvered shutters could be closed to minimize heat from the sun and simultaneously allow for ventilation and privacy when needed. With the louvers pointed in the downward direction, the shutters also shed rainwater. Solid shutters provided more insulation and were able to prevent insects from entering the home.
In medieval Europe, houses had rectangular windows with solid shutters that sometimes closed with a large iron bar for security and protection. By Tudor and Elizabethan times, glass windows started to be used, but they were very expensive, therefore reserved for the upper half of window openings. Solid shutters below the sash, windows remained closed with solid shutters. Hinged glazed sashes started replacing the solid shutters in the 15th century. After that point, interior shutters were increasingly used as decoration in homes rather than strictly functional purposes. Woodwork like window shutters and moldings became the main decorative elements in smaller houses in early 18th century England.
As wood construction started to be used for houses in the Victorian period, people started using shutters outdoors. The stone and brick houses built previously had deeply recessed windows that prohibited the use of exterior shutters because they would be unreachable from the inside. However, the thinner wooden walls allowed indoor access to exterior shutters.
To the New World
As the Spanish started colonizing in the Americas, they brought shutters to the New World. Decadent mansions in the South used shutters, and the term “plantation shutters” is derived from this area. Plantation shutters on cotton plantations usually had wider louvers than shutters used earlier, and they were almost always painted white.
Traditional shutters often found in the New England states trace their roots to England, where the narrower louver was used. Often café type shutters mimic the original use of shutters on the bottom portion of windows before glass was affordable.
A more incendiary – but decidedly less factual – tale about the invention of shutters takes place in 17th century France. After Louis XIV moved the Court from the Louvre in Paris to Versailles, he enjoyed a festive life in the country. One of his favorite pastimes was to admire the beautiful women of his court bathe in the many ponds within his gardens. However, he noticed that the bathing women also distracted guards on duty to protect the palace. Rumor holds that Louis XIV had movable louvered shutters installed around the garden walls so that he could open them and peep but the guards would not be able to see.
Originally, the term louver referred to boards that would allow ventilation through a turret built into the roof of a medieval building. However, some hold that the name louver hails from the days of Louis XIV. Since some legends place the advent of shutters after he left the Louvre, they propose the working mechanisms of shutters at Versailles were named after Louis’ previous dwelling.
The introduction of the term “Peeping Tom” involves shutters in a unique way. According to legend, Lady Godiva rode naked through the town of Coventry on a white horse in order to make her husband remit a heavy tax on the people. Most people stayed inside, but Peeping Tom looked through closed shutters to catch a glimpse at Lady Godiva.