What are Shutters?

What are shutters 

Shutters are window treatments that cover windows and openings in homes and buildings. As a window treatment is  can be installed purely as decorative features. Functional shutters provide privacy, keep out noise and intruders and provide climate control , to indoor and outdoor areas of a building. When used for functional purposes, it usually covers the whole window, to protect against outside elements. Decorative shutters are often not operable, do not have to cover the entire window opening  and mainly functions as an aesthetic feature. The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (OED) cites the first usage of the word “shutter” as occurring in the 1683 publication A way to health, long life and happiness by Thomas Tryon – “prevent the free Influences of the Air by Window shutters, and Curtains to their Beds, for the fresh clear Air is wonderful friendly and healthy to Persons of this Constitution.” source

Shutters come in four basic types: paneled, louvered, board and batten,  Bermuda and roller shutters. They are available in a variety of materials including MDF (medium density fiber) boards, vinyl, synthetic foam, faux wood and wood and aluminium .

Types of shutters


Shutters come in four basic types: paneled, louvered, board and batten,  Bermuda and roller shutters. They are available in a variety of materials including MDF (medium density fiber) boards, vinyl, synthetic foam, faux wood and wood and aluminium .


Board and batten shutters are made of panels that consists of plain boards, installed vertically or horizontally with a spacing to allow for expansion and contraction. A smaller, thinner board is then applied to cover the open seam between the main boards. Battens placed perpendicular across several boards, with one baton at the bottom and one at the top of the panel is a popular method of configuring board and batten shutters.

Panel shutters, the oldest form of shutters,  consists of plain boards or raised panels fitted into a frame.

In contrast to other shutters that are hinged at the sides, Bahama shutters (also called Bermuda Shutters) are hinged at the top like an awning, with the hinges attached to the wall itself.

See roller shutter .

A louvred shutter is one or a set of louvres set in a frame to form a shutter. Louvres itself are a set of slats that overlaps. Often slats can  be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the gap between them to let in more or less light and air, or it can be closed completely to protect against rain, noise, intruders or keep out light. 


Single Panel shutters are  hinged to the sides or the top of the window on the wall, either inside or outside. 

Two Panels can  hinged on both sides of a window, with each shutter covering half of the window area.

Bi Fold  panels  can fold back and stack against each other like a concertina. For stability the panels can slide on a track.

Bypass or sliding shutters where one shutter panel slides in front or behind the other to open.

T-posts are often used to provide stability between two shutter panels or sets of shutters.

Shutters in History

There is very little literature on the origins of shutters as window coverings. However, the development of window shutters can be traced back at least as far the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in  79 AD.  In Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town, the deep pyroclastic material which covered it preserved some wooden object such as a charred pair of panel shutters.

The Medieval Period

Although few artefacts of window treatments from the medieval era were preserved, by  12 September 1066 the use of shutters were so widespread that King Harold’s army made shields for themselves out of shutters and other pieces of wood to create a barrier against the Norman invaders.

In 1245 the sheriff was ordered to enlarge the windows in the Queen’s chamber at Guildford Castle, with “ the upper part of the window boarded, and the whole provided with wooden shutters” source

In England, shutters were mostly made from elm wood, but also from the well seasoned oak and fir. Source The Construction of Medieval and Tudor Houses in


The Late Middle Ages until Early modern period

During this period,  windows in British homes were essentially very small openings in a wall , sometimes protected by bars, shutters, curtains, oiled paper or cloth, while window glazing remained the preserve of the wealthy. Source

 The Georgian Era and American Colonial settlement 

Irene Cieraad writes in “An Anthropology of Domestic Space, Volume 1” that homes in typical seventeenth-century Dutch towns had at least two windows flanked with shutters on each story. Exterior shutters were used only on the lower parts of the windows. This may indicate that exterior shutters were mainly used for privacy. In the next century exterior shutters were replaced by large interior shutters that covered the whole window casement., hidden by long curtains. In daytime the shutters were folded back, and the curtains were drawn aside.

Shutters were introduced to the New World by European settlers circa 1600. Although there are no known structures of this period remaining, colonial manuscripts  that refer to the built environment dating from the era contains references for shutters in contract documents. On January 31, 1661, Thomas Jansen Mingael, a house carpenter in New Amsterdam, agreed to build a dwelling measuring thirty feet long and eighteen feet wide for one Jonas Bartelsen. The agreement included a shuttered frame (venster) in the upper gable end for the rear of the house.

Source : Origins and Survival of Netherlandic Building Traditions in North America Jeroen van den Hurk

Louvered shutters in History 

Windows with louvered shutters were first recorded in use in medieval kitchens , where they were used for ventilation. Derived from the French word l ’ouvert, meaning “the open one,” the louver was a lantern-like structure on the roof that allowed the smoke to escape through openings on the sides. Slatted louvers were closed in bad weather by pulling on a string. More durable and entertaining than these wooden louvers were the ones made of pottery. Source

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