Picture it. You live in the Middle Ages. Your family is out hunting for food, while you feed the animals and do the household chores. Something that smells wondrous is bubbling in an iron pot hooked above the fire. There’s a nip in the air, so you go around to each window closing the shutters. The room dims, but you can see by the light of the fire.
All the Way Back Then?
If that stretches your imagination, remember that glass in windows wasn’t used for at least a millennium and more after this scenario. Homes up to the 18th century were built for two reasons: to keep out the weather and to keep out attackers. Walls were feet thick instead of inches. Stone was used instead of timber. Thatched roofs could be replaced quickly if an ambush happened. Thick walls couldn’t be reached to close outside shutters from inside, so the shutters were mounted inside. They were opened so some light could shine inside. If the weather turned, they were closed up tight.
Glass windows came along about the time King Henry VIII did. Shutters remained on the lower half of the windows. Glass was expensive, so only the upper half of the window had glass. Now you could stir your food over the fire and see what you were doing, but the chill breezes of autumn or the cold of the winter were more or less kept out. Two-paned glass windows of the 1700s were the forefathers of our double-hung panes of today. Shutters changed as well. Instead of solid panels over the windows, louvered slats appeared. These gave you light and a breeze, but kept the heat of the sun or the rain outside. Houses were built a bit thinner by then, and of timber, so shutters were placed outside the windows to protect the glass.
Original Use Of Shutters
Now, you might not be able to picture yourself living in a thatched hut or in a stone fortress and cooking over a fire. However, we’ll bet you can picture the solid chunks of wood making up shutters of that time. They did the same job: they kept out the weather, if not the flies, and they kept out the heat of the sun. Back then it was all they had. They didn’t have louvers through which to see who came knocking on the door, so they cut shapes into the wood to identify callers. Aren’t you glad one of today’s benefits of shutters is vision?
The American Story
When the tea and cotton plantations of the Caribbean and the American South sprang to life, Europeans noticed that they would benefit from the shutters common to their homes. These plantation houses had tall windows and walkways between wings of the houses. Picture yourself on a hot day, when no breeze is stirring. You, however, have shutters like the Europeans do. They can be pulled closed to shut out the heat from the sun, while you fan yourself in the dimness of the house. This is how they came to be called plantation shutters. Don’t you appreciate today’s benefits of blocking the sun’s heat while still allowing light inside, so the house isn’t dim?
Today, they are louvered, they fit into any window, and they perform the same job they did in the beginning. Plantation shutters’ benefits, however, have increased over the ages. From primitive protection, they have grown to provide modern curb appeal by looking chic, add substantially to the energy efficiency of windows, help protect wood floors and furniture from the harmful rays of the sun, and, of course, keep the flies out of your cooking. Window Design Group has taken care of Southern California’s windows for over 50 years. We know much more about plantation shutters, and we’ll be glad to tell you all about it when you contact us.