Exterior shutters can induce shudders when they are installed incorrectly or neglected near the windows on a home.
Historically, examples of early exterior shutters were pairs of hinged wood pieces, or panels, mounted on either side of a window and made to cover the opening, while providing security and privacy when closed. With the advent of air conditioning and high-efficiency windows using built-in screens, the installation of shutters has moved from functional to decorative, says Laurissa Doonan, the marketing director of Timberlane, Inc., a Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, company that has been manufacturing custom-made shutters for more than 20 years.
"Shutters have become part of the symmetry and details on a home that add to a house's curb appeal -- when they're installed properly," Doonan says. "Even though most people don't open and close their shutters, the detail of installing the correct shutters on a window is important."
Doonan says the lack of shutter functionality shouldn't compromise its form. The most common mistake is installing an improperly sized shutter for the height and width of the window. While the height of the shutter must be the same size as that of the window casing, the width of each shutter must equal half the size of the inside of the window casing, so that as both shutters are closed, they fill the casing to protect the window.
"Humans are perceptive, and if a shutter is hung incorrectly, it is noticeable. While it might not be readily apparent, if you start to pay attention to the shutters, errors in installation begin to pop out," Doonan says. "Common sense would also dictate that shutters need to match the shape of a window, but all too often you will see a beautifully arched window with narrow, rectangular shutters on either side, and it becomes an almost comical, if not tragic, design misstep."
While people are drawn to the symmetrical design of windows with proper shutters, many homeowners have become less knowledgeable and pay less attention to these details. During the mid-20th-century building boom, contractors began to mount purely decorative shutters directly onto a building's siding, instead of correctly attaching functioning shutters to the window's casing.
But Doonan says for the homeowner with a historical house, or one who pays attention to design details, proper shutters can be the decorative touch on which a home's curb appeal can hang in the balance.
Even though shutters are among the final decorative touches to be installed on the outside of a home, the plan for installation needs to be addressed early on during the design process of a front facade facelift or new construction.
Shutters historically have been built with wood, but they can also be made of metal or low-maintenance synthetic materials, such as vinyl or extruded plastics. While the one-size-fits-most mentality of shutters found in home maintenance stores can cost less than $30 for a pair measuring 31 by 12 inches, these aren't custom-made to fit specific windows.
Doonan says Timberlane's made-to-order shutters cost less than the standard 32-by-60-inch window they surround. A custom cedar pair made-to-order for that window will cost around $450, while a nearly maintenance-free pair made from formed PVC (or polyvinyl chloride) plastic lists around $690.
Seeing how the proper shutters on a home can set yours apart from others on the street helps homeowners get beyond the customized shutter sticker shock, says Doonan. "But, having the proper shutters on windows isn't just for show," she says. "Especially in coastal areas that are prone to storms, having shutters you can close over your windows can actually protect your home. We witnessed that during 'Superstorm Sandy' on the Atlantic coast in 2012."
Just as one shutter size doesn't fit all windows, neither does one shutter style fit all houses:
-- Paneled Shutters. The most conventional, but with many variations ranging from raised to recessed designs.
-- Louvered Shutters. Originally created for ventilation when opened and privacy in homes when closed, these shutters have horizontal slats that can be operable or set in a fixed position. These shutters can also come in the "Bermuda" style, which is hinged from the top and can open and close over a window for maximum sun and storm protection.
-- Stylish Shutters. These are built to emulate the architecture of a home. Board & Batten shutters have a rustic feel, while Mission-style shutters can be at home on a Craftsman or contemporary house. Custom cutouts can personalize panels in shutters to reflect design motifs.
Doonan says shutters can also be built using a combination of panels, louvers and beaded trim with cutouts on the top. Whether or not shutters are used to cover windows, the hinges and hardware -- such as decorative tiebacks and shutter locks -- all add to the authenticity and appearance of these design details. Shutter colors can range from bright to natural hues, matching a home's trim colors or complementing them.
"Shutters can be stately and subdued or really showcase a homeowner's personality with color and style," Doonan says. "We like to refer to shutters as the earrings to a home's windows, knowing that whatever shutters a house wears will make a statement."
Go to Timberlane.com and choose "Selecting the Right Shutter" under the "Our Shutters" tab. You can also upload a picture of the front of your home under "Shutter Snapshot" in the "Resource Center" to virtually try out different shutter styles on your home.
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at firstname.lastname@example.org.)