Shutters have had a long history of protecting windows on the outside but they were originally designed for the inside of a home. Today we have many choices.
The first shutters came before glass windows
500 years ago in Tudor England of Henry VIII and during Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603) it was common for homes to have shutters. These were made of solid wooden boards. They were a little odd by today’s standards, as they were designed to only cover the lower half of the window opening. Glass was a luxury, hard to get and relatively expensive, so usually only the upper part of the opening would have a glass pane. The shutter would be opened to let in light and air when needed. It was a simple task of folding the panel against the inside wall. They were often a feature and decorated individually. A bar would be placed across the panels when shut for security.
It wasn’t till the 1700s that people began to install two glass windows in the opening, double hung like the Federation style we are familiar with. With this improvement shutters grew to cover the full height of the opening. Up to this time most buildings were made of stone or masonry, with very thick walls. So it’s not surprising that it was common practice to have the shutters on the inside, the window opening was too deep to reach out and secure or unlatch the panel from inside the room.
During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) more and more houses were built from timber or with techniques that resulted in thinner walls. So now people could reach, they began to attach their shutters to the outside.
Shutters to control light and air
As time passed, shutters were increasingly used as much for visual effect as for their practical functions – shelter from the elements and protection for the glass. With the invention of the steam engine and the rapid industrialisation of society, mechanisation entered Victorian woodworking mills. This revolution brought a higher level of sophistication and features to shutters. So instead of just blocking out the light and heat, shutter blades were often louvered or made of narrow horizontal slats angled to deflect rain, to allow some daylight through whilst providing adequate ventilation. These are still seen today on numerous Australian historic houses. Indeed, many substantial houses built today in a Georgian or Tuscan style use these exterior timber louvres as a feature.
The first shutters in Australia
In the early years of Australian settlement, free settlers’ bush huts used fixed timber shutters in place of windows. Once settlers became more financially established, glass louvres replaced the timber slats. Shutters were a common inclusion in more substantial homesteads with their wide verandahs, usually hinged on the outside for added protection from the harsh Aussie sun.
In the 60’s, colonial style project homes began to appear with fake shutters screwed tight to the façade, purely for visual effect, often to set off the wagon wheel propped against the fake wishing well in the front yard.
In the 1970’s timber “tree house” style shutters were used like timber curtains. These shutters had small light frames and small adjustable blades 22mm x 6mm. These were used raw, oiled or had a coat of varnish. Stegbar made a type of these little panels, hinged together with continuous piano hinges.
In the 80’s the Plantation style shutter was introduced to the Australian market. This shutter has its origins in the U.S.A. Australian designers were inspired by the grand houses of the cotton plantations. Flat timber blades were put into frames and used in the breezeways of these plantation houses. In Australia these shutters were made from either cottonwood or pine. (Just Blinds produced this style of shutter using cottonwood components imported from America.) They had flat blades and a timber rod stapled on the face to adjust the blades to close in an up position. Most shutters were oiled or had a clear lacquer protective coating.
In the late 80’s a husband and wife run team, Australian Timber Shutters, began developing a uniquely Australian style of shutter. Interestingly, the couple’s attempt to trademark the name of this innovative product, the “Plantation Shutter”, failed. (Today people refer to most shutters by this term, while there is one original distributor continuing to trade under the name Melbourne Plantation Shutters.) As this small family business grew, they continued to innovate, introducing Aerofoil blades. Western Red Cedar timber was used and larger blades became popular. The timber tilt rod, stapled to the middle of the blades, was replaced by a metal, semi concealed blade connector. These were better suited to fitting with the open nature of Australia’s love affair with light and the clear view of the great outdoors.
We have also been influenced by Asian shutter styles. In hot Asian countries, moveable shutters evolved in place of whole walls, to create “breezeways” for passage of cooling winds. These principles have inspired many Australian builders and architects in Australia’s Top End.
We’ve come a long way from those solid timber boards of Elizabethan England! Painting interior shutters to suit the décor was also a popular trend. This protected the timber from the harsh Australian sun. These features have now been enthusiastically adopted around the world.
In the 1990’s PVC shutters were introduced. This gave the consumer an affordable alternative to timber shutters and brought to the industry not only new materials but new installation technologies.
Quality cedar shutters to cheap IMPORTS, YOU CHOOSE
Australians have embraced interior window shutters as an affordable and practical shading solution. Our desire for minimal interior design and a relaxed lifestyle means shutters enhance these values.
In the last 10 years, Australia has seen the introduction of aluminium shutters plus a variety of plastics and composites.
Today shutters are available in DIY kits, (surprisingly often costing more than custom made yet with less features), ready made, custom made as well as the ultimate – custom made/custom fitted. The range of choices comes in a wide variety of materials from styrene to manufactured woods, plastics, aluminium and a variety of timbers. They can have timber tilt rods, semi-concealed tilt rods or completely concealed tilt mechanisms. There is the choice of exterior or interior shutters. While this has made shutters available to more of the population, increasing popularity has brought with it an increased number of fly by night opportunists, passing off cheaper products as the real thing.
This has happened as we are flooded with mass produced imports chasing a share of the market. (Lifestyle and Accent are both major importers of shutters from the same factory in China. See a list of which brands are actually made in China.)
No shutter is cheap but there are now products at more price points to choose from. Still, the truism applies – buyers beware. See a list of proven shutter suppliers in Australia.