The History & Evolution of Plantation Shutters

Although the term “plantation” conjures up an image of massive estates and grand homes from America’s antebellum period, the term is somewhat misleading, from a historical perspective.

Plantation shutters have a rich history and are more than just functional pieces of furniture. They have been used for centuries to keep light out and ventilate a home. In fact, they have a fascinating story and history that dates back thousands of years. But have you ever wondered where plantation shutters came from? Learn more about the evolution of window shutters and how they’ve been used through the ages.

Living Room Interior Window Shutters

Plantation shutters have been around since ancient times…

But Just How Did Shutters Come To Be?

How did the earliest window shutters originate? The history of window shutters goes way back in time.  What were they used for? How did they develop?  We’ll look at how the earliest window shutters originated. We’ll then look at how they developed over time, and why they eventually became so popular. Finally, we’ll look at the various types of window shutters available today, and what their benefits are.

Louvered shutters date back to ancient Greece, when they were crafted from granite or marble. They were designed to block or diminish the hot Mediterranean sun while allowing some indirect light and cooling breezes to enter while maintaining privacy.

The First Shutters Came Before Glass Windows, In the Mediterranean

Many associate plantation shutters with the history and tradition of the south, where it is commonly found in historical houses and mansions. Although they gained popularity during this time, the unique style we see today originated in Greece.

Before shutters were invented, our ancestors only used animal hides as window covers.  In those days windows were just an opening in the wall, so it was necessary to implement a mechanism with which to modulate the air and light flow, for comfort and for protection.  Curtains were available back then, but cloth didn’t provide much protection from inclement weather and storms.

Therefore, window shutters were invented for security and to protect a home from the rain.

Ancient shutters were crafted of high-quality marble or granite in ancient Greece and were created due to the strong Mediterranean breezes brought on by the coast. The winds and storms coming in from the sea often brought on dreadful tropical storms, and because windows in ancient Greece were just created to let the air in, shutters were created to protect these homes from the destruction of a storm.

Because these window shutters were made of solid marble and not wood, they were much stronger than the average window covering and kept the cold out and the warmth in.  Their solid construction made these an ideal addition to homes and provided protection for the house in general.

As the popularity of shutters grew, so did their use in Mediterranean-style homes. Over the years, their form and materials changed, allowing movement for greater ventilation and light.

Shutters During the Medieval Times

Shutters During the Medieval Times

During Medieval times, an additional advantage of shutters was security and protection. Most windows in Europe were rectangular, with the width being longer than the height, and solid shutter panels were closed with an iron bar across the panels, or wooden bars to provide valuable protection from outside forces. These louvers tilted to prevent rain from entering the room were non-movable.  The foundation of the shutter was often kept in place using a separate piece of wood nailed directly to the wall.

A great early example of this design is the Queen’s Chamber at the castle of Guildford, built around 1245.

Many other notable buildings in England during this period had individually decorated shutters that included royal arms painted by hand. Many were oiled as well.

The basic design has changed little over the centuries, but eventually wood replaced the heavy and costly stone versions, which also reduced cost and allowed some improvements, such as greater adjustability of louvers and sashes that open fully for easier cleaning.

Old historic early medieval house with wooden closed shutters

Tudor and Elizabethan Era Shutters

During the Tudor period in England (Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) shuttered windows were a very popular addition to many homes.  They were made out of wood, and they were much easier to open and close.

As their popularity grew, they became more efficient, thanks to the skilled woodworkers who designed and improved them over time.

Window glass covering was introduced in the Tudor era but because it cost so much, most homes could only afford to add glass to the top half of their windows, leaving the rest to be covered by shutters. (This became the first example of “cafe” style shutters).

These shutters, made of solid wooden boards, were opened by folding the panel against the interior wall, to let in air and light. They were often decorated individually and a bar would be placed across the panels when closed for security.

Also, because glass was so expensive, shutters were commonly found on the ground floors of buildings such as public houses to protect the window glass.

16th Century Shutters
16th Century Shuttered Windows
17th Century Shutters on Historic Palace
Shutters on Palace of Pima, built in the 17th century

Shutters Evolved Even More During the 17th Century

During the 17th century, shutters once again became a “must-have” among the rich, and glass became more mainstream in homes. In order to protect against the sun and freezing winter temperatures, shutters were often used.

These window shutters were technically something of a hybrid, being a cross between the shutters invented by the ancient Greeks and the shutters that were used in Elizabethan England.

People began to install two glass windows in the opening, double-hung like the interior shutters that we know so well today.  Shutter types changed as well. Louvered slats appeared instead of solid panels covering the windows.

Shutters grew to cover the full height of the window opening with this improvement. 

During this century, homes were built to keep out wind, rain, insects, and birds. They were also built to keep out attackers. Walls were feet thick, not inches. Instead of wood, stone or brick was used. If an ambush happened, thatched roofs could be replaced. It was common practice to attach shutters on the inside, and the window opening was too deep to reach out and secure or unlatch the shutter from the outside. They were opened to let light in and closed tight during bad weather.

These movable slats made interior shutters useful for all types of weather and had a wide range of lighting options, from complete darkness to full light. They let you create a semblance of privacy and temperature control, while still letting air flow as needed.

One theory suggests that the movable function of the louvers was first used by King Louis XIV of France to admire women without being seen.

Shutters became even more important when King Louis XIV of France insisted they be added to his palace.

Louis XIV elevated the status and style associated with these interior shutters and as glass windows became more common, interior shutters became similar to what we would recognize today as plantation-style shutters, and they also became an aesthetic choice rather than a mere necessity to protect against nature’s elements.

These new shutters helped women sleep more peacefully without having to close off circulation and made it easier for the cooks to control the amount of light and heat coming into the kitchens.

One theory suggests that the movable function of the louvers was first used by King Louis XIV of France to admire women without being seen.

In fact, it is believed he installed louvered shutters around the Court gardens so he could peek at the women bathing and promenading without being seen and to also keep his guards from being distracted by them. The word ‘louvre’ (or louver as we know it in America) came from the Louvre Palace, which was the traditional royal residence in France until Louis XIV relocated it to Versailles in 1682.

Interior Window Shutters on Southern Colonial Home
Interior Window Shutters on Southern Home

The Arrival of Wooden Window Shutters in the 18th Century and Americas

It wouldn’t be long before shutters would take a dramatic turn in a completely different direction.

Spanish, French, and British colonists brought interior shutters to the New World in the 18th Century. As these shutters migrated into the American colonies, they became particularly popular in warmer climates where it was important to protect them from the sun and heat. They soon became widespread throughout the southern United States. (they were often called Colonial Shutters back then).

The southern plantation was known for its elegance and grandeur. Shutters were an integral part of their design and came to become an indication of a person’s wealth, not only in America but as far overseas as South Africa and Australia.

Shutters in The Industrial Era

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution came the introduction of more sophisticated features to shutters.

Solid pine shutters became fashionable during the industrial era, largely due to the invention of the steam engine, the mechanization of Victorian woodworking mills, and the rapid industrialization of society. During this Victorian period, wood was also a major part of house construction, and people started using it for their shutters.

This revolution of this plantation shutter brought a higher level of sophistication and even more features. Instead of blocking out the light and heat, now the louvered shutter blades were made of narrow slats angled to deflect rain, provide adequate ventilation, and allow some daylight in. These are still seen today throughout historic houses.

The popularity of shutter systems grew to depend not only on their practical function (protection from the elements and shelter for the windows) but also for their visual benefits.

During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) houses began being constructed from timber, with techniques resulting in thinner walls. So now people could reach their shutters and they began to attach their shutters to the outside of houses as well.

Original Buildings of Old Town Built in the 19th Century
19th Century Window Shutters

Eventually, laminate materials were offered as a less expensive alternative to solid wood, an option that was more resistant to moisture and extreme heat.

Plantation Shutters Today

Shutters have come a very long way over the years. After they were brought here by the Spanish, they traveled across the world to become a “must-have” in the States before returning back to Europe to resurface in many Mediterranean countries as well as the more northern countries such as Norway, Belgium & Holland!

Painting interior shutters to match a home’s décor became a popular trend. Painting custom shutters also protected the wood from the harsh sun. Now, these features have been enthusiastically adopted all over the world.

PVC shutters were introduced in the 1990s. This brought new materials and installation technologies to the industry and gave the homeowner a cost-effective alternative to solid wood shutters.

Plantation window shutters are just as useful today as they were many years ago. They still filter light, provide ventilation and they still give protection against the elements. Although modern shutter systems continue to have all these uses today, they now also serve a much more decorative function.

We’ve embraced interior window shutters as an affordable and practical shading solution, worldwide.

Shutters enhance the minimalist aesthetic of a modern home that we desire.
Here in North Carolina, we know that sun damage can cause problems for everything from furniture to art to your home’s décor. With the ability to open and close the shutter louvers, we can keep our home safe from the sun’s harmful rays or protect it from brisk breezes.

Having plantation window shutters in your home not only gives your home a classic look but can increase the value of your home as well. Did you know that interior shutters are the only window treatment that can be financed into your home’s value?

Cafe Shutters Painted White

The Benefits of Shutters

Plantation-style shutters have never gone out of style. Their popularity grew and traveled from Greece to France, where they became a status symbol to be seen on better homes all over Europe and eventually the United States where they can be found on homes across the nation.

What Makes Plantation Shutters Popular Today?

Homeowners who install custom shutters tend to be loyal customers, once they become accustomed to the product’s attributes and benefits, which are numerous…

Our interior window shutters come with a lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. Made from real wood, premium poly, or a hybrid of the two, our interior shutters will be sure to add a modern and timeless feel to any room in your home.

Interior window shutters can help reduce the amount of cooling and heating you need in your home. The reduction is due to the fact that they block the sun and its heat and give protection from cold winds. This means you can get a better night’s sleep without the cold air rushing through your bedroom window.

Interior Window Shutters not only come in a variety of styles and sizes to fit the many different windows in your home, they can be easily opened or closed by hand without the use of ropes or pulleys.

For homeowners who wish to achieve full privacy, this is the ideal solution. This type of shutter works by having multiple panels that can be completely closed, completely opened, or somewhere in between.

Interior window shutters are a popular choice for many homeowners because of their durability and ease of cleaning. No need for harsh cleaners. A simple clean cloth works just fine.

Our interior window shutters are manufactured from poplar wood and/or solid premium poly. Not only are they durable and well built, they are available in many different styles and colors to fit any window. Our interior shutters offer the ultimate in privacy, security and style.

Interior window shutters are an ideal solution for homeowners who want to enhance the value of their home. Plantation shutters can even be financed into the value of your home too!

Although the “plantation” style is most often attributed to a large colonial style home, they are now being used on homes of all sizes and styles, from traditional to contemporary with equal success.

In Conclusion

Plantation shutters have quite a lengthy history. They’ve proven their worth, from protecting the home from the elements to adorning lavish southern plantations to adding a classic look to many homes’ décor. They are beautiful, versatile, and installed in houses all over the world.

Throughout history, custom shutters have been one of the most adaptable and practical window coverings around. Our modern-looking interior shutters are a result of thousands of years of evolution. Their popularity is due to the variety of options they offer with light and temperature control, their security and privacy, and the timeless look and elegant design they give your home.

Interior window shutters are used for many different types of buildings today, including modern homes, apartments, and even offices. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. No matter the shape, material, or color, however, the Plantation Shutter is still regarded as a premium addition to any home. If you’re looking to increase security, and privacy, or simply beautify your home, the Plantation Shutter is the answer.

Every installation of our custom shutters is another chapter in our history of this timeless product. Your story starts the minute you pick up the phone and call Southern Custom Shutters about your project, or drop us an email to discuss your home and decorating goals.

Together, we’ll make history!

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