A walk through New Orleans is like a walk back in time. The culture is so unique and vibrant. The cuisine – beignets, jambalaya, po’ boys, gumbo – is all rich with flavor and steeped in tradition. The bold music is everywhere, full of life and excitement. And the homes have their own specific beauty that truly speaks of old-world charm and elegance. One of the most obvious elements on both humble and grand homes in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast is the use of exterior house shutters. They are almost ubiquitous around the city, with an abundance of different styles, color combinations and methods of installation put to great use.
In generations past, homes in New Orleans and across the southern United States employed house shutters for a variety of reasons that no longer apply in our modern air-conditioned world. With such a hot and humid environment, it was vital to take advantage of every possible breeze. Homes along the Mississippi River were positioned in order to capture quality air movement. Rows of oak trees were planted in carefully considered locations to soak up moisture, shade the homes, and usher breezes from the river. Functional louvered house shutters with exterior hinges provided a way to direct air flow through homes for the best ventilation while still protecting the home from the beating sun.
Today, the main purpose of house shutters is aesthetic in most regions of the United States. Exterior shutters are available in such a wide variety of styles and colors to complement the architecture of nearly any home. Raised panel shutters and louvered shutters seem to be the most commonly used in New Orleans, some with horns or tails. With unlimited color and hardware options, any exterior design can be a reality.
In addition to being stylish additions, exterior shutters in New Orleans are still widely used on a daily basis for ventilation and privacy purposes. House shutters also provide built-in protection from the many strong storms that pass through the area. Most of the outside shutters around the Gulf of Mexico are installed with wrought-iron hardware and shutter dogs to be functional. As a first level of defense against tropical storms and hurricanes, homeowners typically close wood shutters tight against the window and latch them. Quality exterior shutters work exceptionally well at preventing debris from flying in and breaking window glass.
Most historically-accurate homes in New Orleans display painted wood shutters, which will provide decades of service if maintained well. In fact, a close look at many homes will reveal that the shutters have so many layers of paint the louvers no longer rotate. For even longer service and less maintenance in a harsh environment, composite house shutters can be a great option. Quality composite shutters are manufactured from a high-grade engineered wood product and are often priced lower than premium wood shutters.
House shutters installed on humble homes in the area were less elaborate, but no less necessary. Most commonly, board and batten shutters provided basic light control, privacy, and protection from the elements. Constructed from cypress (readily abundant in the swamp lands years ago) or cedar, house shutters were often left unfinished, more for practical economic reasons than style.