View of House with Exterior Window Shutters

History of Exterior Window Shutters

To you or me they are easy to install and a quick solution to improving your home’s curb appeal. But to our ancestors they served a variety of purposes. They are exterior window shutters and their history is as rich and varied as the people who relied on them. More than just a piece of decoration, these ancient window coverings were originally made of marble and have stood the test of time-literally. They have successfully evolved as man’s demands on this window accessory have changed and they’re still as common today as they were in the beginning.


For generations people have associated wood window shutters as a standard feature on most historical buildings ranging from Europe all the way to the southern United States. However, it is believed shutters were developed by the ancient Greeks to provide natural light, proper ventilation and protection from thieves. The first exterior window shutters were made of marble (imagine trying to close one of them during a storm)! Though the historical details remain scarce, the idea of shutters spread throughout the ancient world and due to cost, wood shutters eventually became the more common choice.

The Cost of Glass

It wasn’t until the Tudor and Elizabethan times (1558-1603) that glass for windows became a popular window covering.  Yet, because it was such an expensive material most homes used glass only on the upper half of their window opening. A solid wood shutter was used on the lower half. The glass could allow the home’s residents to see out while the exterior window shutter would be opened to let in air and a breeze when needed.  It wasn’t until the 1700s that people could afford to install two-glass windows to completely cover the opening.

The Dawn of Louvered Shutter

Though the birth of the louver shutter occurred sometime earlier, its use became especially important during the Industrial Revolution (1790-1870). Suddenly the Victorian woodworking mills became mechanized and louvered shutters took on a whole new meaning. Instead of simply blocking out the light and heat, the thin slats of this exterior window accessory could deflect rain, prevent bugs from entering the mils, and provide varying degrees of natural light simply with an adjustment of the shutter.

Shutters in the Americas

The history of the exterior window shutter in North America originated when the Spanish began colonizing the continent. They in addition to the French, the Portuguese, and British built elaborate mansions and used this window accessory to add their own personal flair to their lavish homes. They also had a purpose by providing ventilation, privacy and protection just as they did in ancient Greece. It was during this era where types of shutter such as ‘plantation shutters’ were born. This term was coined to describe the large shutters on cotton plantations throughout the southern United States.

Open the Window

This is only a very brief historical overview of the exterior window shutter. In reality, what we see as merely a decorative item on the exterior of our homes today was so much more to our ancestors in centuries past. Yet whether you chose PVC, metal, wood or plastic exterior window shutters it’s important to realize that they have changed and adapted to man’s needs for hundreds of years, and will continue to do so for generations in the future.