To the average American, shutters are simply a decorative attachment to a house that recall a bygone era of the country’s Colonial youth. Only perhaps if you live in the states potentially affected by the devastating effects of hurricanes would you ever have a functioning shutter to protect your windows, and even then it is almost certainly aesthetically displeasing. In France, however, shutters are not merely pseudo-accouterments used to look like they will protect a home from the elements, but they function in all propriety and manage to look beautiful in the process.
The photo above was taken in the Panier in Marseille (I’ll address that experience at some point in the future, but let me say, the beautiful photos I brought home were the only good to come of the holiday). Regard how the shutters actually close on the windows... shocking, I know! In fact, French shutters are not only placed around windows, but some summer homes, like my friend’s in L’Ile d’Oleron have big shutters on the doors a well. I distinctly remember the remarkable experience of my friend Popi making her bedroom as dark as night during the middle of the day. Unsurprisingly, she tends to amiably grumble that she cannot get proper beauty rest at my house in New Jersey because of all of the bright morning soleil that begins to pour in my room as soon as the sun rises.
While it may be impossible to see from the provided photos, the shutters often times fold back on themselves in order to make it easier to bring them in when the time is appropriate. Furthermore, the outward-folding shutters require the windows in french homes to come inside the room, rather than outside, as with American casement windows. In the grand scheme of the world, these details are probably inconsequential, but to me, the lower height, easy accessibility, and practicality of the windows and shutters lends a certain charm and inviting friendliness to a French home. I have, on more than one occasion, turned the lock on the frame, folded back the shutters, and leaned out the window in my friend’s Niort home only to be filled with the desire to shout “Bonjour!” to the pietons below and go out and attack the day with a Carpe Diem sensibility.
I have yet to find an explanation for this cultural phenomenon, which in my personal opinion, is a blunder on the part of American house designers. Functioning shutters provide protection from not only storms, but relentless summer sun, and allow you to sleep late into the day. undisturbed, which is particularly helpful if you return in the early morning from a late-night, champagne-filled soiree. Someday, when I am building or restoring the beautiful old stone farmhouse or villa of my dreams, make no doubt about it that there will be charming blue shutters adorning my inward-cranking windows that will allow me to lean on their sills and shout my morning greetings to whomever I please.