Historic Interior Shutters

As part of my Historic New England homeowner membership I can ask two questions per year for evaluation. My first question was regarding appropriate interior shutters. In Marblehead’s Historic District we can only have single-pane windows; my house is cold and I hope adding interior shutters will keep us a bit warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer months. We had insulation blown in this summer but I think interior shutters will be a great benefit too. In my den which has decorative molding on all four walls; paneled shutters will add even more to the space. Below the note I received back from Historic New England. Plus, three resources to purchase custom shutters.

Historic New England: Contrary to their common name, 18th century interior shutters were not installed for defense against Indian attack, but for security, privacy and a measure of insulation. Exterior shutters, which in period nomenclature were called blinds, were not a feature on houses until the very end of the 18th century and did not become common until the early years of the 19th century.

There are several different types of interior shutter, including paneled shutters that slide into a recess adjacent to the window (these are the earliest type), paneled bifold shutters that are hinged on the window casing and fold into an embrasure (or recess) in the wall, and paneled bifold shutters that are hinged on the window casing fold out over the casing and onto the adjacent wall. The appropriate type of restoration shutters for the Mugford house would depend on the evidence in the framing and walls of the house. Evidence for the type of panel appropriate to the window shutters would be found on any surviving paneled doors or fireplace paneling in the room. Ms. Elliott’s blog illustrates fielded paneling on some interior doors in the house, so shutters with fielded panels would be appropriate for the windows.

Hardware for shutters often consisted of H-L hinges on the shutter panels and butt hinges on the window casing. At the Mugford house, some evidence of interior shutters may still be present on the window casings in the window openings of the major rooms. Careful use of a raking light (i.e., a strong light, in a carpenter’s clamp lamp or even a flashlight) with the light held at an angle from underneath can highlight shadows or marks of prior hardware installation.

Note: The old windows were removed when we bought the house.

For further reference, see Plate XL of the sixth edition of Asher Benjamin’s The American Builder’s Companion (Dover reprint) for a hinged shutter in an embrasure (first edition of TABC was 1806). An example of the hinged “outside” shutter is enclosed in a photo from the Benjamin Lincoln House. Also enclosed are relevant sections of Garvin’s Building History of Northern New England.

For more information on shutters, see “Window Dressing: Shutters and Blinds in Historic Houses,” Historic New England magazine, Winter/Spring, 2004.

Sources for reproduction interior shutters include:
Beech River Mill
J. P. Moriarty & Company
Maurer & Shepherd Joyners, Inc.

Related Posts:
Interior Photos of Independence Hall
Elegant Green Paneled Molding
House Colors: Gray, White, Green or Black

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  1. There is a chance the original interior shutters (if there were any) are still inside the walls. I can’t tell from your photos but it looks like the windows are replacements. I worked in Ipswich for a number of years and had a couple experiences where when we replaced non-historic replacement windows the shutters had been left preserved in the walls. A very nice surprise!


  2. We are in a historic district. Our house has interior plexi-glass inserts that create an insulating air space between the glass and the plexi. We didn’t think much of them at first, but there is a noticeable difference between them and the windows that don’t have them. There are a few different companies that sell them. We plan on getting them on the remaining few windows that don’t have them before the cold weather comes. The ones we have attach to the inside of the window with a magnetic strip so you can pop them out easily.


  3. I love all this history. Growing up in CT, we had many historic areas but of course, I was a youngster and didn’t pay attention but now as an adult – I love hearing the thought process behind it. Living in CA, old is 1915 LOL…and they don’t really care about the integrity of the homes here – in my neighborhood alone – two of the oldest homes on our street were knocked down so someone could build a gigantic house. The thing that does concern me is when is the historic society also going to be energy concious. Those houses are expensive to heat and I remember living in an old Victorian in Cambridge where my teeth chattered at night because the wind blew through the windows. I think if you are required to have single paned windows they help with the heat bill :)


  4. I love your posts, Katy. They are full of information and lots of great photos. Keep the information coming and thanks for doing it for all of us who are old house junkies!!


  5. Your post was very apropos today. Thanks for posting the article – was just researching exterior shutters for an upcoming project in a early 18th century Historic house.


  6. we did shutters on our office when we renovated the building a few years back. they look great and add such a dramatic architectural element. i’m sure they’d be beautiful on your home. i’m sure you’re considering paint colors for them – what do you have in mind?


  7. All windows in the historic district must be wood, true divide and single pane if the old windows have been removed – which they discourage. Ours were replaced in 1979.

    We do have storms. I’m not a fan of them. But they do help with the cold and with storms the screens makes it really easy to open a window and not let the bugs in or allow my cat to jump out.

    I know their are pretty versions of storms but I don’t know much about them other then I’ve spotted them on a few houses in Marblehead.

    Hope that answers your question Mopar.


  8. Thank you so much for all this information. I’m going to read that article.

    Do you know when your windows were installed? They look like wood, so presumably they are still pre-1950s or so?

    I have heard storm windows are wonderful for keeping out cold. Do you have any thoughts on that? (They seem to be quite pricey though!)