New Jersey Home & Garden: May 2004 Issue

Face Value: Custom wood shutters can enhance your home’s curb appeal.
By: Molly Tully

Like the elaborate ribbon that transforms a plain box into a gift envied by all, exterior wood shutters can turn an ordinary house into the best-dressed home on the block. Shutters add texture and depth to a flat façade and provide an opportunity to let your individuality shine through by adding a punch of color. But perhaps most important, they can create one of the most meaningful phrases in a Realtors vocabulary: curb appeal.

When a major renovation isn’t in the budget, replacing or adding shutters is a relatively low-cost solution for the home in need of a face-lift. And if you have an older home that previous owners have stripped of original details, shutters can help restore some of that lost character.

Historically, shutters were used to shut out weather and intruders, a function far removed from their current aesthetic one. But while the multi-layer glass of modern windows takes care of climate and security concerns, shutters still can be an integral part of a home’s appearance. “No one needs shutters anymore,” says David Rosen of the Rosen Group, an architectural and design firm in Summit. “They’re just an anachronism from an older style of house. But we still expect them to be there. If you don’t have them, the house looks incomplete.”

Today’s choices include lightweight and maintenance-free plastic and vinyl styles, but there’s still nothing like quality, durability, and beauty of wood shutters. And for those aiming for historical or architectural accuracy, plastic just won’t do. “There’s the real way of doing it, an then there’s the cheaper, less authentic way of doing it,” says Rosen. “When you screw vinyl shutters into siding, the shutters don’t stand away from the house properly, there’s no hardware, the shutters are too thin, they’re usually an inappropriate size for the window, and even for people who don’t know what they’re looking at, it doesn’t look right. For someone who know what they’re looking at, they just look terrible.”

Russell Dreyer of Dreyer’s Lumberyard in Chatham reports that New Jersey homeowners are demanding the higher quality offered by wood shutters. “Seventy percent of the shutters we sell are wood,” he says. “We offer pine shutters, which we keep in stock, and then there are the custom cedar shutters, which are preferred on high-end jobs. They’re architecturally correct for this market, and it’s the look you need for older homes.”

The professionals all agree that wood shutters have a look that’s incomparable. They “are a reflection of an owner’s commitment to the authenticity and quality of their home,” says Rich Heggs of Timberlane (800-250-2221); a Pennsylvania-based custom-shutter manufacturer whose products can be seen all over New Jersey. “When these shutters are hung on a home, you can see the difference. They are crafted by fine woodworkers with the same skill and finesse that is used in making high-quality wood furniture.”

Another reason custom shutters look better is that they fit properly, Heggs says. Stock shutters come in standard sizes, usually in four inch increments, which means that the shutter may be too long or too short for your window. Custom shutters are made so that when they close, they meet perfectly in the middle, and louvered styles can be fully operational, allowing you to open and shut them. “This authenticates the design of our shutters and makes them historically accurate for the preservationist in all of us,” Heggs says.

Timberlane offers four basic shutter styles-paneled, louvered, board and batten, and Bermuda-with many variations. Cedar, strong and rot-and termite resistant, is the wood of choice. Mortise-and tenon joinery and hardwood pegs ensure that the shutter never sags or falls apart, which can happen to lower-quality shutters that have been stapled or screwed. And there are endless hardware options to authenticate the look: hinges and pintles, “shutter dogs” (holdbacks), and bolts, all representing a different style or period. “Hardware allows for a completely customized look to match any exterior style,” Heggs says. You also can incorporate cutout designs in your shutters for a client’s house on Hemlock Lane in Short Hills. You could add pineapples to welcome your guests, maple trees if you house is in Maplewood, or anchors for a cottage at the Shore. And since custom cutouts can be created from your imagination, your options are limitless.

When deciding on shutters, you need to consider the style of your home. Is it Colonial, Victorian, Georgian, a ranch, a Cap Cod, or another type? “Generally, customers provide us with exterior shots of their homes,” Heggs says. “We consider the home style, the state and town when it’s located, and the period in which it was built or designed to look. Then we suggest shutter configurations, hardware, and overall styles.”

And don’t forget color. This is your chance to brighten up a conservative color scheme. “Shutters and the front door are your opportunity to use stronger colors,” says Rosen. “They’re an accent color an otherwise monochromatic house.”

While custom shutters aren’t cheap, each individual shutter costing around $300, they’re an investment that can increase you’re home’s value. “Custom wood shutters with real hardware can be as significant as a really nice paint job,” says Rosen. “They absolutely add value when done properly. A big part of a decision to buy a house is made before you open the car door. And shutters are part of the overall impression of a house.”

And with proper maintenance and care, quality wood shutters will last for generations. “Forget Grandma’s cameo pin,” says Heggs. “Who gets the shutters and the hardware?

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