If, at the mention of plantation shutters, you automatically envision panels of smooth white lacquered louvers, it’s time to update your shutter IQ.
The traditional white shutter is far less predominant than it used to be. Many texture and finish options are now available, fueled by new manufacturing techniques and design trends. For fabricators, dealers and decorators, there’s never been a more interesting or convenient time to work with shutters.
Award-winning designer, Annette Kenner, IIDA, is comfortable working with shutters and knows what people want. For 22 years, her interior design firm, Donna Decker Design, has been furnishing high-end residences from New York to California. Based in Scottsdale, AZ, many of the firm’s design projects are in the Southwestern United States, where the hot desert sun and prized views make wood shutters with large louvers the window treatment of choice in half of the rooms they decorate.
“Shutters are a great insulator,” says Kenner. “They are also chameleon-like. They’re suitable for all types of décor, and can be finished to blend in to any setting.”
Kenner and the five other designers at Donna Decker Design order all of their shutters through Scottsdale Shutters. While each custom order is as unique as the client’s personality and decor, nearly all of the shutters they specify are textured.
“In the desert, dust is a big thing,” Kenner explains. “We find dust doesn’t show on the textured louvers the way it does on smooth. Even in other markets, they’re beginning to see the benefits of textured shutters.”
“Texturizing seems to be a trend that will continue to grow, for both practical and aesthetic reasons,” observes Doug Jones, owner, Scottsdale Shutters, and founder of the Selections United™ Window Furnishings consortium. “When textured doors are used as part of a room’s décor, it is increasingly popular to order textured shutters to coordinate.
“The textured shutter product has changed drastically over the last five to six years,” says Jones. “It used to have a heavy sandblasted appearance but now it’s much more refined. The current process involves distressing the wood with nylon brushes, which raises and highlights the beauty of the natural wood grain.”
Jones’s shutter fabrication company, Shutter Productions LLC, used to texturize shutter parts in-house—typically a messy and time-consuming process. These days, Jones builds his shutters with Textured Trends™ shutter components produced by Glen Oak Lumber & Milling, Naples, FL. “Textured Trends components come in pre-texturized, primed and pre-sanded, which allows us to go straight from inventory into production, cut and build,” says Jones. “It’s very, very difficult to find a supplier who can texturize correctly,” he relates, after trying a number of product vendors. “Glen Oak put the time and effort into it until they got it just right; Textured Trends is a production-ready product we can rely on. The molding mill’s ability to efficiently produce volumes of components with light or heavy textures makes it easier for fabricators to meet the growing demand for textured shutters.”
A desirable textured look also can be achieved by using naturally knotty and weathered /reclaimed woods, points out Chris Tietz, owner of SMI, which manufactures Kirtz® Shutters in Stillwater, OK. Kenner and Jones indicate knotty alder is a fashionable species with their Southwestern clientele, while New England dealer Ed Hopkins, owner, Exciting Windows! by Verticals Etc., cites demand for knotty aspen and pine or wormy chestnut in his market.
Even woven woods are being combined with solids to provide texture and surface interest in shutters. In Naples, FL, Gulf Coast American Fabrication (GCAF), an independently owned full-line Hunter Douglas fabricator, is launching its proprietary Havana Collection, which incorporates woven woods. “The popularity of warmer colors and woodwork enhanced our sales of woven wood shades so much that we decided to create a related series of shutters,” says GCAF shutter specialist Mike Peters. “There are 15 different patterns to choose from and they are gorgeous.”
According to Peters, these woven-wood-enhanced shutters go well with the tropical look that is trendy with builders and decorators of homes, restaurants and hotels throughout Florida. The tropical look is so popular that GCAF also is launching a line of bamboo shutters made with Bamboo Breezes? shutter components. Peters describes the bamboo shutters as having a unique grainy appearance that provides visual texture. Gulf Coast offers the exotic bamboo shutters finished in brown, natural clear-coat, or “fresh cut bamboo” green stain.
“Color has played such a huge role in home interiors in recent years,” says Annette Kenner. “The colors and wood tones are setting different moods for different rooms and their functions. The choices homeowners are making regarding woods and finishes for their shutters relate to the feeling they want to accomplish in the whole room.”
As a shutter dealer, Ed Hopkins is well aware of this trend. “We just got a call from a repeat customer who is building a vacation home that will have 118 windows, 60 to 70 of which will have shutters, all of which will be wood species,” Hopkins says. “Each area of the home is to have its own feel and the wood species to be used in the shutters will change from area to area accordingly.”
The natural beauty of wood is definitely back in style. Designers are receiving more requests for shutters made with exotic woods, and for woods that match interior trim and furnishings in particular. In the early 2000s, whites and washes were predominant shutter finishes, but warmer colors and wood tones are back in vogue. Mike Peters reports that, for GCAF’s Florida and Caribbean shutter customers, it used to be that one in 30 orders were for stained shutters, while today it’s one in three.
In New England, a market that is usually playing catch-up to the rest of the country as far as shutter trends are concerned, Ed Hopkins reports that stained shutters already comprise 35 percent of his shutter orders. As is the case in other markets, stains in the mid to dark range are most popular. “People used to be concerned about using a dark color on the window,” reflects Hopkins. “However, as long as the room is large enough, it doesn’t darken the room. We’ve done three jobs in the last six months where the woodwork in the entire home was cherry and they wanted cherry shutters to match.”
As the leading supplier of unique and exotic wood shutters in the United States, Chris Tietz is also reporting more orders for stained shutters. Demand has been so consistent that SMI recently decided to shut down its paint room a few days a week to do nothing but stained shutters. A single recent order for stained ribbon cut mahogany included 43 panels measuring 580 square feet.
Doug Jones contends that the popularity of stained shutter products has been facilitated by the fact that in-line staining processes have come so far. Current techniques allow many large shutter fabricators to produce a stained finish that is truly furniture-grade quality.
Lafayette Venetian Blind Co., for example, produces quality shutters and other window treatments for its Lafayette Interior Fashions® label in a 400,000-square-foot plant in Indiana. The large manufacturer offers its shutters in 65 standard colors, but its No, 1 color is “custom color,” says company spokesman Tom Robinson. “Traditional décor and white shutters are not nearly as popular as they used to be. Decorating has changed and is on a quicker pace. Similar to furniture (and fashion) trends, with wood shutters, there is a desire to have different furniture finishes with surface interest and character. We are also seeing multiple color applications, faux finishing, and fading techniques where the character changes across the width of the shutter panel.
FROM MARBLE TO METALLIC
Faux finishes are used by designers on shutters to blend in with the wall finish and make a room appear larger and more uniform. For example, in a contemporary bedroom with a large western exposure, Donna Decker Design used shutters to cover the windows for privacy and protection from the extreme sun and heat. According to Kenner, the homeowners weren’t fond of window coverings and didn’t want them to become a focus of the room. The room itself featured a beautiful faux finish on the walls, so the shutters were faux-finished to match, making them a “non-entity.”
Marbleized finishes, Venetian plaster and washes can be applied to any wood louvers, but glazed finishes work best on textured woods so that there’s something for the glaze to catch into. Currently, such specialized finishes are applied on site at installation. However, some fabricators, like GCAF, have plans to launch a line of shutters that would feature glazed and crackled finishes, including metallic tones, which are fabricator-finished to match current trends. According to Mike Peters, those who’ve sampled these shutters are pleased. “Designers who do a lot of high-end houses like them because they’re different and because the furniture people are doing these finishes too; it all goes together.”
Whatever the finish, one thing is clear: today’s homeowners want plenty of options so they can align their shutters with their personal décor and preferences. Industry professionals who heed the customization trend, and provide more choices in textures and finishes, will be in the best position to capitalize on what should be a growing market share for shutters.