Substance & Stiles
If windows are the eyes of the house, the shutters are the lashes.
This Old House TV: Key West house project
One of the most important exterior changes Key West homeowner/architect Michael Miller and his wife Helen Colley undertook
on their c.1866 home were the windows. Like eyes on a face, a house's windows send a message to the world—and the unadorned metal-louvered openings of Michael and Helen's house were saying something like, "Go away."
The May issue of This Old House magazine will feature an article about Michael's relentless pursuit of window authenticity: ordering true-divided-light wooden sash from a factory in Minnesota; glazing them with mouth-blown glass, complete with waves and bubbles; using simple wood sticks to prop them open. But if the windows are the eyes, then the shutters are the lashes. And in Key West's Old Town, you don't go down to the mall for false ones.
Michael went to see Steve Bringle, whose Hansen & Bringle Millwork has been open for business since 1977 on nearby Stock Island. They offer two types of traditional shutter: the well-known casement style and the Bahama style, which covers the entire window and swings out from the bottom edge like an awning. Louvers, or blades, can either move open and closed or be fixed. Stiles and rails are joined with wooden dowels and resorcinol glue. Bringle builds them out of reclaimed old-growth cypress, mahogany and western red cedar but for price and durability recommends nothing fancier than Southern yellow pine. "It's tough, takes paint well and the stuff we use won't rot or warp," he says. That's because he has a source for pine that is kiln-dried after
treatment, meaning that the usually wet and twist-prone pressure-treated wood is slowly dried in a steam kiln until its moisture content is cut to a stable 8 to 10 percent.
Hand-built to order, the shutters make their way into many Old Town renovations as well as new homes striving for that old-time look. And, says Bringle, since a lot of the houses in Key West are second homes for winter visitors, he's finding more and more of his orders are being shipped north to adorn satisfied customers' primary residences. The shop charges $20 a square foot for pine casement shutters with fixed blades, $26 a square foot for pine Bahama shutters with working blades; the prices go up for the more exotic woods.
Their beauty aside, wooden shutters actually function. Many a Key West home greets the heat of the day with its sunny-side shutters swung shut, blades open to catch any errant breeze. And when the big winds come in off the sea, a closed set of
shutters can provide a degree of protection from driving rain and flying debris. Of course, locals know that hurricane flags call for throwing up sheets of good old plywood-which saves not only the window, but the valuable shutters as well.