There are few things that raise ire in Wendy like that of an often requested, but long unfinished project. Add into the mix the fact that the project seems like it should be relatively easy, yet it remains incomplete, and you've got yourself a bit of a Wendy volcano on your hands. In recent months, few things about our house have infuriated Wendy more than our lack of shutters in the master bedroom.

When we bought our house way back in 2003, we were fortunate to find a place with enough intact original and period details to understand the true style of the house. Sure, many details had been lost or damaged over the years, but from molding to a lone sash lift, the various architectural details within our home give the necessary clues and are the items that set it apart from any other home that happens to be out there. Of all of the various features that came with our house that we thought were really cool, the interior shutters were one of the things we really lucked out on. Here they are in our master bedroom back on our 2nd day of homeownership.

Upon our arrival, both the old original windows and the newer windows throughout our house were adorned with these unpainted wood shutters. You could easily see that these architectural details were, at the very least, very old, and quite possibly, original to the house.

As we've renovated rooms, we've removed these shutters to place them in storage in order to protect them. Starting with the front living room, we've slowly taken down the majority of the shutters and placed them in the attic or basement. In each situation we've fully intended to use the shutters once again, but they are more or less the last thing we reinstall as we near the end of a project.

At one point during our work, our immediate next door neighbor, who lived there when we bought our house, thought we were removing the shutters and it would be a good idea to take advantage of us. He came over one day and said "You know, if you're getting rid of your shutters, let me know, I'll take them off your hands so you don't need to deal with them." It seems he was attempting to pray on the naïveté of the new young homeowners. I didn't suspect it at the time, but I later learned he had actually told another neighbor "I hope they give me those shutters, I'd absolutely love to get my hands on them for my house, you know they're original to our homes and mine are long gone." We declined his offer and have instead kept our plan to reinstall some point.

My plan all along has been simple in theory, but difficult in execution. For each window I'd like to remove the shutters, remove the sash stops and parting beads, get the upper sashes working again, strip and re-glaze the widows, install weather stripping, build storm windows, reinstall everything, clean up the shutters a bit, and finally, reinstall them. Simple process, don't you think? Well, this idea on some 10 windows (but really just five that are original) has proven quite lofty, and is taking far longer than I expected (surprise, surprise). As such, our windows are looking a bit sad and shutterless.

Though not surprisingly, Wendy has grown tired of waiting. Though we completed the master bedroom project roughly three years ago, the final remaining item on the list is the long overdue window work. We're about 1/2 way through, with upper sash working and ropes repaired, but these darn storm windows and the whole needing to strip and re-glaze the windows is really cramping my style. She's tried to express her feelings in several reasonable ways, such as threatening to divorce me or sell the house if she doesn't get shutters in the bedroom soon (mind you, the patience prior to these life changing ultimatums has been ongoing for years, so it's not unjustified). According to her, she's "sick of putting on a peep show for the neighborhood." And though we have curtains, it is obviously not reasonable to keep them closed when changing clothes. Oh well, I guess in can't (read: shouldn't) argue with that logic. 

In addition to the privacy issue, Wendy feels the lack of shutters in the upstairs windows looks terrible from the street, and works against all the steps we've taken to improve curb appeal. Having uniform shutters back in each window will make the house look more cohesive. 

So last week, after realizing my foolishness of putting something like Tosh.0 or True Blood in front of finishing projects on the house, I decided to get to work on a nice little temporary fix to our "issue." Rather than force my lovely wife to endure the unknown length of time that I will ultimately require to complete our storm windows and restoration of the window sash, we have opted to reinstall them now, with the understanding they may need to temporarily come down from time to time in the future. Ok, I can live with that, especially if it means we don't sell our house, and we also don't get a divorce.

I started by pulling the shutters out of the attic. They'd been safely living up there for a few years, so I had some digging around to do. When I pulled them out of their cocoons, the dust and spider webs reinforced Wendy's sentiment that they'd been out of commission "forever." It looked like something out of a movie.

Once I had them all down, I picked through the various pairs to find the two that came out of the front widows. Each window in our house is a little different size than the others, so I had to be sure I had the right ones for each opening. I leaned those against the closet doors and saw how badly I needed to give them a nice cleaning with a duster and a little water.

Since this is a temporary fix, I'm not reinstalling the sash stops at this point, but we needed to install something that would act as sash stops that we could mount the shutters to. The shutters are supposed to be attached to the sash stops, and affixing the shutters directly to the frames without anything to acting as sash stops means the shutters wouldn't have fit in the openings. I ended up using a couple pieces of 2x1/2 poplar strips from my basement wood hoard. And for the right side window, I had to shave about 1/8" off of the backs of the pieces to give the shutters a good fit.

Once I had the pieces cut, I marked a few locations for the screws and drilled a couple pilot holes. I also used my countersink bit to ensure the screws I would use to install the temporary sash stops would sit flush with the surface, rather than interfering with the function of the shutter operations.

Using 1 1/4" drywall screws I attached the temporary sash stops to the window frames and tested them by opening the windows. All looked good so I went ahead with installing the shutters.

I didn't bother with mortising the hinges because I wanted them installed as quickly as I could. So I would locate the spot for the shutter, mark the hinge hole locations, then drill pilot holes.

After attaching one shutter, I would use a shim to support the second shutter to mark the hinge locations and repeat the process.

Just a couple hours of effort and we had our shutters installed. Wendy was a truly happy camper.

Now, as I've said, this is a temporary solution, and we still have a lot of time and effort left until we do the permanent install. Once we get to that point, we're going to also need to clean up the shutters. There's been a lot of sloppy painters over the years that have left paint splatter on the shutters. There are also a few places where louvers are damaged or the wood has been dinged, so we'll need to fix that as well. But regardless, our bedroom is finally sporting shutters after a lengthy hiatus. Wendy is no longer threatening divorce (this week), we're both feeling we have a little more privacy, and we're working towards moving ahead on other things (like storm windows).

More than anything, this half step forward is more of a moral victory that has helped us feel just a little bit more energetic towards other projects. It's strange, I know, but it just feels good.

Have you made any progress on little projects in your house that makes you feel good, even of it's not a truly significant step? And do you have any idea how we should go about cleaning up and refinishing these great shutters without losing all of the great patina that's presently on the wood? I really don't have much experience there. Let us know.

Comments 5


Debra Cripps
7/5/2012 at 2:08 PM
I'd love to see how they look from the outside.
Old Town Home
7/5/2012 at 2:13 PM
Debra Cripps We'll have to get a photo for you, especially since you're our most consistent Facebook "liker." :-)
7/5/2012 at 3:39 PM
You are very lucky to still have those. Many rowhouses came with these "plantation shutters", but most have disappeared over the years. And you almost never see originals at architectural salvage stores.

If there's a lot of buildup (grime, dirt, old furniture wax, etc.), clean it with a little naphtha and #0000 steel wool, making sure to use light pressure and to always rub with the grain. If you have some stubborn areas, you can use #000, but I wouldn't go any higher. Then, once the buildup has been removed, follow up with some lemon oil and then a good paste wax (Johnson's or Briwax). That should make them look ten times better.
Thanks so much for the great tips, Tom and Jada. We'll definitely be giving this a try and will let you know how it goes. :-)
7/7/2012 at 11:34 AM
To be fair to your neighbour, it's often worth a shot to ask for these kind of things, since a lot of the time they simply get THROWN AWAY. If you were taking them down he might have thought you were tossing them. I don't think he was really trying to take advantage of you guys.

This is incredibly common in my city (scrapping nice stuff). You wouldn't believe the amount of people who tear out and scrap beautiful old architectural items (doors, windows, hardwood floors, casings, archways, porches, etc). I have picked up at least 5 beautiful solid wood doors (in near perfect shape), and 2-3 others that need minimal work. New solid wood doors (I'm told) would cost around 600-800$ each. I've also seen many people who replace windows but also scrap all the original window mouldings at the same time, rather than buying "insert" windows (like I did before I knew better), and saving the mouldings. I've picked up some nice solid Fir mouldings (for woodworking projects/repairs) since the wood is so insanely expensive to buy. Now I'm just ranting...

Glad to hear that Wendy is happy over this. You guys are lucky to have these beautiful shutters. They definitely look original, especially with the layout (3 panels and one louver per pair). I'm a bit surprised that they're all slightly different sizes. I was under the impression that most of your windows were all the same sizes. In my house (much later than yours though), all the upstairs ones are one size (originally 10 of them), and on the main floor, I have 2 sizes.
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