Renovating a farmhouse is a labour of love for many expatriates in France and properties with character features like original wooden shutters are some of the most sought after… Give the highly desirable hard wood window coverings the attention they deserve and they’ll reward you for many years to come. Increased security, insulation and protection from the elements are just some of the benefits.
They do require some maintenance, but only every few years or so. Taking care of wooden shutters and their hardware is a far cheaper option than replacing them – 10 windows require 10 pairs of shutters, making them one of the most expensive parts of a renovation project. Even if you have bought a property with shutters that appear to have been neglected, covered in peeling paint, the wood underneath might still be salvageable.
Shutters come in different designs, including solid panelled and louvred (slatted) styles. These may be the type that fold back on themselves and sit inside the window frame or those that fold back against the wall outside. A variety of woods are popularly used to make them, often those that make quality garden furniture so durable, such as cedar, which contains oil that helps make it waterproof.
When preparing to do work on your shutters, be aware that the paint you are about to strip or sand off them may contain lead. This will depend on the age of the property and when you bought it. Within the conditions of your compromis de vente the vendor is responsible for having this possibility checked out. The presence of lead paint carries a health risk and sanding shutters can produce harmful dust.
Your shutters should be in keeping with the rest of the building. Take your lead from similar properties in your region and you can’t go wrong. If you discover a distinct pattern, there may be a particular carpenter in the area who you can turn to for help. Whilst it might be tempting to paint your shutters a striking blue or red colour, this is unlikely to be consistent with local tradition – the Mairie should be able to advise you of what is.
Use a wire brush to remove flaking paint from tired shutters. Stripping paint from the slats on the louvred variety can prove a challenge, so you may need to experiment with brushes and files of different sizes. Then apply paint stripper and set about scraping the frames. Sand them before applying a primer to protect the wood. An undercoat and a top coat will ensure your shutters continue to look their best for years to come.
In France, there are all weather paints and varnishes especially for use on shutters. These can be expensive but are designed to last. Shutters look nice and natural when finished with a wood stain, which will ensure they go with everything – as your shutters will be visible from inside the property as well as outside, they should not clash with the interior décor. Opt for paint and you can always give them a respray if and when you decide to redecorate.
In the event that your shutters are not in good enough condition to keep, a local salvage yard might be able to help. Alternatively, you could try making your own by selecting timber from a DIY shop that slots together and can be cut to shape using a jig. Failing that, you can commission someone else to make them for you. Some of the latest designs are made from synthetic material but offer a wood effect without the need for regular maintenance.
Glossary: helpful words
Restauré – restored
Refait – renovated/restored
Rénové – renovated
Un volet – shutter
Un gond – shutter hinge pin
Une espagnolette – shutter/window fastening
Une charnière – hinge
Le vernis – varnish
La peinture – paint
La sous-couche – under-coat
Un pinceau – paint brush
Un grattoir – scraper
Le décapant – paint stripper
Le bois – wood
La boiserie – woodwork