The Shutters of Provence

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The Shutters of Provence

I’m frequently asked why I titled my blog Shutters and Sunflowers. All throughout this enchanting country shutters are found framing the windows of both historic and recently constructed buildings– particularly in Provence.

Shutters along the streets of Uzès setting for the novel, “The Sunflower Field”.
Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

And from mid June in the South, the fields are painted yellow, resplendent with golden carpets of smiling sunflowers. Somehow it wouldn’t be Provence without its dazzling, dancing tournesols and the shutters which adorn almost every window. I think these shutters and sunflowers are both so defining of France.

I thought it might be interesting to explore the origins of the shutters: Where exactly did they come from?

THE HISTORY OF SHUTTERS

The first shutters are believed to have been designed by the ancient Greeks. Made of marble, they had fixed louvres and just as today were used to control ventilation and light.

Shutters of Provence Arles. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Gradually over the years the concept was developed. Wood replaced the marble and the louvres became movable, allowing the amount of light and air to be controlled.

Shutters in Provence

Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Interior shutters were pierced with holes and then covered with translucent oiled parchment allowing light in while also preventing some of the draughts. In the 13th century after glass had been invented, windows became larger and building techniques grew more sophisticated. Interior shutters were designed, which slide into wooden apertures inside, beside the windows.

Shutters in Provence

Shutters in Saint Remy de Provence. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

By 1750 the first exterior shutters, contravents or persiennes, appeared. Normally painted white, they led to the decline of the balcony as it was too difficult to open shutters from a balcony.

Shutters in Provence

Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

STORIES ABOUT SHUTTERS

It’s believed that shutters were first used in France by King Louis XIV at his magnificent home, the Palace of Versailles. Supposedly he introduced louvered shutters into his garden walls so only he could open them, allowing him to watch unseen the beautiful ladies from court bathe in the gardens’ numerous ponds.

Shutters in Provence

Louvered shutters at Domaine de Fontenille. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Similarly in England, the story goes that when Lady Godiva road through the streets of Coventry naked, Tom watched her unseen through his louvered shutters. Hence the term ‘Peeping Tom’!

Today few houses in England have shutters. In France however they remain a distinguishing feature of French architecture, forming an integral part of their charm.

Shutters in Provence

Shutters at Maison du Petite Bourgade. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

WHY FRENCH HOUSES HAVE SHUTTERS

As attractive as shutters are, they have little to do with adornment but more with practicality. Restricting the amount of light and heat, shutters help to keep rooms cool and prevent furniture from fading. On hot summer nights shutters allow the inward opening windows to remain fastened back, permitting in the breeze but keeping houses secure and minimizing insect intrusion.

When the heat begins to soar, keeping the shutters closed can make a huge temperature difference. Although closing the shutters during the day darkens the room, I’m constantly amazed that when it’s sizzling hot outside if the shutters of our village house Maison des Cerises are kept fastened inside it remains cool. Similarly, on bitter winters days when the Mistral is venting its wrath, closing the shutters helps keep the icy chill out; surprisingly it can get very cold in Provence.

Shutters in Provence

Copyright ©Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

I’ve been warned that some French insurance companies require you to close your shutters if you’re going to be out for longer than two hours. Failure to do so can invalidate your insurance; I’ll have to check our policy!

THE DESIGN OF THE SHUTTERS OF PROVENCE

There are a myriad of shutter styles. Some shutters are louvered and some, like ours downstairs, are hinged so that only the lower half opens.

Shutters in Provence

Provence Shutters in Lourmarin. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Similar to many shutters on village houses and farm properties, the shutters on our shutters house Maison des Cerises are quite plain.

Shutters in Provence

A view of Lourmarin through the shutters. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com All Rights Reserved

Shutters on listed building can prove to be problematic for property owners. Les Bâtiments de France, an association which protects historic buildings, has the authority to dictate both their style and colour.

Shutters in Provence

Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

It can be a requirement to obtain the permission of the local maire to change your shutters especially if your property is located in a designated plus beaux village de France. 

Shutters in Provence

Shutters on Maire in Roussillon. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Although Lourmarin boasts this sought-after designation, there doesn’t seem to be too many restrictions and a wide array of shutter colours and styles can be found.

Shutters in Provence

Shutters of Provence found in Lourmarin. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Some such as these have been adorning windows for centuries.

Shutters in Provence

Historic shutters in Lourmarin. Copyright ©Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Some have only been there a few years, but an abundance of shutters can be found in our enchanting little village.

Shutters in Provence

Modern shutters in Lourmarin. Copyright © Shuttersandsunflower.com. All Rights Reserved

Next time I’ll tell you a little about the sunflowers.

Download The Lourmarin Travel Guide to learn about what to see and do in Lourmarin and where you can see for yourself the shutters of Provence! Caroline’s house in Lourmarin is available to rent here.

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Caroline is a travel writer and historical fiction author, based in San Francisco. She grew up in England, spending happy childhood holidays in France where her passion for travel and history began. She writes a much loved travel blog “Shutters and Sunflowers” and is the author of The "Sunflower Field."

Comments

  • Andrea Brock
    2020-10-05 00:59:02
    Andrea Brock
    Great information on the history of shutters - beautiful and practical. Thanks for the gorgeous pictures too - living in Australia this is the only way I get to experience France at the moment - can not wait to head back!

    REPLY

    • Caroline L Longstaffe
      2020-10-06 06:23:42
      Caroline L Longstaffe
      Thank you Andrea, so glad you enjoyed the post and I hope it made this enchanting place seem a little less far away!

      REPLY

    • Caroline L Longstaffe
      2020-10-05 15:03:04
      Caroline L Longstaffe
      Hi Andrea so glad you enjoyed my article. I hope you can return to France too, I understand that longing, take care!

      REPLY

  • Caroline L Longstaffe
    2020-10-02 16:16:51
    Caroline L Longstaffe
    Thank you Wendy, how wonderful that I was able to evoke such memories, some of the enchantment of France!

    REPLY

  • Wendy Barry
    2020-10-01 21:23:41
    Wendy Barry
    So many memories from holidays in France when I was living in London. Your beautiful article on French shutters in villages, put the French magic and longing to return as soon as we can safely travel again... Thank you, I could almost taste the fresh baguette and some delicious cheese. Merci!

    REPLY

  • Shirley
    2020-10-01 12:40:58
    Shirley
    Loved your article. ..thank you very much

    REPLY

    • Caroline L Longstaffe
      2020-10-01 20:07:43
      Caroline L Longstaffe
      Thanks so much Shirley, I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this!

      REPLY

  • Caroline Longstaffe
    2020-10-01 00:01:05
    Caroline Longstaffe
    So glad hat you enjoyed it Jackie, thank you for taking the time to tell me’! Take care

    REPLY

  • Caroline L Longstaffe
    2020-09-30 19:43:43
    Caroline L Longstaffe
    Hi Andrew Thank you so much for reaching out. What a lovely descriptor of your days in this special part of the world. I can imagine you and your wife meandering along those trails, some of which we have also enjoyed. I so hope we can all spend more time there and soon. It's been a tough year and not being able to spend time in Lourmarin has been sad and disappointing. As my darling Daddy always would 'this too will pass' ..... Stay and safe and take care.

    REPLY

  • Colin Gilbert
    2020-09-30 20:03:12
    Colin Gilbert
    My children always looked for the little men on the shutter catches. Very cute. Is there a name for these little chaps?

    REPLY

    • Caroline L Longstaffe
      2020-10-05 15:01:31
      Caroline L Longstaffe
      Hi Colin, thanks for asking, I am not sure that we are talking about the same thing but thy might be called bergeres pour les volets, or “Shepherds for the Shutters.” I think they were made in only a few designs ( 2 or 3) and can be found on shutters all over France. I hope this helps!

      REPLY

  • Andrew De Gaust
    2020-09-30 19:04:58
    Andrew De Gaust
    Lord! Lourmarin, Roussillon, Domaine de Fontenille, how those names evoke memories of the five years my wife and I spent the winter seasons in the Luberon! Our refuge was a stone cottage in the middle of a vinyard less than a kilometer from the Domaine de Fontenille. Each morning after a short hop to the boulangerie in Lauris for fresh baguettes, we'd pack water and jambonne sandwiches into a back pack and tramp the trail up the Combe de Recaute, across to the Combe de Sautadou, past the Tour Phillipe to the Route Forestiere and along the Louberon hills, and through the Bois de Cedres toward Cavaillon. Returning late as the sun dipped low, tired , happy and feeling blessed at our good fortune, we'd plan another excursion for the next day, with maybe lunch in Lourmarin or Curcuron. Those were halcyon days , life was sweet in the peaceful, pleasant French countryside. Oh, to be able to do that again!

    REPLY

    • Jackie
      2020-09-30 23:46:29
      Jackie
      Thank you for sharing your delightful story with us..Jackie

      REPLY

  • Kristen OBrien
    2020-09-28 23:51:00
    Kristen OBrien
    A fantastic history of Shutters Caroline. Beautiful pictures, I can't wait to visit Lourmarin!

    REPLY

    • Caroline L Longstaffe
      2020-09-30 19:39:10
      Caroline L Longstaffe
      So glad you enjoyed reading this Kristen. I would love to be able to show you Lourmarin and this magical part of the world!

      REPLY

  • Jonny Fry
    2020-09-28 16:23:21
    Jonny Fry
    Wow looking through the photos and reading Caroline's blog made me realise how much I have missed going to France this year due to Covid-19. Thank you for reminding me of what a beautiful country France is even though England is clearly better at playing Rugby.......

    REPLY

    • Caroline Longstaffe
      2020-09-30 19:37:46
      Caroline Longstaffe
      Thank you Jonny. For those of us that love to visit France it has been a big hole in our lives not to be able to do so. Let's hope next year is much kinder and healthier for us all. Take care and stay safe

      REPLY

      • Irveta Shouse
        2020-10-02 23:15:14
        Irveta Shouse
        Wondering if you have met my artist friend, Alice Williams. She grew up here, lived in Atlanta until her husband went home one day and said, “Let’s sell and move to Provence; it’s your passion.” Her work is incredible. Having visited Provence on several occasions, I love your photos and blog. But look her up, she lives in your beautiful village. Irveta Shouse Greenville, South Carolina

        REPLY

        • Caroline L Longstaffe
          2020-10-05 14:53:31
          Caroline L Longstaffe
          Thank you for getting in touch but no I don't know Alice. I'd love to meet her, do you have her contact details? I'm hoping to be back there in the spring.

          REPLY