A moment of silence for the pocket shutters that were

The focus at the Crooked House these days is getting openings framed up on any outside walls before the insulation is installed. Anywhere that wasn’t gutted is going to have blown in cellulose; open walls are to have spray foam. Problem is, I needed to make sure that every opening in these walls is exactly where I want it so I never have to deal with heaps of fluffed up paper pulp (and treated with who knows what for fire resistance) falling out onto my head. I’ll go into the final details of this later, but for now let’s focus on the two front windows in the living room. Here they were before I did anything:

Living room, front

Living room, front

My first impression was that I’d rather have the radiators exposed than the sheet metal covers that came with the house, and I didn’t care for the way that the trim is offset. You can see that the same flat casing was installed on either side of the windows and on either side of the radiator alcoves, and I think it looks awkward the way they didn’t line up. So I was going to remove the trim around the radiators and drywall the alcoves. Until I discovered original raised paneling behind them, that is. Then I decided they could stay as they were.

You’ll notice here that the window on the left is really crooked. My dad said that I needed to fix this, but I didn’t want to. After all, my house’s original Victorian facade was a major selling point. There’s no way around it, changes people made to these rowhouses in the 60’s or later totally wrecked them. And I wanted windows to fit properly into the original openings, no matter how out of square they got. Of course, fitting square windows into crooked openings would look weird no matter what I did, but I wanted to try to get it to look right from the outside. Here’s a closeup of how the window openings look today.

P1040002

Yes, I have the original brick, but it’s in disgusting condition. The good news is, the damage is reversible. It’ll cost me, but eventually I’ll be able to do it. Eventually I’m installing WOOD windows. No low maintenance cladding on the front on the front of my house! The aluminum capping will meet a violent end (I can’t wait to do this!) and I will either reinstall the original trim or (more likely) buy something new that looks just like it.

Now the good news is, the front wall is square! The interior framing settled and separated from the windows. This means that standard size square windows will look right in the openings. It also meant that the old window jambs had to be torn out and rebuilt. So when the trim came down, I made an interesting discovery:

P1040016

The wallpaper shows where the trim that came with the house was, but used to run down straight! This means that it actually jutted out over the window openings. Why would this be? The only logical explanation is that the house used to have the coolest window treatment ever to exist, and someone, who obviously had horrible taste, destroyed it for no good reason. You may have noticed that I’ve broken with my previous rule of not writing things to insult bad taste. I got mad about these shutters and decided that in the end, I want to say exactly what I think about everything I’m ripping out.

pocketshutters

(This photo was ripped off from brownstoner.com)

This photo also gives you a better idea of what the original sills looked like. They were shallow and set inside recessed nooks. The deep sills from the 1930’s renovation are less cool looking, but made the space much more practical. And also, once the radiators were added, the nooks weren’t nearly as pretty anymore.

Now I wondered, since I have the deep window jambs that made these possible and I have large amounts of dead space inside the jambs already, could I add the pocket shutters back in? Yes! But it would cost a cool $3000. Someday I could probably afford this, but it will never be sensible. Of course I could luck out and find vintage shutters that are the right size, but that’s unlikely. The other option I might consider is asking my friend’s dad to have them custom made in Mumbai and smuggle them into the US in a suitcase on a future visit. He already offered to have some custom woodwork made there for me, but I’m not exactly sure what size he was thinking of.

But let’s ignore all of this for now. I don’t know exactly what I want, but I do know that I want the window jambs and sills to fit the new windows perfectly. And the new windows aren’t coming until the brick is restored, since that will likely require harsh chemicals. And I need the wall openings done now. And the walls need to be closed up ASAP. So I’ve decided to temporarily use the original Victorian window sills, and drywall the jambs around and above the windows, making the openings larger than they need to be. I can come back in later, once the windows are in, and install pretty wood jambs, deep sills, and authentic reproduction Craftsman trim back over them and all will be well.

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6 thoughts on “A moment of silence for the pocket shutters that were

  1. Melinda

    How interesting! I’ve never seen built in interior shutters like that. Perhaps you might find a kitchen cabinetmaker willing to make custom panels for less than $3k? The example from another house has shutters which look very similar to traditional kitchen cabinet doors, but I suppose this idea wouldn’t work so well if you wanted louvered shutters. 🙂

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Yeah, it seems like these shutters were common for a while and then completely disappeared. Normally there are 4 panels across the width of the window, and the one that shows while they’re folded open is paneled while the others are louvered. I thought about buying the louvered panels off the shelf, having the paneled sections made, and then putting it together myself. I can buy these from a salvage yard, so the other option is to find two sets that are close enough to the right size that I could cut them down to fit. And having them custom made in India and brought to the US in a suitcase is not a joke. They would be cheap and they would be solid teak. I was thinking of doing this for the decorative corbels and rosettes on my wooden cornice. Right now it’s covered in vertical siding so I have no idea what condition it’s in, but the siding partially covers the brick, so even though I would rather hold off on that, I’ll need to find out before I have the brick restored.

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  2. Ruth

    Chad – we’ve seen that too many times to count. Some folks idea of renovation seems to be rip everything out. Sharing a moment to mourn the shutters. Re the price there does come a point when restoring some elements of a property becomes too expensive to justify. As you say down the line it can become possible.

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  3. Mary Elizabeth

    I agree that it’s a shame the shutters were torn out and sheetrocked over. I don’t know much about Philadelphia row house architecture, but I have seen this type of shutters before. That kind of shutters that fold into the window casings were common in much older captains’ houses in coastal towns and cities during the tall ships heyday (1800 to about 1870s). I think Clement Moore’s house in New York City, where he wrote “. . .tore open the shutters and threw up the sash” must have had them.

    I agree with Melinda that you could do this cheaper than $3000. You can make them yourself (do you or your dad have a miter saw?) or have a carpenter do it. For now, you can: a) make a recessed wooden box inside the window frames so you can install the shutters at a later date, or b) frame out the side jambs so they look like the closed cupboard doors of the shutters that used to be there (faux shutters). Or, since the crooked house is telling you it wants shutters, you could just do what you were planning to do with the window frames and install regular folding shutters in future.

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Yeah, regular folding shutters are an option. I definitely like the idea of having double hung shutters that would allow me to leave the bottom closed and the top open. And the cheap easy solution of drywalling the jambs and putting in the pretty wood jambs and casings later def takes the pressure off!

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