Shutters have a great historical tradition. They were used for safety and to keep out bad weather. Today shutters have become a symbol of a quaint cottage or are used simply to dress up a house. By remembering shutters' original purpose, you can use them effectively to give a house real pop and appeal.

What's bad: In modern decorative applications, shutters are often screwed to the wall and the wrong size to fit inside the window, as they would have historically. They also don't match the window's width properly, looking misplaced and mismeasured. Interestingly, the louvers drain away from the house in modern fixed shutters, when actually, in open position, operable shutters would have drained toward the house.

What's good: Shutters originally functioned by closing over the window. This meant the shutter hung on hinges and swung in and out, with some kind of shutter dog to hold it against the house when not in use. Paneled shutters were often used on the first floor for better security and louvered shutters upstairs for better ventilation. These details can give new houses a sense of authenticity.

What's best: The right hardware can make all the difference. Strap hinges, shutter dogs, and even hold backs (basically a long hook and eye that can keep an open shutter against the house) — even if they aren't used — can give a house a great feel. —Brent Hull is a millwork consultant and author of the book, Historic Millwork. Reach him at