It’s hard to imagine a Provençal house without shutters. When you think of hilltop villages, towns or coastal fishing ports you imagine the different coloured shutters against the rendering or local stone. Open or shut, they give character to houses. However, you can’t just paint them any colour you like. If you live in a town, a National Park, or within 50 metres of a National Monument, the palette of colours you are entitled to use is restricted and controlled.
Traditional colours in the Luberon region of Provence are deep red, dark green and brown, but lavender has been popular in recent years, and shades of beige often denote second homeowners. Shutters on the coast tend more to blues, greens and beiges. Nice has a very specific palette depending on the facade; recommended colours are browns, beiges, greys and green or grey blues. The colours in the old town of Aix-en-Provence are the most strictly regulated and you must apply to the town hall to check the approved colour for your facade before you get out your paintbrush.
Traditional shutters are wooden and, in many places, modern metal shutters are not allowed. Depending on where you are in Provence, shutters will be solid or louvered. Generally speaking, in the countryside away from the coast (for example the Luberon) where the climate is more extreme (hotter in summer and colder in winter) shutters tend to be solid. Further south and on the coast they tend to be louvered to control light, visibility and airflow. These louvered shutters are called ‘persiennes’ (as in Persia).
Apart from being decorative, shutters have an extremely practical use: before the invention of double-glazing, they were essential to keep out both the winter cold and the summer heat. They still have an important role to play in keeping sun off the glass and, while it might seem counterintuitive, the best way of keeping cool in the summer, if you don’t have air conditioning, is to close the both the windows and the shutters during the day when the sun is at its hottest, and open them wide in the morning/evening when the temperature is cooler. It’s all about finding a balance, trying to keep the inside of the house cooler than the outside temperature. You’ll notice that most Provençal houses are shuttered during the middle of the day. Try it! You’ll find that the contrast of coming into a cool, dim interior from the bright heat outside is very conducive to a good after-lunch siesta.
Shutters in the old centre of Aix-en-Provence.
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