If you’ve spent any time in France, you’ve probably noticed the window coverings that resemble what we call shutters in North America. Except these fancy French shutters for windows aren’t just decorative touches that the French add to their homes to make them look nice. They’re called volets and serve several purposes! What the heck are these French shutters for windows and how do the French use them? Keep reading because the French volets are used differently than how we use window shutters in the US!
Read on for more on volets in France!
French shutters for windows are called volets
French window shutters are a cultural mainstay and one that many Americans may not know much about. Why do French houses have shutters? A perfect example is this experience with my dad.
Innocently enough when he was visiting France for the first time and noticing all the closed up windows, my dad half jokingly asked if France was bracing for a hurricane, knowing full well they don’t have hurricanes here, yet equally curious for my response. And I don’t blame him! Many French window shutters look like the accordion coverings that you’d see in the off-season in South Florida when vacation properties are closed up for the year or when the area is bracing for a hurricane.
First things first, French shutters for windows are called les volets.
Some volets in France are wood and others are metal. Some open in the middle into two vertical panels that can be secured back and others go up and down. Some are modern French roller shutters and raise and lower at the touch of a button and others need to be opened by hand via a rod you turn from the inside. French shutters come in a bunch of varieties at all price points.
Regardless of the type of French window shutters, they are part of French culture and EVERY house and apartment has them. No exceptions. (I liken this to screens on windows in the U.S. All houses have them. In France, no houses have screens!) It doesn’t matter if you live in a French apartment five floors up or a house in the country or city. Les volets are just as normal as having a front door.
The French shutters for windows in the picture above really are quite pretty and well maintained, but many don’t look anything like that and are more functional than decorative.
Did you miss New House WTF #1? Read it here! >>
Now let me explain how French shutters are used. Unlike the decorative shutters that stay put on American homes and aren’t actually meant to be opened and closed daily, French window shutters actually move and are meant to be open and closed daily. Metal window shutters, wooden, whatever… French window shutters, les volets, are functional.
In most cases, each morning, the volets are opened and each evening they are shut. It’s normal and lets the world know you’re ready to face the day. Everyone does it.
Some people might leave the upstairs volets open all the time (ME ME ME) but the ones at street level always do this little dance morning and night. They open and close. And some even have the ability to be cracked open instead of folded out or lifted up the entire way. In the hot summer months since air conditioning isn’t popular here, some people leave the volets closed to keep the cool air in and the hot air out, essentially leaving them to sit in the dark.
What do the French shutters for windows in France look like and why do French houses have shutters?
There are so many styles but here are a couple of types of French window shutters in my neighborhood:
Why do French houses have shutters on the windows?
There are a few reasons. Remember, there are metal window shutters that seem to be sturdier and wooden window shutters that are quite pretty, but overall, here’s why French houses have shutters.
— Insulation. To keep the heat indoors in the winter and not lose it all through the window. Conversely, the shutters help the cool air stay inside in the summer and keep the hot sun from warming the interior of the home when it’s sweltering out. Many older homes still have single-pane glass but double seems to be the norm in newer homes.
When I asked about triple-pane glass (normal in the US for newer homes), it seemed to be a rarity here. So when the sun starts to go down in the winter, it’s time to close up your volets and conserve the heat! They serve a similar purpose in the summer since most homes do not have air conditioning. But if you have the kind of shutters that you have to actually open to the outside air to open and close, you let some cold air (or hot air in the summer) in each time you do so, and bugs, if that’s a problem in your area.
— Protection. Volets in France help protect the house from the elements. In a rain or wind storm, just close your volets for some added protection. Some also close the volets to block the sunlight. And a major pet peeve of mine is when the volets are half up. I understand it but either open your house up or don’t. No half-ass shutters, OK?
— Security. Closing your volets at sundown lets the world know that your house is secure and ready for the night. No one can break in through the window and rob you if it’s covered by sturdy volets. It’s one added barrier that a thief would have to deal with, so having secure, sturdy volets that shut at nightfall means a secure house.
— Privacy. Want to make sure no one sees into your house? Just shut the volets and no one passing by can peer into your home. I find many French homes don’t have extensive window treatments, so when the shutters are open, it’s quite common to see into people’s homes.
Personally? I’m a fan of blinds and opaque curtains. They keep the sun out of your eyes and keep nosy folks from peeking in and seeing what you’re doing. Many window treatments will block the sun and private privacy without blocking the light so we aren’t sitting in the dark and required to turn on a light. It’s just a cultural difference.
Anyway, our house wouldn’t be French if it didn’t have volets. As I mentioned, it’s just part of French culture and EVERY house has them. We have two types at our house: old fashioned ones that you have to open the window to the outside to open and close the shutters and one set downstairs that you can lower and raise from inside via a rod that you turn without opening the window itself.
Although some volets are more charming than others, they aren’t super attractive. French window shutters remind me of a store in the mall closing for the day, when that ugly barricade rolls down to say they’re closing up shop.
Not all volets are ugly, not at all, and I understand their role in French culture and the purpose they serve, but they’re just not part of American culture and therefore I find them a little foreign. Because to me, they are.
Closed volets look cold and so uninviting to me. That’s sort of the point. But I don’t like it. And about the light — I don’t want the light blocked out of my bedroom. I hate sleeping in pitch black because the natural light at sunrise can’t wake me up if the windows are blocked. And I like waking up early. But for Tom? God forbid if there’s even a crack of light in our room at night. He can’t sleep! We compromise.
So French window shutters are kind of WTF for me. Take ’em or leave ’em. I’d leave them up all the time if it were up to me. I think they’re a little weird. If you’re concerned about heat loss, get better windows. If you don’t want light coming in, get some opaque curtains. And if you are concerned about your security, get an alarm system.
I’m half joking. I get their purpose. I get it’s the culture. They just remind me of that Al Pacino movie in Alaska (Insomnia) where they had to block the 24-hour light at night to sleep. But here in France, that’s not a problem since it gets dark and all and we don’t have 24 hours of light or dark. But in case one day the sun decides to NOT set, we have our volets! We’re ready!
In all seriousness, French window shutters are just part of embracing the culture here and aren’t a big deal. I really don’t mind opening and closing French shutters at this point because I’m used to it. It’s almost become (gasp!) normal! And if they’ll help conserve heat and keep us safe, cool. But if I had a budget to buy new volets, I’d definitely get the most inviting-looking and automatic ones possible that are on a timer with a button — not hurricane style! 😉
What do you think of French shutters for windows in France? Are you a fan of volets?
Ace CB @ Life in Dutch says
A lot (but not every) of homes in the Netherlands have similar features, usually the ones that look like a small garage door over the windows. What I don’t get is that in such a grey, rainy country, so many people leave theirs down all day long (and if not the volets, the leave the shades down all day). I’d like to throw open the shades and let some light in. It just takes soem getting used to, but the traditional French style looks a lot nicer.
The only reason I can think of as to why people leave the volets shut all day is if they’re at work and no one is home anyway to enjoy that light. If they are home, no clue why they’d leave them down if it’s nice out! And yes I agree, the “shutter” type is way nicer than the garage door type.
I like volets. I think these would be perfect for a ranch home in the US.
Laura @Travelocafe says
I also have volets at my windows even though I leave at the forth floor. They are beautiful and stylish. I don’t want to take them down.
I’m all for the stylish ones that look nice and add to the home’s overall look. Just that there are too many ugly ones around here!
Oh my goodness! I say that to my husband all the time, that it feels like we’re barricading ourselves in every night! It’s still very weird to me too, like when you drive through a little village at night, there’s absolutely no light coming from houses because everybody has their volets down, it’s so uninviting to me! I also like having a little it of light in the mornings, it lets you know approximately what time it is just by looking. But, being a little paranoid about people seeing me in my house, I kind of like that aspect of it, that nobody can see in.
Yup, I totally feel like we’re barricading ourselves in for the hurricane! We just ordered curtains that will be in any day after living for a month without any (and keeping the downstairs volets down) so I’m looking forward to the light! My couch might be a totally different color. Thanks for stopping by, Megan!
You live a lot further south than we do — up here in the North, in the summer time rolling shutters are an absolute must. The sun is up super early in the morning and sets really late at night. They are a blessing when you’ve got a baby or a little kid who doesn’t want to go to sleep cause “it’s not dark yet”! In the winter they are awesome up here too cause we lose a lot of heat out of our big old house windows. I know a lot of people can upgrade their windows for “double vitrage” but when you live in a historically classified house, putting in double vitrage PVC windows is out of the question unless you’re OK with paying fines up to 20k€ to the municipal government!
I can definitely see how they’d come in handy with a young child. I am definitely more in love with the first pic in my post though — the “shutter” types and not the roller ones. And yes, a historically classified house wouldn’t be for someone who isn’t a fan of volets! 😉
Sara Louise says
I’ve grown quite fond of volets! They’re perfect for a lazy Saturday or Sunday when you want to chill out and watch movies all day – shut the volets and not only is it dark, but nobody comes a-knocking! 🙂
They definitely do have their perks!
Chasing the Donkey says
Yup, almost all houses have these here in Croatia. I hate them, such a waste of my time. Open, close, open, close gah!
I like to joke about French culture and my frustration sometimes because it’s how I get through it (and makes for fun posts), but I try to be as respectful as possible. I’m just a guest. But I’d be lying if I said I loved volets. Totally agree with you about the open/close nonsense. My husband won’t let me leave them open past sundown. Even with curtains! Well, at least I’m not alone! How are the Croatian lessons going? Seems like one really difficult language to learn!
nicole | the wondernuts says
I would just be happy to own a home in France. =) Never mind the volets.
Yup, been a goal of ours awhile now, to be homeowners. 😉
Susan Walter says
Shutters on the ground floor are universal because not having them (and not closing them when you are out or at night) can invalidate your house insurance.
In the old days people chose to either have light or a comfort temperature inside, manipulated by whether you opened your shutters or not. In those times too, people’s habits were much more regular and the clack up and down the street of shutters opening and closing was synchronised morning and evening.
Curtains don’t work very well with traditional French windows as they open inwards. Nowadays you have a lot more options with modern windows that will open every which way.
Many French houses are right on the street and shutters also insulate against dust and noise. People often don’t open the street side shutters at all. This usually means the house is much bigger than it looks, built round a courtyard and the occupied rooms are over the other side of the courtyard, with just storage streetside.
Wow, very interesting. Thank you for providing some of the history there!
I just love my volet, and yes I’m french. At night it keeps the dark in especially when you live in a city like Paris because the street lights are more than light when i get up at night in my living room i don’t need to turn mine on to go to the toilet 😉
I did live in the USA for a year and well I can only remember the light keeping me awake late and waking me up way to early…
so I LOVE VOLET.
Yup, they do serve a purpose and agree that the light is a major difference between French and American homes. The light helps me get up but annoys my husband to no end so I definitely see both sides! Thank you for stopping by and commenting!
I never thought twice about volets before as there were always around me: at my house, my grand parents, everybody… 🙂
I agree it is not very convenient, especially when you have short arms like me haha…
But I think there best feature is: cool air flow for summer night. People don’t normally have air conditioning, so by closing the volets and opening the window you have cool air + security.
Hi, yes I agree for the cool air and security that they can be very practical. And many are really pretty!
Great post! Our neighborhood gets super dark at night because everyone closes their volets at sundown. To me, it still feels super uninviting. Somehow I’ve convinced my conjoint to keep ours open. He complains about security and the sunlight waking him up too early, but without any sunlight I’d sleep all day. It’s been a struggle to compromise on this one!
Glad you’re with me on this one. Although volets are growing on me, the no sunlight in the morning thing is probably the worst. Hate getting up with alarms!
OMG! How come I never saw this post before???
I wrote the opposite post 6 months ago!
I feel like the blinds don’t protect from anything. You can see through them, unless you close them so much that you’re in the dark. Or they’re open, and you’re blinded. I miss both my volets and my voilages (the see-through curtains that soften the sunlight, but still prevent from being seen from the outside)
Haha, guess you were on vacation when I published this one! There are so many types of blinds and window treatments in the US these days (even volets I’m sure, but more for hurricanes or if you live in Alaska to prevent the long days from disrupting sleep patterns) so I’m sure a good blinds store could hook you up with something that works. For the heat/cold, many houses have triple pane windows and good insulation so there’s no issue with the sun making a room hot (especially with my favorite, the air conditioning!). But I know what you’re experiencing because I have the exact opposite concerns here. I think I’d like volets more if they were automatic and didn’t involve me manually lowering or opening them (which involves opening the windows upstairs).
What part of California do you live in again? I forget.
I was so glad to finally learn the correct name for the volets. I so agree that I think the many bright colors are striking when open, but I also dislike closed volets making it look like an entire block is abandoned
Agreed. I think sometimes they can be really pretty but those are usually the manual ones you have to open and close yourself (letting in the cold air in the winter because you have to open your window to do it). If it were up to me, they’d just be decorative and left open all the time. I’m used to letting the natural light of the sunrise wake me up. When closed (and depending on what kind), they look like hurricane shutters to me that we’d see in southern Florida, as my dad pointed out. Not attractive at all.
Our volets give us peace of mind while we are in England!!
Volets are used to keep rooms dark – not only for children – but also because the French know the importance of a sound sleep. Complete darkness helps this. They do not fall asleep with the tv on or with lights on in rooms.
Matthew Hall says
There’s a line that roughly corresponds to the historical distribution of catholic and protestant running across southern Netherlands and north central Germany dividing regions that have shutters to those that don’t. Shutters like this are a rare in Amsterdam, hamburg, and Berlin. They are unknown in the British Isles and Scandinavia. There is a mix across southern Netherlands, northern Belgium, and the Rhineland of Germany where shutters and their use is mixed.
Funny you’re mentionning this. I have a friend who’s half Dutch half south-african (Afrikaner) and he told me once that in NL they say, about these houses with shutters: that’s catholics doing uncatholic things. Like protestants have nothing to hide, but catholics do!
Omg I love that I’ve found another American who thinks this is utterly bizarre! The first time I was visiting my husband’s family, 6pm rolled around and the entire house shut down like a bomb shelter, it completely wigs me out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I hate hate hate volets – I’ve never had something give me such claustrophobia in my life! All the while my sister-in-law me the, “Oh yes, weird American habits” look. Smh.
Ashley, I love you and I don’t even know you! I have come to just accept the volets at this point and people do whatever they want in their own homes, but in mine? The upstairs bedrooms’ volets are always open unless we are out of town. I like letting natural light wake me up in the morning and don’t mind a slight glow from streetlights. The only volets I close are the ones right in front of our family room that look out to the street. Once it’s dark, if we have lights on everyone outside can see in.
But really, some good blinds and double or triple pane glass in most climates should suffice. From the outside, all the houses from 7pm on or so look like they’re prepping for a hurricane!!!
GwenEllyn Anderson says
The French have much better sleep habits than Americans do so the volets provide darkness that helps your brain ‘sleep’. Because so many important functions occur in the brain during sleep, I say we should start using them in the USA, too! 🙂
Yup, I feel like darkness is really beneficial for some people. But others, like me, sleep just fine with some light from outside peeking in (and helping me to wake up naturally in the morning). Many people have blackout curtains in the US for that exact purpose!
I just returned home to US from a 10-day trip to Lyon and am interested in adding this type of shutter on my house. Found your page while googling for info. We like the idea of real shutters rather than the stupid fake things on so many houses in US, at least in our area. Nice for security, protection from storms or debris when we mow, lowered noise, keeping the house dark at night, etc. And we think they’re just so cool and French. 🙂 Surprised to find that some people are annoyed by them. I think the fake ones are annoying! Good to see a perspective from an American living in France. Thanks for sharing! Cheers!
Hi Andy, I think 2 areas of the US where you might be able to find specialists for shutters of this type would be South Florida or Alaska. Anywhere with hurricane windows and protection should have volet-style fittings. And Alaska for the near all-day daylight in some parts during the summer. Maybe a distributor there can find you someone local. The volets in France do serve a purpose but I wish I had automatic ones on a timer. 😉 All the best and enjoy your weekend.
Andy, You are so right ! Fake shutters are so ridiculous.
But they show at least one thing : Shutters are considered as a beautiful enhancement to a facade…. but fake remains fake and by installing them people loses the advantages of this very civilized closure :
– keep warm inside in winter and warm outside in summer
– regulate the amount of light you want in the house at any time
– having safer windows from wind, hail, humans… you can even install security sensors on and avoid having your window broken ( the alarm system will ring before )
– and now you can find many automatic devices for wing shutters ( mainly in Europe ). very practical and a real leap in comfort. With home automation set accordingly, you don t care anymore of the shutters and take a full advantage of it.
I can’t disagree more with you, and I agree with everything Marches said.
I do have automatic shutters, and I love them. They protect from robberies, and I also have an alarm, they protect from the weather, rain, snow, wind, warm, they give privacy!
I have a hard to understand why that doesn’t exist in the states, where there are so many violence, hurricanes, snow storms… all my windows are double, all the new homes are like that, very well isolated, there’s no triple here, in regulars homes, but I really don’t believe that that extra layer of glass will provide the same protection and isolation that the shutters do.
I’m French and I love sleeping in a dark room. And our house being shutter-less (yes you’re reading well!), i’m having a hard time sleeping well and I have to wear an eye-mask because roller shades don’t block enough light for me. I remember during our stay in UK sleeping in a bedroom with just yellow light curtains, waking up because of the light and thinking that I had a long night. Error, it was 6am! arrgggg
They obviously serve a purpose against heat too as there are shutters in southern countries such as spain, italy, etc… My son’s nanny shuts her shutters when it’s hot outside (the traditional kind made of 2 vertical parts), so when i go in the afternoon and pick him up, it’s all dark because she doesn’t even turn the light on!
oh and about screens, because you mentionned them in several posts I read earlier, i did add some to all of our windows and doors. For windows it’s just sticky velcro that you put all around your window and “tape” the mesh on it. Same for doors but they are magnetic in the middle and close automatically after you pass through them. Once I did that on our home, my neighbours did too. I think they had no idea it existed. And now i’m seeing more and more new houses with real roller screens (roll them up or pull them down to cover your window)