Thursday, July 11, 2019

Custom Made Shutters, Italy, and Other Things




"...Caesar would have looked through shutters to scrutinize torch lights below, while augurs read sheep’s livers for indications of trouble..."



Custom Made Shutters, Italy, and Other Things

As a kid craving aesthetic fulfillment, I had a hankering for wooden shutters.  How neat it would be, I imagined, to stand at a window and open and close the slats, to block or admit sunlight.  At the time I was ignorant of the fact that slats were called louvers.

My childhood desire for shutters was inspired solely by the plantation shutters that were a common south Louisiana architectural element.  Then, I was unaware of shutters outside of south Louisiana.

Nevertheless I wanted some.  It was as if I understood that modifying light and ventilation with louvers was brilliant.

This moment is imprinted in my psyche.  I am in Kritsa, a tiny village in eastern Crete which has existed in one form or another since Minoan times.  I watch an old woman open her shutters, and feel linked to something timeless.

When we traveled in Sicily, Donnie rented us a place near Marsala with floor-to-ceiling shutters that opened to a patio garden filled with olive, lemon and pomegranate trees.  Visible in the distance was a large villa surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.  I spent a great deal of time simply enjoying the view with a glass of wine.  By then, however, I knew that the ancient Greeks had invented shutters.

Naturally, the Romans stole the idea.

Practicality appealed to the Romans.  Utilitarianism aside, you can’t separate shutters from architecture, and it is architecture more than anything that draws me to the Mediterranean and Aegean.  Same with the Adriatic, where I gawked at shutters on a Venetian-Gothic façade in the Croatian village of Stari Grad.  Located on Hvar Island and considered one of the most ancient towns in Europe, Greek colonists from the island of Paros inhabited Stari Grad in 384 BC.  The shutters that spoke to me covered arched windows flanked by hand-carved stone columns topped with Corinthian capitals.

Rome is a pain in the ass.  The heat is unbearable, the hills are steep, cypresses and oleanders block precious courtyard views, scooters are satanic.  Yet, I tolerate, to see shuttered medieval buildings on ridiculously narrow streets, such as Via del Governo Vecchio, or on Vicolo del Piede where laundry hangs above my head, and shutters appear lovely against crumbling peach colored plaster, further, if you need booze this street provides many options.  Very near, I took a picture of Donnie in the Piazza of Santa Maria de Trastevere, behind him an expansive shutter-lined architectural façade.

Whenever I gallivant around the Palatine’s grassy ruins, I imagine its prestigious dwellings.  There, Romulus built the city’s first houses, later Republican aristos and statesmen, the bucket-mouth Cicero for instance, constructed lavish residences.  Then rose imperial palaces.  More than one paranoid Caesar would have looked through shutters to scrutinize torch lights below, while augurs read sheep’s livers for indications of trouble, which makes me wonder if Mussolini could have avoided being hung upside down if he had used competent soothsayers.  Property owners on the Palatine Hill had to overcome the fact that, in summer, Rome is hot by 9am.

No different for those not prone to conspicuous consumption.  One day I went to Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port, to see the well-preserved modest three story brick apartment buildings with ground floor shops, constructed for merchants and port workers, in which multiple families shared courtyards and kitchens.

The Persians had shutters.  I don’t know if Alexander brought shutters to Persia at the time he relieved the Persians of their wealth, or if shutters entered Persia with earlier Greeks.  I do know however the Spanish brought shutters to the Americas, which is the reason I was familiar with shutters in south Louisiana.  Recall that after French colonists founded New Orleans in 1718, and named it for King Louis XIV’s nephew, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, the city was ceded to the Spanish Empire in 1763.

One day Donnie announced it was time to replace our old house’s windows, made in 1925.  Here was my chance, I thought, to have shutters.  I’ll decorate the new windows with interior plantation shutters to modify light.

It was important for me to have traditional plantation style shutters, with the narrow louvers, like the ones I knew as a kid.  They had a more historical aura than the contemporary shutters with wider louvers.  So I found Mark Morales of Shutter Source, who manufactures and installs traditional shutters.  Admittedly, I’m no architect or interiors expert, but I do know a beautifully crafted architectural feature when I see one, especially one associated with antiquity.


Here’s what I learned from Mark Morales about his custom made shutters.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson: Years ago when we met, you told me you learned shutter-making by working with your father.  Elaborate on that.

Mark Morales: I started working for my father when I was 12 years old.  I worked after school, weekends and summers.  My father had a company here in Houston on Post Oak Road, just north of Main Street.  I worked for him until from 1972-1983.  My father learned to make shutters on the fly.  He grew up in South Texas and did a little bit of everything, mostly carpenter work.  He enlisted in the Air Force and was a mechanic.  When he left the Air Force, he settled in California and worked in an areo-space tool manufacturing plant as an inspector.  We moved back to Texas in 1970, and my father and my two uncles started a construction company, but the company didn’t last long.  My father started doing shutter installations to make ends meet.  He then started to manufacture shutters.

VBA: As you know Mark, it was your having studied traditional plantation shutters in historical homes in New Orleans and Galveston that attracted my attention.  Your knowledge of historical shutter design interested me enormously.

MM: We did a lot of historical home projects over the years.  We had the capability to manufacture our own louvers, rails and stile profiles which came in handy when we had to match only one or two panels in a home.  Today, we still make exterior panels for jobs in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and surrounding areas.

VBA: Say a few words about your factory, a manufacturing facility in the Missouri City area of Houston which custom builds to customer requirements, how many people are employed.  I know you work with solid wood.  Do you manufacture all the wood components?

MM: Currently I have 22 employees.  We use basswood for all our interior shutters and mahogany for all our exterior shutters.  We no longer mill our own components.  It saves money and time to buy pre-milled components.

VBA: The basswood can be sanded to a very smooth finish, which is why the dark wood stain I chose covered the wood so elegantly.  Your attention to matching shutter stain with my window moldings blew me away.  Did you study design or art?

MM: I never studied design.  I've learned how to design special shapes by trial and error.

Images:
Virginia Billeaud Anderson - Bedroom shutters custom made by Mark Morales - Shutter Source Houston
Virginia Billeaud Anderson - Bedroom Shutters custom made by Mark Morales - Shutter Source Houston

Mark Morales
Shutter Source 
www.shuttersourcehouston.com
281 403-2012