New House WTF #2: What ARE those shutter things? Volets, folks… they’re called volets.

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

volets 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 shutters aren’t just decorative touches that the French add to their homes to make them look nice. They’re called volets and they serve several purposes!  What the heck are these things?

Read on for more on volets in France!

Volets in France

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 exist here yet equally as curious for my response. And I don’t blame him! Many volets look like the accordion coverings that you’d see in the off-season in South Florida when winter homes are secured and shut or when the area is bracing for a hurricane.

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 and raise and lower at the touch of a button and others need to be opened by hand. But regardless of the type, volets 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.) The ones in the picture above really are quite pretty, but many don’t look anything like that.

Did you miss New House WTF #1? Read it here! >>

Now let me explain how volets are used. Unlike the decorative shutters that stay put on American homes, the volets actually move.

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, open and close. And some even have the ability to be cracked open instead of folded out or lifted up the entire way.

So first, what do volets in France look like? There are so many styles but here are a few types that are in my neighborhood:

Pretty volets in France

Automatic volet in France

   

What is the purpose of volets in France?

Insulation. To keep the heat indoors in the winter and the cool air inside in the summer. Many older homes still have single paned glass and double seems to be the norm in newer homes. When I asked about triple paned glass (normal in the US), it seemed to be a rarity here. So when the sun starts to go down, 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 that you have to actually open to the outside 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 volets, 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 the volets and locked.

Privacy. Want to make sure no one sees into your house? Just shut the volets.

Personally? I’m a fan of blinds. They keep the sun out of your eyes and keep nosy folks from peeking in.  Guess I’m really American.

Anyway, our house wouldn’t be French if it didn’t have volets. It’s just part of French culture and EVERY house has them. We have two types: old fashioned ones that you have to open the window to open and close and one set downstairs that you can lower and raise from inside via a rod that you turn.

Although some volets are more charming than others, they remind me of a store in the mall closing for the day, when that ugly barricade comes down to say they’re closing up shop.

Not all volets are ugly, not at all, but they’re just not part of American culture and therefore I find them a little strange.

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. 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!

So volets are kind of WTF for me. 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. BUt in case one day the sun decides to NOT set, we have our volets! We’re ready!

In all honesty, volets are just part of embracing the culture here and aren’t a big deal. I really don’t mind opening and closing them. 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 ones possible — not hurricane style! 😉

 

What do you think of the volets in France? Weird/cool/normal????

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Comments (34)

  • Ace CB @ Life in Dutch

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    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.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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.

      Reply

  • Jackie

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    I like volets. I think these would be perfect for a ranch home in the US.

    Reply

  • Laura @Travelocafe

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    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.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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!

      Reply

  • Megan

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    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.
    Great post!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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!

      Reply

  • Amber

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    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!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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! 😉

      Reply

  • Sara Louise

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    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! 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      They definitely do have their perks!

      Reply

  • Chasing the Donkey

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    Yup, almost all houses have these here in Croatia. I hate them, such a waste of my time. Open, close, open, close gah!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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!

      Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, been a goal of ours awhile now, to be homeowners. 😉

      Reply

  • Susan Walter

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    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.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Wow, very interesting. Thank you for providing some of the history there!

      Reply

  • Maëlle

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    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.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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!

      Reply

  • Elodie

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    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.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi, yes I agree for the cool air and security that they can be very practical. And many are really pretty!

      Reply

  • Sweetteamob

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    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!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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!

      Reply

  • Cal-expat

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    OMG! How come I never saw this post before???
    I wrote the opposite post 6 months ago!
    https://photoexpat.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/volets-et-storesshutters-vs-blinds/

    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)
    Cal-expat recently posted…Las Vegas – Ceasars Palace – The Forum ShopsMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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.

      Reply

    • Diane

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      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.

      Reply

  • Karen

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    Our volets give us peace of mind while we are in England!!

    Reply

  • Nigaude

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    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.

    Reply

  • Matthew Hall

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    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.

    Reply

  • Ashley

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    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.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      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!!!

      Reply

    • GwenEllyn Anderson

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      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! 🙂

      Reply

      • Diane

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        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!

        Reply

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