The Green Tradition

The Green Tradition

You may have noticed that on older properties, window shutters are often painted green. Why is this such a widespread tradition – and is it one you should follow when choosing or repainting your own shutters?

Window shutters can be seen on many different types of property, spanning a period of centuries. Despite the breadth of styles of architecture and colors of the houses on which they are found, they are disproportionately likely to be painted green. In fact, so common is this tradition that you may not have considered buying window shutters in another color, or repainting your own in anything but green. As it happens, the tradition has some interesting origins, but these no longer need to be relevant to your own choice.

Poisonous paint

Although window shutters are often green, they are not a uniform shade of green. Instead, you will find many different hues. It’s not just the shutters, either. Other window furnishings – including blinds and curtains – also often used to be green. One intriguing theory for this is that the pigment that tended to be used for green paint was one or other compound of Arsenic. Arsenic is extremely toxic, and as well as coloring the window shutters, it had a secondary effect of killing bugs – in fact, various Arsenic dyes have also been used as insecticides and other poisons over the centuries. Paris Green takes its name from its use as a rodenticide in the sewers of Paris.

The idea goes that window shutters and other furnishings were painted green to keep the insects away. After a time, of course, this simply became the established practice and shutters were painted green because that was the traditional color. As the health risks of Arsenic became better known, its use was discontinued – yet shutters were still painted green. (It may be that this also partially explains the long-standing superstition around the color green – it literally was deadly at one point.) By that stage, the practice of painting window shutters and other furniture green had become divorced from the insecticide properties of the paint. In fact, it is just possible that the color green itself became credited with that effect. One judge, writing of a trip to West Virginia in 1803, recorded in his diary: ‘…his tavern is a dirty hovel and his beds swarming with bugs – yet I had very good bed perhaps the best in the house and elegant chintz furniture & being newly painted green the bugs did not much disturb me…’

Ancient tradition and modern design

If Arsenic paint did have any effect on the bugs, its effects were probably far worse on the house’s owners. Nevertheless, green has long been the traditional color for window shutters and when choosing a color for your own shutters, this is worth bearing in mind. Although there’s nothing that says your shutters have to be green, it’s a color that looks right – regardless of the color your house is painted or its design – thanks to this curious but lengthy history. If you’re uncertain about what will look good, you could do worse than stick with green.

Having said that, there’s no reason to be confined by the conventions or superstitions of the past. Window shutters are now available in a wide range of colors and you can choose whatever fits the color of your house. One factor to bear in mind is whether the shutters are functional as well as aesthetic. If this is the case then you need to think what they will look like when they are closed, as well as open. Keeping your window shutters roughly the same color as the rest of the house can result in a uniform, faceless look to the property when they are closed. You might want to choose a color with a little contrast to give the house some definition.

Is green still the best color for window shutters?

Window shutters on old properties are often green. This long-standing tradition is one you might want to follow when buying your own shutters, though there’s no longer a good reason to keep it.

Window shutters have been popular for centuries and can be found on a huge range of properties of differing architectural styles. Despite the disparate nature of the properties themselves, however, the shutters themselves are often green. It’s not a single hue, but a large proportion of window shutters are nevertheless still one or other shade. This is such a common feature that it is worth considering when you buy or paint your own shutters. The reason for the popularity of green is a little quirky, but thanks to its long history it’s a well-established and pleasing look.

Green tradition and superstition

Interestingly, it wasn’t just window shutters that were painted green. Other furnishings, including curtains, blinds and various pieces of furniture, were frequently colored green too. One possible explanation for this is that it was due to the properties of green paint – not the color itself, but the chemical compound from which it was made. Over the centuries, Arsenic – an exceptionally poisonous substance – has been used in its various guises in green dyes. As well as producing striking shades of green for a house’s window shutters, it supposedly had the welcome effect of killing insects as well. Indeed, some well-known green dyes were used as insecticides or other types of poison in their own right. (‘Paris Green’ is so called because it was used to kill rats in the sewers of Paris. This property may also explain some of the superstitions around the color green, such as its avoidance in French theatre – perhaps it was considered unlucky for a reason.)

So, the theory goes, the window shutters and other fixtures were painted green to repel insects. Whilst this was the reason people started painting them green, it was later lost in the mists of time and green was used simply because that was the color everyone was painting their shutters. Arsenic paint was phased out as the less welcome properties of the chemical became better understood, but by that stage green was the established color for window shutters and remained so. It’s not even very clear the extent to which people always understood the reasons for Arsenic paint’s effect on insects. In the course of a journey to West Virginia in 1803, one American judge wrote in his diary, ‘…his tavern is a dirty hovel and his beds swarming with bugs – yet I had very good bed perhaps the best in the house and elegant chintz furniture & being newly painted green the bugs did not much disturb me…’ Was it the color green itself he credited with this insect repellent property, or did he simply omit the explanation of its Arsenic content?

Green shutters on modern houses

Whatever the Arsenic compound’s properties as an insecticide, it had serious effects on the people who lived around it. All the same, green window shutters do look good, perhaps because it is their traditional and therefore expected color. Green just seems to fit, and it’s a color that’s easy on the eyes to start with.

Having said that, there’s no reason to stick with green for the sake of it. Window shutters are now available in a huge range of colors, and you can create mock-ups to see which look good on your style and color of house. One final factor to bear in mind is the level of contrast between the shutter and the walls. If your window shutters are to be closed from time to time (some are only decorative), then you need to see what the house will look like in each case. If the color of the shutter is too similar to that of the house, it can lead to a flat, blank appearance to the front of the house when they are closed. A bit more contrast maintains the definition that the windows give to the property.


This article was supplied by Simply Shutters Ltd., who are members of The Guild of Master Craftsmen and suppliers of high quality decorative exterior window shutters.


  1. one
    Comment by joe@dividend paying stocks: Mar 7, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Interesting fact. It makes sense to me sense that would keep insects from eating the wood. Reminds me of a low cost way to keep insects away similar to pressure treating wood. that contains some chemicals insects will not eat and does the same thing but is not painted on but soaked into the wood. they also used tar or oil on fence posts to keep them from rotting out as fast as untreated wood. i think this also would stock insects like it does for railroad ties.

  2. two
    Comment by chris@flat screen tv: Mar 11, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    I thought they used green paint because it was one of the colors they could get and was simple to make. I also thought it did not show dirt so this is news to me. I guess it does make sense and arsenic would stop bugs.

  3. three
    Comment by nick@mtb gear junkies: Jun 12, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Green is nice on red brick and lighter brick, but not on vinyl, in my opinion. It’s definitely a “classic” look and probably should be reserved for older properties in aged neighborhoods with plenty of tall trees.

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