When you see a house for the first time, one of the first things you notice are the windows. Are they big or small? Are they a simple square or an unusual shape? Are they plain or decorated? And do they have shutters? Shutters complement most homes -- they add an element of traditional beauty.

Exterior shutters can be either decorative or functional. In areas prone to hurricanes, such as those by the Gulf of Mexico, shutters are useful. They can be closed to protect the glass of the window from damaging winds. In times when there is no threat of inclement weather, the shutters are left open.

In other parts of the country, shutters are not really needed -- but they are still popular. These decorative shutters are inoperable and cannot close. They do not offer any protection in bad weather. Still, though, homeowners love these exterior shutters for their class and beauty. Shutters give houses a homey look; they provide a welcoming hospitality.

Exterior shutters can be made of vinyl, wood, and faux wood. They also come in a variety of styles, including louver, panel, raised panel, or a combination. One type of shutter that is gaining in popularity is the "farmhouse" look. These shutters, officially known as board-n-batten, give country warmth even to city houses. This look is particularly effective on homes with porches.

Shutters are available in an array of colors, including midnight blue, burgundy, wicker, green, and brown. White and black, however, remain the most popular choices. Some companies offer paintable shutters so that you have some flexibility in future decorating. Shutters can be chosen to match your homes exterior, to complement it, or to stand in contrast to it.