When most of us contemplate a new or remodeled fence, we ask ourselves these questions: How tall? Which wood? How far apart should the pickets be spaced? And what style post cap?
Let’s scale that fence and climb out of that boring box for good.
Of course, budget is a significant consideration for most of us. And if an inexpensive post-and-panel wood fence keeps your budget balanced, then that’s the fence you should choose. But if you have a bit more financial flexibility, there is a whole world of fences just waiting for you.
The purpose of your fence will determine, in part, what options are available. After acknowledging budget constraints, get clear about your needs regarding privacy, safety (e.g. if you have a pool), corralling the family child or dog, demarcating your property, or adding style to your residence by framing views and highlighting features. Then get creative.
Your fence should complement the style of your home and its surroundings, but it doesn’t have to “match.” Everyone is familiar with the typical styles of wood, vinyl and metal fences that we see all around us, so no need to review them here. But these same materials can be used in some unexpected ways . Plus, there are other materials that contribute to the endless options.
Instead of providing lengthy explanations of various design directions, I want to pique your interest with short descriptions of just a few design-forward applications of tried-and-true materials and perhaps some that you haven’t thought of. Think of these ideas as teasers. The internet will provide hundreds of additional visuals to supplement if you have been feeling fenced in by too few interesting options.
For starters, regardless of the material, color or spacing, running the slats horizontally will give your fence an instantly modern look. Add a chrome or aluminum frame – maybe just in a section near your home’s entrance – and, wow! If you choose wood, what about with a polished finish? Install the slats parallel to the ground, as well as to each other to open up the view with a slight Asian feel. Or how about installing them at an angle as louvers?
Concrete, stained or painted – or not – and perhaps alternated with sections of other materials, like horizontal slats, to prevent a fortress-like look often lends a resort-like ambiance. Incise lines into the wet surface to soften the look and connect it to other design features. Painted brick might be an appealing alternative to concrete.
If you want to create a stylish boundary that nicely says “keep out,” but don’t need the fence to provide privacy, safety, or containment, vertical timbers, spaced a few inches apart like freestanding posts – perhaps in a double row and at varying heights – can deliver a very smart-looking fence. Try this same idea with narrow, tapered, and irregular black steel pikes or identical straight-as-a-board freestanding iron slats for contemporary drama. More widely-spaced stainless steel light posts could do double-duty as both fence and landscape illumination.
Or how about freestanding vertical steel plates of random widths with ample space between each? Severe just got a dose of charm. Plus, they will look warmer over time as they oxidize.
Etched or laser-cut metal – think decorative fire screen – is likely prohibitively expensive for an entire fence, but could make just the right focal point when included as just one section of a more moderately priced fence.
If your setting leans in a tropical or Asian direction, a bamboo fence – vertical slats secured with a top and bottom rail – might be just what you need to finish the look.
Gabion walls are making a comeback. With a lineage that stretches to Medieval times, these wire grid boxlike forms contain irregularly stacked stone for an intriguing rustic appearance with both modern and ancient appeal.
And speaking of wire grids, “hog wire” fences – essentially wire grid panels (similar to chicken wire) with wooden rails – are nice for those who plan to create a green wall by growing vines on their fence. Choose wooden grid panels instead and you’ve got lattice with all its old-fashioned charm.
For some seriously sleek, upscale drama, tempered frosted glass panels are the ticket. They are perhaps best used as a focal point or alternated with fence sections made of contrasting materials.
Corrugated metal, maybe combined with warm wood slats and rails, can be simultaneously of-the-moment and a rugged throwback. Perforated metal, like copper, perhaps in woven bands to create a basket weave design, will weather over time and serve as a conversation piece the entire time.
Example of a Black Iron Fence
Living fences are lush and organic. Try a hedge of fast-growing and dense shrubbery planted in the ground or bamboo planted in low identical planters, aligned in a perfect row.
Finally, if you just can’t leave your old friend the vertical wooden slat fence behind, try using slats of varying widths and spacing for an unexpected, but understated, rhythm. Or get really brave and try it in metal … maybe in a black matte finish.
If you have a question about building, remodeling, or designing the perfect fence, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia Beach native and JMU graduate, Chris Ettel, is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors and is past chairman of the TBA Remodeler’s Council.