for sale: brick bungalow in Oak Park IL
Jackson / Klauber home restored in San Diego

Don't Fence Me In, part 2

One of the burdens facing historic-home owners is how to choose fencing that matches - or at least doesn't visibly clash with - the architectural style of their home. This can be more difficult than it seems, especially if you don't want to break the bank; a good landscape designer or carpenter with an eye for historic architecture can match details in the house with custom work, but we don't all have thousands of dollars to spend on a project like this (although a professional - someone like Peter Kirsch-Korff - would be happy to build you a fence, arbor, deck or gate that would certainly be more beautiful and sturdier than anything from a kit). The right fence, as Charles Smith notes in his 2005 San Francisco Chronicle article on the subject, can - paradoxically - draw neighbors in, and make a neighborhood's overall aesthetic character even more consistent, rather than working to compartmentalize a block. Such fences can also be "functional works of art."

There are some ready-made pieces, kits and packages out there, but a lot of times you'll have to be a bit more creative, gussying up a standard design with small details to reflect aspects of the structure's design - sheathing post-tops in copper or using a decorative finial, for example, or mirroring the house's lattice or lintel work with a small add-on. In some cases, a simple minimalist fence will allow an arbor or gate, picked specifically to match a feature or features in the house, to really shine. Lights - post lanterns or even something on the ground - picked to match outside fixtures on the house are also a great and relatively inexpensive way to tie the house, yard and fence all together.

And of course if you're handy and you've got the tools - and the time - you can just do it yourself. But be careful - if you haven't done this sort of job before, and if your property isn't perfectly graded, you might be biting off way more than you can chew.

Whatever you do, don't forget to investigate permits and local guidelines governing landscape design first, or you could be in for a rude surprise. No matter how much you know about the historic character of your home and neighborhood, there's sure to be someone in the city who thinks they know more and who claims to have more interest in the overall character of your neighborhood than you do.

A few miscellaneous links: