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Architect's Viewpoint

Attractive Alternatives to Chain-Link Fences


Some folks just aren't happy with their frontyards until they've erected a 3-foot-high chain-link fence around them, occasionally protecting a lovely garden but more often surrounding a stone-dead lawn.

I'm not sure about the psychology of frontyard fences, but I'm quite sure about the aesthetic result: Bad.

Such little fences could hardly be for security because they can easily be vaulted.

Although a fenced-in yard or two is probably inevitable on the average neighborhood street, there's no reason for a whole row of frontyards to be partitioned off into desolate little pens; there are more attractive alternatives.

In my book, the best frontyard fence is no fence. But if a barrier of some sort is desired, here are some things to think about:

* Before you build, identify your objective. Fences--and other barriers--have only three basic purposes: To keep things in, to keep things out or to sit there and look pretty. Things to be kept out could include people, pets or noise. Decide which of these is your main motivation and choose the least obtrusive barrier that'll do the job.

* If you're just trying to discourage casual trespassers--whether the two-legged or the four-legged kind--consider some other form of barrier before you resort to a fence. A row of dense, low shrubs with thorns or spiky leaves, for example, will keep out most folks. If you want to keep pets in or out, conceal a wire-mesh fence behind the shrubs.

* If your aim is to keep out criminals, forget it. No fence of any description is going to keep out someone who's determined to get into your yard. Moreover, a solid fence is worse than none at all: It would hide a person breaking into your house.

As security measures go, it would probably be more cost-effective to connect your existing outdoor lights to a motion detector, which can be purchased cheaply at any hardware store.

* If it's noise or prying eyes you want to exclude, landscaping again offers an alternative to a fence, which would have to have solid planks at least 5 feet high to be effective. Tall shrubs, such as privet, give a much friendlier look from the street, and their dense leaves actually absorb sound better than fence boards do.

* If your fence is meant mainly for decoration, don't settle for a run-of-the-mill chain-link fence. Chain-link is excellent for many applications, but its institutional look is probably the last thing you want surrounding your frontyard. Though options like plastic privacy slats and finials can help, it's still a chain-link fence.

A fence with conventional wood posts will have a much warmer look and can be finished with wire mesh, planks, lattice or any number of interesting materials.


Arrol Gellner is an architect with 23 years of experience in residential and commercial architecture. Distributed by Inman News Features.

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