'Something attractive' in fencing is the focus of today's homeowners


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Since she lived in Newport, R.I., about 20 years ago, Elizabeth Chilton had dreamed of having a front yard set off by a picket fence.

"So many yards up there had pretty fences around them," she said. "They give such a homey look."

Chilton hesitated to fence the front yard of her Lexington home, where she has lived 18 years. Fences are an accepted part of New England landscaping, but they're not as prevalent in Lexington.

"I didn't want people to think it was an unneighborly gesture," Chilton said. "I was nervous about it."

But this spring, she hired a carpenter to install a 3-foot fence around her front yard. The top is swayed, and posts are topped with decorative caps.

Any doubts about neighbor reaction were immediately allayed.

"People drive by and stop and look," Chilton said. "I've had people ask me who did my fence. I'm really happy with it."

When Buford Wynn got into the fence business 30 years ago, chain-link was predominant.

"That gave way to wood stockade that was plain and straightforward," said Wynn, owner of Guardian Fence Co. in Lexington. "But today, people want something aesthetically pleasing."

The trend is toward decorative fences such as picket fences with square or flat pickets that are slanted, pointed or gothic-style on top.

The fence might be swayed or arched. Posts are pointed or topped with decorative caps and finials.

"A dozen years ago, there were probably just two or three styles of fences and post tops," Wynn said. "Now there's probably a hundred."

Doug Geddes, owner of Herb Geddes Fence Co., said: "Wood is the mandate."

Geddes attributed the popularity of wooden fences to new developments that have deed restrictions banning chain-link fences.

"It's not the city forbidding it," he said. "It's developers who think chain-link is ugly in upscale neighborhoods."

Western red cedar is frequently used because it is good quality, holds up in this climate, is readily available and is affordable.

"It's middle-of-the-road, price- wise," Wynn said. "It's not as expensive as redwood but not as cheap as pine."

Also on the market is aluminum made to look like wrought iron, which today is prohibitively expensive.

"We do almost as much aluminum as wood," Geddes said.

Vinyl and synthetic fences made from recycled materials such as rubber tires are available.

"From 25 feet, you'd think they were wood," said Glen Dellavalle, whose company manages the homeowners' association for large developments such as Hartland and Firebrook.

Fences are usually put up to contain children and pets, and for privacy, said Jamie Dempsey, marketing director for the American Fence Association, in Snellville, Ga.

"But you don't need a 6-foot stockade fence to keep your dog in," Dempsey said. "People today want something attractive."

Privacy is less of an issue today than 20 years ago, Wynn said.

"In these neighborhoods with two-story houses, a 6-foot privacy fence is not going to give any privacy," he said.

However, lack of privacy from the traffic on East Cooper Drive prompted Lee Peretz to put up a solid board fence across the front of her house last fall. She and her late husband, Bertram, had moved into the house 20 years ago.

"I never liked working in the yard because you were on display out there," she said.

Guardian Fence built a 6-foot, wooden fence topped with lattice. The cost was about $30 per foot.

"It was expensive, but it was worth it," Peretz said.

A 4-foot cedar picket fence is about $8.50 a square foot, compared with about $4 a foot for chain-link, Wynn said. Aluminum fences made to look like wrought iron are about 2.5 times the cost of wood.

To save money, David Drury and Phyllis Gregory built their picket fence around the back yard of their home. It will replace the chain-link that the couple took down.

Even with some carpentry skills, Drury said, the fence has been a challenge.

"I wanted a scalloped top," Gregory said. "But the first time we started putting up the pickets, the top wasn't scalloped; it was V-shaped."

On the second try, the fence was sloped to follow the slope of the ground. That didn't look right.

"Now we're stair-stepping the panels down," said Drury, who has worked on the fence in the evenings and on weekends for two months.

He said he thinks this time he has the right look. The fence will end up costing about $2,500.

"We got a price from a fence company just to put up the pickets, and they wanted $1,200," Drury said. "If we'd had them build it, it would probably have cost $5,000."

Dempsey said a fence is a good investment.

"Whatever you spend on your fence, you should be able to get back out, dollar for dollar, when you sell," he said.

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