Recently I was contacted by the lucky new owner of a mid-century home in Melbourne’s bayside area. While they loved the house, it was lacking a vital element for the safety of their family.
A front fence
There is no hard and fast rule with front fences in modernist design. There are many mid-century homes that are private and secluded from the street, while others remain open and on display. Robin Boyd’s Walsh Street house is one well-known example where complete privacy is achieved behind a high tea-tree fence.
In his book Australian Garden Design (1971) Eliis Stones had the opinion that a fence to front of the house usually added nothing to the appearance of both the house or street. He did acknowledge however, that the demand for land and increase in traffic in cities meant that “people try and obtain some privacy from the street behind their boundary walls, which is also a place where children can play safely.”
This idea is still true today, and maybe even more so. Blocks are smaller than ever before, privacy is cherished and the safety of children essential. One of the key reasons that my wife and I moved last year was that we lived on a busy road and were concerned about the safety of our son in the front yard.
Of course there are mid-century houses and gardens where this is not the case and gardens flow openly out to the street behind a low or no front fence. Modernist design was (and is) all about working with the site available and designing a building to sit within that space and embrace the existing conditions.
In the same way the modernist landscape must also embrace the natural elements of the site (while also complementing the architecture of the home) and if this calls for no fence – so be it!
The key to front fences, as with any element around a modernist house, is that it is complementary to the materials and style of the architecture. For an Australian bush garden which is perfectly suited to Mid-century homes in Beaumaris, tea-tree fencing provides a natural and visually interesting screen.
Tea-tree shouldn’t only be considered in Beaumaris however, and can be used successfully in combination with brick walls such as in the house below. Again the materials of this fence reflect and continue the built form of the house.
Tea-tree brush fencing is a more readily available product and when installed over a solid, well-made frame provides a suitable mid-century option. The structure behind this type of fencing is essential as brush panels can quickly sag and this results in a very sorry-looking fence (unlike the good example below).
Another great natural product is bluestone. Perfect for any garden in Melbourne, bluestone can be used for an extremely solid wall and again can be used in combination with softer materials such as tea-tree or timber. Other solid natural stone blocks, such as sandstone or quarry stone can also achieve this great result.
Along similar lines are Concrete block walls. As discussed at length here, block walls have an immediate appeal in a modernist setting and are perfect for creating a private courtyard garden to the front of your home.
Concrete blocks can be used in any number of combinations and the use of breeze blocks creates interest to an otherwise solid built form.
If you are unable to source suitable breeze blocks, then standard bricks or blocks can be arranged in variety of patterns to create a similar result. The wall below has brick piers providing structural stability, while brick infill sections have been laid in a unique way to achieve a breeze wall effect.
Timber fences are also a great option to continue the natural materials of house. The infill panels below are quite unique and detailed to create texture to the front boundary.
A timber picket fence can be installed to complement the simpler form of a house such as a mid-century beach shack. While not creating a private front garden, the fence does enclose the yard from the street.
Timber fences can also be installed in a variety of ways, although for a modernist setting narrow timber battens always appear to be the best option.
Finally, narrow metal balustrades can also be replicated within the front fence. Below is a perfect example where the brick and metal fence is constructed of identical materials to the house and creates a singular design identity for the property.
While there is no hard and fast rule for whether a modernist home requires a front fence, there are definitely rules about the material. The fence should always be designed in a way that continues or reflects the materials and look of the house.
J Davidson 2015