John Abernethie of Birkdale looks at how fencing has evolved beyond a functional element to help architects provide increasingly in-demand, attractive outdoor spaces for clients
Outdoor areas are becoming more important for both residential and commercial projects. The health and wellbeing benefits of access to quality outdoor spaces is now well established. Homeowners are expecting more from gardens, viewing them as an important extension of the house.
Until recently, fences have been considered to be primarily functional elements, used to create boundaries, provide security and allow privacy. While this is still important, fencing is increasingly a key part of the visual design and used in more varied and innovative ways to bring structure and texture to an outdoor area. As such, the careful selection of fencing, posts and accessories can have a significant impact on the space.
Traditionally, there have been limited options when it comes to fencing, with timber and concrete being the two most popular materials for posts, and timber being the most common choice for the panelling itself. The development of galvanised steel posts in a range of colours, alongside other fencing accessories have opened up a number of design opportunities, as well as practical benefits.
One of the key trends in recent years has been the blending of different textures and materials. This can be achieved in an outdoor space by combining the natural, traditional appearance of timber panels with the sleek, modern aesthetics of steel posts. Powder-coated steel products also provide an opportunity to create a colour scheme for the fence with matching posts, gate posts, post caps, gravel boards and capping rails.
These accessories will complement the chosen fence panel material and design as well as provide an opportunity to visually link the outdoor spaces to the exterior, or even interior, of the house or building. For example, on-trend colours, such as anthracite – popular for windows, doors, cladding and rainwater systems – can be reflected in the fence posts and accessories.
In addition, when used innovatively, composite gravel boards can provide an altogether different aesthetic. It is possible to construct the panel sections to the full height of the fence using gravel boards only in a stacked configuration. Selecting boards made from a composite material will ensure a long life,and with the added benefit of a choice of colours. Products designed for this purpose will include features such as a tongue and groove design, creating a solid, consistent finish. Using a single-colour gravel board can create a background
that allows other elements of the space, such as planting, to stand out. Alternatively, mixing or alternating gravel boards of different colours can help create an eye-catching feature.
Another trend is the move away from traditional styles and designs for fences. While conventional options such as horizontal and vertical close-board panels are still popular, those looking to create a more distinctive look can opt for Venetian, hit and miss, louvre or woven designs. Low-rise fencing options can be used to compartmentalise a space without creating barriers that could make it feel smaller. Picket or trellis panel fencing can also soften the impact by letting light through and allowing visibility into the sectioned-off areas.
Versatile fence post solutions enable different fencing styles and designs to be created simply and cost effectively, using both pre-fabricated panels and onsite construction approaches. For example, galvanised steel products with an H-profile can allow the panel material to be fixed simply using screws, and held securely. Additionally, fence posts with a slim profile can take up less space within gardens when compared to timber or concrete alternatives.
Finally, it is also important to specify a fencing system that will make installation simple. Galvanised steel posts have a high strength-to-weight ratio and can be installed in the same way as other products. They are approximately 80% lighter than concrete alternatives making them easier and safer to handle. In contrast to timber fence posts, which are susceptible to rotting and warping, steel fence posts are designed to not degrade over time. Their finish provides additional corrosion protection and unlike timber, does not require regular maintenance.
Fencing has evolved beyond the conventional functions of providing boundaries, privacy and security to become a central part of the design of outdoor spaces. Selecting durable, versatile fencing systems will not only allow the intended design to be achieved easier but also ensure a long-lasting, high quality finish.
John Abernethie is managing director at Birkdale