To Wall or Not to Wall

16 Mar 2015

I learned rather quickly that I would soon be building a fence at my family’s new home.  It’s a larger house on a small property―we have children and they have their pets and bouncing balls. Enough said.

So as I am building this “necessity”, it reinforced my thinking as to the benefits (which I trust will outweigh the lumber costs) of this architectural addition to the landscape.  As designers, our company has been approached by numerous (local and new to the area) clients wishing for the “downtown Charleston look”, i.e., a courtyard.  But what is it about the courtyard that is so appealing?  Is it the privacy, the plantings, or the intimacy that they provide?  Whatever it may be, the magic of the courtyard begins and ends with the bones of this type of landscape—the wall!

So what is the process and what questions should first be answered in tackling such an aggressive addition to the home landscape?  For one thing, find comfort in the notion that just about everyone’s yard could handle and accept the addition of a courtyard.  Whether yours is a wide open property or not, tree-filled and shady, or bordered by numerous other homes, a section that is wisely chosen and logistically correct can be partially or fully walled or fenced to begin the path to this most Charleston of outdoor “rooms”.  Use marking paint to outline the proposed area and “design on the ground”.  This means to go ahead now and plan the pathways, site any furniture that may be used on the hardscape, and envision yourself in the resultant space.  Did you allow enough room for gatherings?  Do the plants you wish to use have space to mature?  Does the fence or wall material continue or enhance the architecture of the home?  Can you get from point A to Point B easily enough?  Can the project be done (phased or not) within your particular budget?

Yes, lots of questions to be answered for sure.  But remember, that “downtown Charleston look” took hundreds of years, in many cases, to develop and age gracefully.  Please also note most importantly that the spaces began with structure.  A wall, an outbuilding, or a fence extending from the side of the house is the nexus of the construction.  Do not think of it as building walls or fences, but more appropriately the creation and defining of space. And not just any space—it will be your sanctuary, your “go-to” spot after a hectic day for relaxation and intimate family time. 

But for now, I have to get back to building my fence...

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