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Incorporating Scale & Proportion into your Fence Design

Any professional fence designer will use plenty of tricks to create a visually pleasing fence installation. Vancouver, Portland and Tri-Cities homeowners can usually tell when a fence doesn’t look good, but they may not be able to say exactly why it’s unattractive. This post covers two design elements, scale and proportion that, if well-employed, can make your cedar fence materials a treat for the eyes.

The Importance of Scale

Scale describes how the size of a fence compares to its surroundings, including adjacent houses. Height is the first thing to consider when matching the scale of your fence to your home. A large discrepancy in height can be off-putting to the viewer.

For example, if your one-story Washington home is done in the Mexican style, with a flat roof, it wouldn’t be wise to choose an eight-foot cedar fence installation. Vancouver homeowners may find that fence of that height clashes with the scale of the home. From the street, the fence would look nearly as tall as the house, making the home seem off-balance. On the other end of the spectrum, a three-story Victorian home in Pasco would look silly with a short picket fence installation. Tri-Cities and Vancouver residents should aim to match the height of their fence installations to the scale of their homes.

Scale also describes how “heavy” or “light” a fence looks to viewers, depending on its architecture and construction materials. For example, a stone home appears very heavy, and a wrought-iron fence would complement that heaviness. Cedar fence materials, on the other hand, complement the scale of most wood homes. Indeed, therein lies a trick for automatically matching the scale of your home – choose construction materials already found in your home’s exterior.

In general, when you think to yourself, “That fence just looks weird,” there’s a good chance that the scale is off for that fence installation.

How Proportion Affects a Fence Installation

Vancouver, Portland and Tri-Cities residents can also think about proportion as they attempt to create visually pleasing fence designs. Proportion describes how the parts of the fence relate to each other. When a fence appears too weak, too square or too top-heavy, it’s likely that the proportion is off. When considering proportion, fence designers compare the ratio of different fence parts, such as the posts vs. the rails.

While entire books have been written about how to calculate the correct proportions for home design, a good number to keep in your mind is 1:1.618, which is known as the Golden Ratio or even the Divine Proportion. This ratio is found nearly everywhere on earth – in the gaps between petals on flowers, in comparisons of different parts of the human body, and extensively in art. It’s a surprisingly constant numerical ratio in our lives. Research has shown that humans consider this ratio exceedingly attractive. For more details on how this ration figures into our perceptions of beauty, watch the fascinating documentary The Human Face, featuring John Cleese. This program explains that to most people, facial beauty consists of symmetry and the presence of the Golden Ratio.

Here are two examples of how to incorporate the Golden Ratio in your fence design, taken from The Fence Bible by Jeff Beneke.

  • For fences with multiple materials: Let’s say you’re planning on setting a lattice section on top of a solid section of cedar fence materials. (This is a way homeowners can often work around city ordinances regarding fence height.) You can create a visually pleasing proportion by making the height of the bottom section 1.618 times the height of the top section.
  • For determining the width of fence sections: The width of each fence section (between posts) should be 1.618 times the height of the fence. For instance, when building a six-foot-tall fence, Tri-Cities homeowners can use the Golden Ratio by setting the fence posts every ten feet.

By incorporating scale and proportion into your fence design, you can ensure that visitors, passersby and your family members will find your fence a joy to behold.

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