Modern Fence – Details

March 22, 2012 — 36 Comments

Modern Fence detail

Modern fences aren’t really fences at all – they’re exterior walls. That might seem like semantics to you but it’s a significant difference to me. We have a urban infill project where there is very little yard and the entire house is designed around and focused on a center courtyard. We wanted to extend the interior courtyard out to the perimeter as an exterior room but the adjacent properties are physically very close. A screening wall was required to define this exterior room while providing some privacy from the neighbors (even if they are lovely people).

I have written about designing fences that read as walls rather than fences before: Modern Fences – Use Your Imagination – and I have to tell you I was surprised at how often people read that post. I had originally postponed writing on the subject of fences for months thinking that most people would find the subject matter incredibly boring. Turns out that of the 350+ posts I’ve written on this site, that is one of the most read.

Who knew?!?

Since its been almost two years, maybe it’s time to talk about modern fences again.


Modern Fence 3d front elevation

This is a 2d look at a 3d model I made of this fence in SketchUp – I need to tell you that I did not design this fence, it is from the landscape architecture firm Hocker Design Group, but I doubt they would lay claim to its original design either. The design is a fence I haven’t seen too often, and I really think it is turning out wonderfully.


Modern Fence

This is the actual fence on site in the process of being built. The design of the wall is pretty basic – it’s a 1×6 followed by a 2×4 that has been turned on its edge … and then the pattern is repeated. This is not the most cost effective fence design due to the expense associated with using so many 2×4’s – even more so when the fence is being built out of sustainably harvested ipé wood. I have prepared some construction details down below but before any of you eagle eyes point out that I should be protecting the exposed ends (end grain) of the boards, there is a 2×8 top cap that has not been installed yet.


Modern Fence 3d rear elevation

You could recreate this fence very easily and with a less costly wood – I think the strength of this design is in the pattern, and in the variation of depth in the face of the fence. In our version, the wall is running along the top of a tall concrete retaining wall so there is no need to bring the wall all the way down to the ground. We aren’t worried about landscape maintenance beating the stuffing out of the bottom of the fence – I call this a “sacrificial board”. By sacrificial board, I just mean the lowest level board that will get trashed by weed whackers and will receive the most amount of water damage. This board (when used) needs to be pressure treated since it will be in contact with the ground.


Modern Fence brackets detail

Depending on the material you choose to build out your fence, the metal posts are typically the single most expensive item. You could simply embed a pressure treated wood post into a concrete footer and avoid the cost of the metal posts altogether. Since our fence is made out of ipé – a wood that is rated to last more than 25 years, it wouldn’t make sense to hang it on posts that will start rotting out after 10 (or less) years.


Modern Fence detail - Elevation Section


In this elevation section detail, if your fence was being installed more traditionally down to the ground, you would install a pressure treated 2×12 instead of the bottom most 2×4 shown here. That would provide you with your “sacrificial board”, something that all fences should have… ALL FENCES!!

Modern Fence detail  - Plan Section

I didn’t need it in my condition but I have drawn in a circular footing (shown dashed in the plan section above) should you want to pass this detail on to your fence guy (or weekend warrior). You can see in the plan that the undulating pattern created by turning the 2×4’s on their edge really gives this fence some depth (and a place for spiders to build their webs – but don’t worry about that) – critical in this simple design to creating the look that this fence is more of a wall than a fence.


Modern Fence context

Here is a context shot I took yesterday morning of the courtyard. There is a large wood ipé deck to the left hand side of the courtyard (as well as a fence that hasn’t been started on yet) but on the right hand side you can see the wood fence in place. The landscape plan calls for a single continuous row of bamboo to be planted in front of this wall. By yesterday afternoon, the bamboo was on site but not planted yet – there is still some irrigation work to be completed in this area.


Modern Fence context

And here is a shot looking looking across the deck at the fence as it is getting installed. The gap you see in the middle of the fence is there because they are using the side yard to carry in materials to the courtyard and they don’t want to close off this access just yet.

There you have it – I hope you enjoyed this look at a very simple modern fence. To be honest, I don’t think my pictures give this simple and elegant fence detail the justice it deserves. Maybe the pictures from the professional photographer will capture the essence a little better.




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  • bptiger

    Could you run the bracing across the back at an angle, like 30 60? May look more interesting from the back that way? Just a thought.

    • The back falls into the category of “clients can’t see it … so clients don’t spend money on it.” Considering that 98% of the rest of the fence is beautiful wood, the people walking down the alley probably like the fence well enough.

  • Steven Clifford

    Where could I purchase those brackets from to hold the posts onto the wooden fencing?

    • Here in the states, those fence brackets are available at almost any of the big box home improvement centers (Like Home Depot or Lowe’s). I couldn’t say where to get them in the UK – sorry.

  • Castillo

    I would hate to be the neighbor that has to see the ugly metal posts everyday

  • Cindi Keller

    Yes, I was inquiring as to the dims of the sacrificial board which would run horizontal on an otherwise vertical fence.  I was curious because I don’t want to distract from the beauty of the design with a horizontal too large.  I will be disappointed if it looks like another non-descript, boring fence.  Your modern fence is so fabulous.   

    Thinking a 2×8 may work instead of a 2×12?  Our span/slope isn’t too great, 2 feet drop in a 40′ run.  We are taking your advice and terracing the top. 

    We are also going to repeat this design and build a modern wall in front of our pool equipment.  Should prove wonderful.

    Again, thank you for your site, your time, and expertise.  You are most generous and I greatly appreciate it.  Consider me your new thunder lizard (advocate).

    Best regards,
    Cindi Keller  

  • Cindi Keller

    Hi again –

    One more question re:modern fence application for our slightly sloped site.  Would you run the boards vertically to the ground or run vertically with a sacrificial horizontal board?  If the later, how wide would the horizontal board be?

    And btw, may I suggest you place your work on  Several of my professional design colleagues indicate they get more interest there than on their own website. 

    Thank you,
    Cindi Keller 

    • you should really have a sacrificial board – you would be amazed at how long the life of your fence will be extended. Also, the board needs to be pressure treated, otherwise your missing the point.

      Not sure I understand the question on width – if you want to know the size of the sacrificial board, 2×12 is what I would use.

  • Cindi Keller

    Hi Bob – Thrilled I found your site, absolutely fabulous fence ideas.  I’ve been researching for weeks and now have a design dilemma.  I orginally wanted a horizontal slat fence to be used as a privacy wall but also love this vertical modern fence. 

    1.  In your opinion, which version would be more pleasing to the eye in our application (picture 1)?  Only spanning about 40 feet of the back area.
    2.  Would you ‘terrace’ the top (picture 2) or keep it vertically straight, one end being 6′ tall, the other being about 8′?  About a 2′ slope/drop. 
    3.  Staggered vertical appears to be a favorite application is using horizontal slats, correct.

    Driving my husband crazy.  I have never been able to visualize (he can) – looking for your input to seal the deal.     

    Your newest, biggest fan,

    • for your application I like the vertical fence with a terraced top. Either design would look nice so I am a little ambivalent with what I know, but either way I would probably look to terrace the top 2x with a 12″ increment. If you went with a horizontal fence, maybe terrace the top 4x with the drop matching the width of the horizontal board.

      Cheers – glad you like the site.

      • Cindi Keller

        Fantastic – thank you, thank you. 

  • Dan

    Hey Bob:

    Is the top of the fence matching the bottom of the bridge?

    Dan Bush

    • No – we are limited to how tall the fence could be and the trellis (to be comfortable) needed to be several feet taller to accommodate the sense of space and the ceiling fans that will eventually get installed under the bridge.

      (for those wondering what Dan is talking about, here is a link to the trellis design post: )

  • Gordon M

    Bob, my wife & I have fallen in love with this style of fence. As our fence is nearing the end of its lifespan, this might become a project for me to complete in our backyard. From the pictures and the details, I can’t tell how the boards are attached. Is everything nailed from the rail side? Obviously longer nails for the 2×4’s and shorter for the 1×6’s. Or are the 2×4’s attached from the rail side and the 1×6’s attached from the vertical board side? Inquiring minds want to know. Thanks.

    • Hi Gordon,

      This fence could be installed from the rear but in our case, everything was blind fastened. As a result, you can’t see the fasteners from either side. When I asked the contractor about the length of time to install, he said it was easily 5x as long as a normal board-by-board fence.

      • Gordon M

        Guess it will be more like a few weekend project done in sections. Thanks for the reply.

  • Jim McDonald


    Very nice detail on this fence.  How readily available is the Ipe wood?  Is it expensive?

    • Jim,

      Thans for your kind words – I appreciate rem. The wood is very available – and the cost runs here locally around 6-8$ a board foot (12″ wide by 12″ tall x 1″ thick)

  • architectrunnerguy

    Nice post Bob! I’m interested because as we speak (well actually not “as we speak” because I’m typing right now!) I’m building a fence, entry pergola and moongate for my own house.

    The fence aside, in that photo of the rear of the house with what looks like a future pool on the right and a bunch of stacked lumber on the left, the canopy is wonderful. It seems like it’s floating!! How long is it and what’s the support?


    • Hi Doug,

      Since I am sitting in bed as I respond to your comment, I can only say that I will email you some information next week.. I’d say the wood deck is around 20′ deep and the supports are very typical and pedestrian 2×12’s – normal stuff. It’s the bluestone step that makes it appear floating (in my opinion).

  • Mikheil

    Thank you for sharing realy good details.

  • Robert Swinburne

    very pretty – it really highlights each board’s individual character
    It could work very nicely as an interior detail as well

    • it would – it’s certainly priced as an interior finish!

      I am excited to share a picture of what the fence looks like when the bamboo get planted in front of it. I am anticipating that the layering between the two will be very nice.


  • Shane Bostick

    Nice work. I think you would be interested the Postmaster product by Master Halco. Allows you to finish both sides of the fence, like a true exterior wall. A little more than a standard round post, but less than the post + fence hardware. Used them recently myself and was very pleased.

    • Thanks Shane – I’ll check it out

    • Jim McDonald

      Very nice!  I will definately need to make a bookmark of this site.  Thank you for sharing!

  • Donna Vining

    Love the look of the fence!

  • great post.  I’m wondering about the neighbors side – is the backside exposed on the neighbor’s side or do they have landscaping/fencing as well?

    • Gayle,

      Due to the unusual layout of this site, few people would have to look at the backside of the fence. If you look at the composite photo above (5th from the top) you can see an actual photo of what the back of this fence looks like – it’s pretty nice.

      • Taavilooke

        An amazing post as always but i wonder if there actually is a way to leave both sides looking nice? Other than  mirroring the fence to the other side of the metal post too…

        • if the columns were boxed out and the rails switched from pressure treated to Ipe wood, as a neighbor I would be very excited about”my” new fence

  • ChristopherSipesRA

    quite cool thanks for sharing Bob.  Simple yet complex.  great fit on the site.

    • Thanks Chris – I appreciate you taking the time to say so!