Backyard Transformation - Cedar Pergola and Fence

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This project was part of an extensive landscape revision, and installation of a new garden space in the backyard of an Arts & Crafts period home in North Portland. This project is included here as an example of how fine woodworking principles (design as well as fabrication) can be brought into practice on a project that is all too often treated as a second-class citizen for home improvement. It also illustrates how we pull in other trades and designers for specialized needs such as landscape design, metal fabrication and specialized finishing for the Portland climate.

The garden design challenge was to conceive an elegant interpretation of a Japanese garden, while adding contemporary and industrially-influenced details. The design also needed to tie into the Arts & Crafts architecture of the house, but at the same time, present fresh and innovative approaches to the overall design aesthetic. The garden was to include an area for outdoor dining and entertaining under a pergola, and an extensive and elaborate wrap-around fence system to provide privacy that is "neighbor friendly" and does not present as a fortress from outside the garden.

Scope of Project

For the overall garden design and planting specifications, we pulled in the landscape designer Barbara Hilty and worked with her in a collaborative manner to fine tune the design. The installation of the hardscape, walkways, irrigation, lighting and plantings were handled by the landscape contractor Structures in Landscape of Portland. Best Services designed, fabricated and installed the pergola and the complete fence system. The in-ground supports for the fenceposts and pergola posts were provided as part of the landscape contractor contract.

An early decision was made to fabricate the pergola and fence from clear western cedar which came to our shop as rough timbers. We designed the metal mesh-panel windows in the upper section of the fence to add interest, provide a contrasting element to the wooden structure, reinforce the "industrial" direction in the garden design, and provide air circulation throughout the garden. These mesh panels were fabricated to our design from steel by Structures in Landscape of Portland, then epoxy coated and powder coated to eliminate the potential for rust by Tufcoat finishers of Portland.

Click on each image to reveal more specific information about the fence & pergola design and construction.


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This is a photo of the back yard that was to be transformed into an enclosed garden with provisions for outdoor dining.


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Another view of the original back yard as seen from the house looking toward the spot where the previous image was photographed.


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This is the drawing showing the outline of the fence in relation to the garage and house. Note the jogs in/out along the fence line to add interest and detailing.


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This is the original concept drawing for one section of the fence that illustrates the design details of the wood and metal components and how the panels would be constructed.


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Since a long section of the fence is along a sidewalk, considerable thought was given to the heigh of the fence to insure a balance between providing privacy and maintaining a neighbor-friendly look from the street and sidewalk. Two prototype versions of a typical fence section were assembled and put in place to determine the final height and configuration of the fence panels. This photos shows one of these prototypes in position.


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This photo shows one of the fence prototypes in position as seen from the sidewalk.


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The fencepost positions were detailed in the overall garden construction drawings, and the footings and integral fencepost brackets were installed as part of the overall hardscape project.


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This photo shows one of the concrete fencepost footings and brackets during installation.


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This is the construction drawing for the pergola that would define the patio and outdoor dining area in the garden.


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The pergola was partially prototyped and put in place to determine final height and beam-end detailing.


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This shows the western red cedar posts for the pergola delivered to our shop for machining to size.


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After machining the pergola posts to size and sanding, they are thoroughly sealed with Sikkens fence stain.


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These are some of the rough cedar timbers that would ultimately become the "roof" section of the pergola.


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This shows the fabrication of the pergola rafters in our shop. Note the detail of the rafter-ends.


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After installation of the pergola and fenceposts.


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A view from the house of the patio area with newly-erected pergola.


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Shown here are some of the clear cedar timbers that would be used to fabricate the fence.


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Fenceboard and trim material in wet, rough condition as delivered to our shop.


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The fencing material, while high quality clear red cedar, was very rough and very wet as delivered to our shop.


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This photo illustrates how the rough fence materials were machined and sanded into parts that could be used in the final fence panel assemblies. Preparation of each fence board required ten (10) sanding operations, trimming to width and length, then sculpting the edges to half-round shape shown in the photo.


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This is one fence panel that would suspend between two fenceposts as viewed from outside the garden.


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This is the same fence panel as would be seen from inside the garden.


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This, and the following photos show the fence panels going into position between the already installed and stained fenceposts.


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Turning the corner, the fence continues along the sidewalk. At this point, the fence panels are installed, and the metal "mesh" windows are installed.


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A view of the fence as see from and along the sidewalk. This is before final fence trim and caprail installation.


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Another view of the fence along the sidewalk as it turns and returns to the side of the house.


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Fence gates have always been one of my pet peeves - very few are designed to stand up to constant use and not sag over time. For this installation, the skeleton for the two double gates is first fabricated in steel, epoxy and power coated to prevent rust. This is the shop drawing we produced for the welder showing one of the fence gates.


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This photo shows one pair of the fence gates installed and clad with cedar to match the other sections of the fence. The caprail is not shown and will be added after staining and sealing of the cedar panels.


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This photo is of the second double gate that opens to the sidewalk – also awaiting the caprail. With the steel skeleton under the cedar cladding, this gate will never sag and will stand up to heavy use.


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This photo shows how we fabricated the caprail for the fence in our shop.


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Here, the caprails are being cut to length and corner joints fitted before installation on the fence.


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A view of the final caprail after installation and final staining/sealing.


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Another view of the final caprail.


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After installation, each fence panel was removed and sealed with clear fence stain by Sikkens, then the fence panels reinstalled. In this way, there are no unsealed wooden ends to absorb moisture that might lead to rot.


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The finished fence along the sidewalk as seen from inside the garden.


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A detailed view of the "mesh" window panels in the upper segment of each fence panel.


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A section of the completed fence along the sidewalk.


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Note the two-toned finished color of the fence after sealing and staining. the posts, caprail and "mesh" window panels are the same color, while the fence panels appear as natural cedar (even though they are clear stained and sealed). Look closely and you will see two fence lights installed just below the mesh windows. Each of the nine fence lights are installed on a plinth integral to the upper fence panel trim. Wiring is completely concealed inside the fence panel.


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A view of the garden at night showing the lighting - as seen from the house.


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The outside dining area with pergola covering and lighting.


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A nighttime view of the garden as seen from a second floor window in the house.


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This photo shows the completed double gate with caprail as seen from the alley next to the garage. One of the gates swings inward and closes automatically by a spring in the hinge, and the other gate swings outward and is normally stationary and locked in place with a "cane-bolt" to the concrete walkway. Notice that where the two gates meet, the design simulates the look of another fencepost.


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This is the same garage-side double gate as seen from inside the garden With both gates open fully, the egress is over five feet in width, facilitating movement of larger furniture and a motorcycle that is stored inside the garden yet out of site.


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This is the double gate along the sidewalk segment of the fence. The double gate has been finished off with a caprail to match the fence panels. The goal was to make the gates appear to be just another section of fence when closed.


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The double gate as seen from the sidewalk. In this photo you can see how the fence line jogs in and out along the sidewalk adding interest to and breaking up this long fence line.

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