Once upon a time on a visit to an old city (Windsor, Ontario!) with an intact original Victorian neighborhood, I was hired to replace a cedar fence with something that “resonated more harmoniously” with the large painted lady house. While the neighborhood was filled with various types of wooden fences, seeing a picture of the house as it looked in 1878, my instinct was to return the property to its roots by putting in a modern version of the classic wrought iron fence, complete with plenty of ornamental finials.
Actual wrought iron can be a delight to have, but these fences are difficult to find today and the up-front costs can be prohibitively expensive. And while the original wrought iron fences attracted rust like a flame attracts a moth, the highest quality modern versions are made out of zinc-coated galvanized steel with additional coatings on top to protect the metal even further. Covered in a black powder paint coating, it makes an elegant fence for a Victorian house–and in my opinion, just one of the all-around best fences for the front yard. That’s because there are, IMHO, a few basic things you need from a fence to make it the perfect match for a Victorian home. Let me explain what those are.
Finding a Great-Looking Fence for a Victorian House
There are a few main reasons that I think a wrought iron-style steel fence is the perfect fit for a Victorian house. It’s the collection of qualities and features that a fence has that brings a Victorian home and yard into perfect harmony.
- A Simple Basic Design: Yes, the Victorian era was all about ornamentation, but look past the scrollwork and at its core, a Victorian wrought iron fence was composed of clean lines–pickets and rails. The solid geometry of pickets and rails provides simple bones that are able to look good in just about any situation. And being made of a sturdy material, like galvanized steel, helps to give the fence a weightiness that complements the energy of an old house.
- Ornamentation: Victorian homes are known for their external details like brackets and spandrels, and I think their style often demands some similar ornamentation to be reflected in the fence. When this is the case, I look for fencing systems which come with the option to add decorative elements. Some of my favorites are finials of different sizes and styles that can simply be attached to the tops of pickets, and knuckles that can be placed on the pickets to form different patterns. This kind of ‘customize on the fly’ arrangement allows anyone to add ornamentation in an organic and free-flowing manner.
- A Victorian-Style Gate: If you have a fence, chances are you’re going to need a gate as well. There’s nothing like an arched gate ornamented with some scrollwork to set off a Victorian house, so when my clients are looking for a special touch for their fence, I try to choose a fence manufacturer that offers the option of having a custom ornamental fence gate made.
Finding a Maintenance-Free Fence for Your Victorian House
The neighborhood I grew up in actually had plenty of old painted ladies and a few very old wrought iron fences. To earn money as a teenager, I worked as a neighborhood “handy teen,” and one of my frequent jobs was to scrape the rust off of the wrought iron fences, clean the rusted spot as much as possible, and add 2 or 3 coats of paint over the area. The root of the corrosion runs much deeper than this kind of solution, though, as the rust can run for inches under relatively loosely bonded coats of paint. The meant I ended up coming back to repaint those fences again and again–the definition of job security!
If you don’t want to do or pay for this kind of endlessly repetitive work, then it’s a great idea to invest in a fence with as tough a coating as possible. In my experience with metal fencing, the more layers of protection, the better off the fence will be. Investing in a fence that includes a precoat, an e-coat, and a powder coat, plus high-quality welds, will lead to a fence that can last many, many years with little maintenance.
Shortly after installing the galvanized steel fence around that Victorian house, I started to get calls from the neighbors to spruce up their properties as well. Several years later I popped by for some visits and found not a spot of rust anywhere and a neighborhood that almost took me back in time. A great place to start your modern Victorian-style fencing research is Fortress Fence. Their fencing comes with a multi-layer coating that includes a moisture-resistant e-coat (the only fencing product I know that does), is easy to customize with ornamentation, and has a classic beauty that’s at home in any era. Since I work with a lot more than just fencing, I also frequent their main building products website for inspiration. Take a look if you’re planning other projects for your home, like adding decking, railing, or a pergola.