Good Screens build Good Neighbors: From inspiration to design to construction

We love all our neighbors, yet living in close proximity (the five cottages on our block were built in the early 20th century on 40 x 100 ft lots) still requires some facsimile of privacy – a sense that the space around is our own. Greenery can only do so much. Our neighbors to the south have been generous in allowing me to plant banana plants just on their side of the property line to enhance our tropical theme side-yard, and plant blue spruce along the property line to camouflage their corrugated metal walls. But gaps remain.

To fill the gaps, Michele suggested we purchase landscape screens from Modinex,…which meant someone (and I guessed it to be me) needed to make a fence structure to support the screens. [Dunn Lumber ordered the panels for us.] To enhance the depth of our narrow side yard, and before I raised the fence, I used one screen as a template and painted the neighbors’ deck wall that reaches our property line. Since it is really in our face, the neighbors did not care what I did to the surface. I was going to add the colors ( Procreate allowed me to visualize a peek-a-boo tropical vista) but decided to go with black on white for high contrast.

Of course, I chose to buy fence lumber during the pandemic when a cedar 4×4 was $80…but daylight was burning and I needed to erect the Great Divide. Once the south border was 60% enclosed by the screening, the glaring open space was the staircase. Our boatbuilder neighbor had donated the 18’ clear lumber for a handrail some 6 years ago when Michele needed the support, and now it was to become a permanent feature connecting elements of our Great Divide. At one end, an East Indian gate that was purchased from a New Orleans company, and shipped for free. The teak door weighed around 300 lbs, so that was a deal. I had to rig up the new hinges, and shave off some wood to make the doors fit, but now we had a firm post to stabilize the handrail, and at the other end was more new screening for the lower yard.

I am not holding the fence up. It was actually stable if you can believe that.

What else was I to do to visually mark our territory? I was going to duplicate a lattice work fence that I had designed for the north side-yard…and I purchased the very dear lumber to make it happen.

But then , wandering through our maze of a basement full of valuable clutter, I found three panels of marine grade mahogany plywood (having stored them some 15 years ago – Pack Rats Rule! ) and changed plans.

I would create a screen of my own!

First the concept drawings:

I opted to go with the screen and modify the art deco look. I had attempted the art deco look for a fence that rotted out though I did recreate a back gate to reflect the earlier design.

But what to create? Which designs might work? I looked to various sources for inspiration:

Right to left: An amazing drawing by local (Seattle) artist Juan Alonso-Rodriguez, Sunflowers in our neighborhood, new solar lights from Swanson’s Nursery and finally the gate I designed (after researching Indonesian woodcarvings) and had crafted in Indonesia by David Smith.

My travels have taken me around the world, so designs from multiple countries have impressed me and inspired creative visualization. SE Asia and Indonesia offered up a wide variety of wood carvings that stuck with me.

Next step: sketching late into the night while listening to KEXP:

Once the panels were up, I thought I could use a hand saw to cut out the patterns…bad idea. With a blinding glimpse of the obvious, I deduced that at the rate I was sawing, the project would take me into 2022. And at the rate my frustration was building up, I would probably put my fist through the thin panel. So I searched for a tool and voila! The Dremel saved me much sweat and tears.

So much to my neighbors annoyance, I began drawing the patterns on the panels and cutting…and cutting. The sound of the Dremel at work can terrify the unsuspecting since the noise resembles a high-powered dentist drill. Pain avoidance instincts were on high alert. I had to put in ear plugs to persevere.

My Milwaukee power drill helped pop out the various circle patterns, using a variety of bits. Once perforated to my satisfaction, it was time to sand (carefully). Then I had my canvas for staining (Cabot Oil Stain and Sealer) , to match the rest of the screen fencing…I hoped – though using different types of wood I could never make a perfect match. The rush was on to complete a few coats before the rains of October set in.

DONE! And just beat Le Deluge.

About Whittoons

Cartoonist, and community organizer who has covered the globe as a doodlebugger, gandydancer, supernumerary steward, Able Bodied Seaman, Wireman, monkey man, Night Baker and dishwasher, Hobo, hitchhiker and husband.
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