Anyone who’s had the distinct pleasure of using the only functional bathroom in my house can probably confirm that I’m not a huge patron of the stopgap measure. At some point, the space will more than likely get gutted down to the studs and put back together again, but for now it’s…well, it’s wretched. The vinyl tile floor is horrendously ugly and missing or coming up in places, the old paint-covered wallpaper is separating all over the place from the cracked plaster walls underneath, and the shower surround is the same 1950s gold-speckled white formica used on the old kitchen countertops downstairs. My work on it, thus far, has been keeping it clean, hanging a shower curtain, and a couple of hooks for towels. Often I think about dedicating a few days to trying to at least do something about the floor and maybe slap a coat of paint on the walls and re-caulk the tub, but then I think…nah. I’ll get to this space when I’m ready to really get to it, and for now I can just keep apologizing to guests when they inevitably ask where to relieve themselves and I’m left to wonder whether the backyard would be a more luxurious recommendation.
Sometimes, though, you really just have to do something, which is what happened with the old wrought iron fence lining the front and a portion of the side of my property, right next to the sidewalk. I often refer to this fence as “original” but honestly I have no idea. The same or similar style of fencing isn’t all that uncommon in and around Kingston, but it seems to be typically used around public spaces like civic buildings or graveyards rather than private residences, so sometimes I wonder if this fence could have been relocated here from elsewhere.
Who knows. Standing a bit over 3 feet high, it’s a very simple fence that’s relatively light on ornament, with each vertical picket terminating in a rather threatening-looking spike. It has a very creepy cemetery kind of vibe that I just think is terrific, obviously.
Trouble is, the fence just sort of…stops about 20 feet in from the corner, which is part of what makes me wonder if it was moved from somewhere else. Back before I replaced all the chain-link with a nice new wood fence, this stopping point is where the 6′ chain-link fencing began, which was awkward and totally ugly and not nice at all.
There’s about 32 feet between where the wrought iron fence ends and the wood fence begins that I needed to fill in with…something. This is the kind of thing that will keep me from sleeping for months or years. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled at salvage places and on Craigslist basically since buying the house hoping to stumble upon lengths of the same fencing to match, but no dice.
In this circa 1950 photo of the house (which you can read a whole post about here), the solution the owners had come up with then was to patch in this area with a different type of fencing—to me it looks like wood, and maybe is supposed to be a balustrade, like for a porch? I think this is actually a pretty nice answer to this vexing conundrum so I was planning to do something similar, but then I figured I might as well obsess over it forever instead?
I found someone locally who does custom metal fabrication projects and we talked about having the original fence replicated (with powder-coated steel instead of wrought iron), but the only way it would have maybe been within financial reach would have been if he could have sourced the basic components from his suppliers (horizontal rails with pre-punched holes at the correct dimensions and spacing, that kind of thing…) and then just done the work of welding it all together, but he did some searching and couldn’t find what we needed, so that plan was kind of dead in the water.
I have no idea how it took me so long to notice, but back in the spring I was looking more closely at the original fence and took a closer look at the little seal on the gate. Of course it had a brand name on it! I’m dumb.
Want to know something cool? Too bad, you don’t have a choice. Stewart Iron Works Company? It’s still in business! According to the company, it was founded around 1860 (Wikipedia says 1886), and at its peak was the biggest iron fence manufacturer in the world—providing fencing for everything from cemeteries to the Panama Canal to the White House! They did a bunch of other impressive stuff too, like jail cells (notably at Alcatraz and Sing Sing), military vehicles during WWI, furniture…amazing, right? Nowadays the company is based in Kentucky, and evidently a lot of their business stems from historic restoration projects, which is pretty awesome. It doesn’t look like my particular fence is something they stock (although all the components seem to be available in the catalog), but I did have a very nice conversation over the phone with one of their employees who said it should be easy enough for them to reproduce. Which would be AWESOME, correct? Correct.
If money were no object this would be a total no-brainer, but…girl’s gotta eat. My house still needs a LOT of work. Funds are low. As much as I love this fence, there are about 100 things I can think of off the top of my head that I’d prioritize higher than having a perfect replica of my old fence made, and I can currently afford maybe 1.5 of them? So PLEASE, Stewart Iron Works: stay in business another decade or two and I promise to circle back and pursue this for real. Maybe then you can just send me the pattern and I’ll 3D print it.
ANYWAY I had to do SOMETHING because amazingly enough, a 39″ high antique wrought iron fence connecting to a 6′ rusty dusty chain-link fence connecting to a new 6′ wood picket fence all within about 50 feet is not adorable? Even the dirt patch AND falling down addition on the side of the house weren’t enough to make it a good look, if you can believe it.
I searched far and wide (kind of), hoping to find something within a couple inches in height of the original fence, with a similar pattern. Since the ultimate goal is to get an actual Stewart Iron Works fence, it had to also be within the budgetary parameters of free to pretty cheap.
I looked at SO MANY OPTIONS of newer aluminum fencing products, and you know what’s funny? I ultimately just came back to the same exact solution I came to a year ago on the opposite side of the yard! I originally found this “No Dig Fencing” stuff at Lowe’s totally just because I spotted it and figured it was good enough and relatively affordable, but now I’m pretty convinced it actually is the closest thing out there for cheaps to my old fence. Fancy that.
If I wasn’t trying to match something else, I was actually surprised by how many affordable and really nice-looking options for metal fencing Lowe’s has, by the way. I guess it’s all special-order in the stores or online-only (at least at my store it is), but there are all these options seem much, much sturdier than the stuff I used (since they have real posts and bolts to connect everything and all that) and the panels are 6 foot lengths rather than 4 feet, which just looks better for longer spans. I only bring it up because I can see a lot of those options actually looking really good on a historic restoration project and budget-wise it’s totally friendly.
How is this post getting this long?? Back to my fence. This stuff installs so quickly that I didn’t even take any process pictures—it was all done in about an hour, including cutting down a panel for this little return piece as well as the last one at the end so it all fit. The pieces are all hollow aluminum so it cuts VERY easily—I used my Sawzall but a regular manual hacksaw would be easy, too. The little return panel is attached to the wood post with a couple of conduit straps that I spray-painted black, which sounds horrendous but you really don’t notice them.
Anyway, the entire fence is just 4 foot panels, which interlock with vertical posts. The posts stay in the ground with a stake that you hammer in with a rubber mallet. All in all it’s not the most sturdy thing in the world, but I think it’ll be OK.
This fencing tends to look a little nutty, I figured out, if you don’t really get everything hammered into place well. I sort of made this mistake on the other side of the yard and it shows, so here I hammered the stakes deeper into the ground and then went back and hammered the posts as far down as I could get them after all the panels were in place. This keeps everything level and the interlocking aspect of how it all fits together isn’t as evident. This also means that the bottom of the fence is sitting right on the ground (and a little underground after I plant and mulch this area), which may affect the longevity of it depending on how good the powder-coating is to prevent it from rusting, but again…I’m not expecting it to last forever.
Anyway! I feel like it’s kind of really hokey but it also looks totally OK?? Like, we’re all sitting here staring at it right now, but in real life you don’t really do that—especially once this area has some plants growing, I really feel like it’ll all “read” as the same fencing and be completely fine, ya know? So maybe it’s not exactly fooling anyone but it’s also the kind of thing that you’d have to be paying more attention than most people really do to notice. Yeah? Not bad for about $300 and an hour or so of work.
To finish off this VERY professional and labor-intensive installation, I connected the new fence to the old fence with…black plastic zip-ties. I can’t really believe I’m admitting this publicly, but I feel like this post is kind of about letting things slide so WHATEVER. It happened and it works and if they break it’s not like it’s exactly difficult or expensive to just throw on some new ones.
Here’s the house back at the end of April…
And here’s where things stood as of a couple of weeks ago! It’s, like, both better and worse at the same time? That’s possible, right? But someday that “after” image will just be another “progress” shot and we can all forget or feel nostalgic for how crazy things look right in this moment.
This post is in partnership with my pals at Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!