What has teeth but doesn’t chew?

September 19, 2012

Southern US Federal Style House with Picket Fence

Post War Suburban Cottage with Picket Fence

If I had to design a logo for the ideal middle class suburban lifestyle it would include a white picket fence.  There is an entire body of lore formulated around them.  They adorn small town cottages, schmaltzy valentines, fuchsia covered front porches, and bed & breakfasts abiding in the land of quaint.  They connect with pergolas, gazebos and all manner of outdoor ornament.  We find them enhancing everything from rabbit cages to mobile homes and no small town florist is without a picket fence theme among their best selling arrangements.  There is a gift shop and a TV series named “Picket Fences,” alas movies, even the lyrics to a song reference the image.  I guess it can stand up to a bit of analysis.

Visually, a fence is attached to and extends the image of a house it surrounds, meaning it dilutes the view;  so if a home owner, as per the top photo, wants his residence to be a focal point, as in the grand manor house at the end of a path, then he would be ill advised to enclose it, especially with a prominent and matching fence.  If a fence must be used in such a scenario, make it match the landscape or better yet, disappear.  On the other hand, as per the bottom photo, a fence installed around a tiny house makes it appear bigger by implying that the yard is living space, as was often the condition in post war US suburbia, and the de facto source of our continuing romantic visions.

Graphically, and independent of context, a picket fence presents anything but a sweet, banal picture.  The image is actually rather threatening.  Just ask any kid impaled by one while climbing over.  Understandably, an anti picket cult has developed, including images of picket fences as weapons, teeth and references to “death by picket fences.”


One comment

  1. Later, like in the shower or driving somewhere, I always think of something else. Fencing in the yard around a suburban cottage allowed for the installation of the all important gate, which was like moving the front door from the house to the line of the fence. Entering becomes, effectively, entering the private living space.

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