In rural areas, privacy is often taken for granted, while residents in more densely populated regions may consider it a hard-to-attain luxury. Do you realize that one of the reasons you may avoid hanging out in your own yard is due to a lack of privacy? Not surprisingly, people tend to spend more time in outdoor spaces that feel private and sheltered from their neighbors’ view.
Thinking Beyond Building That Wall
Inside a house, it’s those walls, dividers, doors, and drapes that physically establish rooms and boundaries while providing seclusion. Stepping outside into the big world can be exhilarating, but also opens one up to vulnerabilities; imagine being scrutinized by your neighbor from his upstairs window while you entertain guests in the pool. Or, maybe your view from the balcony is your neighbor’s side-yard scrap pile—hardly the relaxing escape you crave after a heavy work day.
Finding a solution isn’t a simple matter of one-type-suits-all. Whether it’s for the area near your spa, outdoor kitchen, patio, or just a spot for enjoying some solitude, you’re going to need to create an outdoor privacy screen in some form. Follow these design experts’ suggestions for finding creating solutions to gain privacy and block unsightly views.
Wood fencing encloses this long, wide backyard near Portland, Oregon, but additional wood lattice panels add architectural interest and create additional privacy. “We always like to add a private retreat in the landscape as an escape—for people to have some downtime,” explains Kim Thibodeau of Paradise Restored in Portland. “The pathway in front of the privacy screens leads to the retreat.”
Creative Rooftop Space
This rooftop environment in New York’s Chelsea district belongs to a creative couple—a theatrical lighting designer and a costume designer/artist—who collaborated with Brooklyn-based architect Lynn Gaffney and her team on the project.
A typical large wood water tank on the rooftop serves as a design inspiration for an adjacent ipe wood-slat trellis-like enclosure that has deliberately uneven spacing to adjust for privacy, sound, light filtration, and even keeping the couple’s cats fromescaping.
“Since this is an urban rooftop, the concern was that the two cats would run and fall off,” explains Lynn. “So, we had to measure their heads and make sure they couldn’t fit through the screen. It’s one of those things we never thought we’d do—but it worked.”
The design works: the cats love their outdoor freedom above their owners’ loft, where they can safely admire a garden with lovely trees, shrubs, vines, and container plants.
The owners of this stylish formal garden in Holland Park, an upmarket enclave in the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea in West London, wanted an elegant outdoor space to entertain friends and colleagues. Stefano Marinaz of Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architecture framed the perimeter with hedges of pleached hornbeams, while an iroko fence mounted on top of the existing boundary wall added extra privacy.
Fences are easy and effective ways to achieve privacy in a yard. For fencing materials, Stefano opts for hardwood over softwoods. “Hardwood lasts longer; it’s like iron. It’s more expensive than a softwood but it’s more durable and nicer.”
Or, try digging into the soil to plant trees, hedges, or vines. Stefano favors evergreens from the Taxus genus for hedges or trees.
Don’t forget that many cities, boroughs, or regions have ordinances dictating height and placement of walls and barriers. Check with your local planning department to learn the requirements.
Sometimes a design feature can be multipurpose, which is especially useful in small spaces. Because their neighbors’ deck is very close, the owners of this coastal home in Manzanita, Oregon, wanted designer Laura Sabo of 13 Design Lane Interiors to create “lots of privacy.” Laura says this cedar wall “did the trick. The homeowner requested slats to hang wall pockets, along with a shelf for potted plants.”
Occasionally, the area that needs privacy is right in front of your house. Small, older homes often have significant setbacks, maybe small porches or a few steps, and then a front door. All that space between the curb and front door goes unused and is prime real estate, so why not gain more outdoor living space or at least make the entry more appealing?
The challenge is to create privacy and build a private enclosure—like an entry patio courtyard—that’s in sync with your home’s architecture. For this 100-year-old heritage-style house in Vancouver’s historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood, Tanya McLean of Mango Design created a modernist addition. “We integrated a shed dormer at the front and a butterfly roof over the new rear addition,” explains Tanya. “The interior was completely gutted, re-spaced, and refinished in a modern, eclectic style.”
The house backs onto a commercial alley so the need for privacy was key. The use of the wood reflects some of the new interior elements, especially the main staircase and guard.”
General contractor on the project was Cam McLeod of Ellamber Construction.
A Striking Solution
Architect Alan Ohashi of ODS Architecture in Emeryville, California, found clever ways to work with a huge old tree at a house situated on a busy street in the East Bay. The tree was pruned to reveal its sculptural branches, while it gently rests on an elegant ipe fence that faces the street. A new sandblasted-glass gate and carport walls provide additional privacy while allowing light to shine through.
General Contractor: On The Beam
One good way to attain privacy in a yard is by creating a separate room, with three or four “walls”. Unlike an interior, the walls of outdoor rooms can be real, implied, or both. Designed by Rolling Landscapes, the rich, dark wood enclosure of this backyard in Burr Ridge, Illinois, adds architectural interest in the garden while providing a cozy seating area with a custom-build gas fire pit. Plants provide additional privacy, depending on their height and fullness.
Urban Wall of Delights
The challenge in designing an urban garden is to create privacy screens without making them blatantly obvious. Jenn Lassa and Marcin Matlakowski of Rooftopia in Chicago succeeded with this vertical wood wall that is appealing both day and night. Architectural elements like the fountain, wall planters and vertical succulent piece are artistically lighted for a relaxing focal point.
Walls of Green
Urrutia does a richly textured, dark green version of the wall concept for this outdoor seating area in Mill Valley, California. To prevent it from becoming an overgrown, uninviting forest, the shrubs will have to be maintained often, and precisely. Don’t think that a living enclosure means you can’t use other plants: it’s outdoors, so choose wisely, keep them healthy, and enjoy the scenery.
The owners of a two-story home on a narrow lot in the San Francisco area wanted a yard that wasn’t overpowered by their house. Andreas Flache of AFLA Landscape Design included a fun entertainment space with a hot tub and gas fire feature and a long bench. To gain privacy, a custom linear fence with hickory stain was built around the property, providing seclusion while remaining inviting. Horizontal fence panels are interspersed with shrubs, woody ornamentals, and perennials to soften the fencing. Entry to the home is through a fenced, open-air courtyard.
Behind the Curtain
Ambitious DIYer and blogger Alicia of Thrifty and Chic finally found a way to get some privacy in her own yard after several years of dealing with neighbors whose big house on a hill gave them a great view of the goings-on in her family’s backyard. “So, after years of feeling a lack of privacy when hanging out on our porch, I finally came up with an idea! A cute little privacy screen that resembles the look of a pergola,” says Alicia, who shares the inexpensive project on her website.
Private Raised Terrace
Fences and walls help with boundaries but aren’t always going to offer privacy, especially where you need it. By building a raised dining terrace with higher walls—sort of like a permanent wooden screen—the designers at Genus Loci Ecological Landscapes Inc. were able to give their Toronto-area clients the privacy they requested in an otherwise exposed backyard.
Intimate Deck Space
A home in the Eugene, Oregon, area with a wood deck and built-in seating nestled against a wood fence is made more intimate with a wall of carefully manicured privacy hedges. Chauncey Freeman of Fifth Season took advantage of the hedges’ height and added a little evening ambiance—strings of lights that swing from the shrubs to other high parts of the yard.
The solution is simple, attractive, and can be quick: build (or buy) an outdoor structure like a trellis or arbor, position it where you want to block a view or block somebody’s view, plant a fast-growing vine, and enjoy your efforts. This freestanding cedar trellis is part of a design created for a homeowner in Wilmette, Illinois, by landscape architect Marco Romani of Arrow Land + Structures.