Last Reviewed: December 26, 2021
Many of you share a common aesthetic problem we call ugly chain link fences. All but the most visually oriented people often become immune to the unsightly conditions in neighborhoods where this plight is most common. It's easy to do, but since the visitor won't be nearly as forgiving, we suggest that you concentrate on noticing them wherever you go for a couple of days. You may be appalled.
Of course you can replace the chain link fence, which often rusts quite badly depending on the original quality. The problem with replacement is that you still end up with a wire mesh fence that is not to most people's taste these days. So that is where alternative treatments that are less expensive than ripping out the wire mesh fence and starting over with a more attractive fencing material are being created.
Here is a rather simple treatment of an existing fence in St. Louis, where a textured vertical material serves as a backdrop for some dramatic flashes of color, which are held onto the fence with some high-performance twist ties.
The City of Chattanooga's public art office, through their municipality's economic development department, sponsored a year-long installation of artistic treatments of chain link fences.
Materials included vinyl banner, fiberglass resin fabrications, bicycle inner tubes, bamboo, and found objects. The City awarded $2,500 in up-front money and a completion award of $500 to make sure the fence actually was finished.
A Dutch artist even has gone fancy on us with his lace treatment of chain link fence. Some have tried to weave fabric strips or crochet through the fence. All of these things require a pretty aggressive design to distract from the fence unless it is freshly painted.
Sometimes the solution is camouflage. In this category fall not only the public art types of installations we just highlighted, but also measures such as repainting them in black or olive green. We think that isn't very effective, since obviously the paint project is tedious and would have to be repeated every few years.
Many people opt for trying to cover them with vegetation, with species varying from English ivy to climbing roses to grapes or anything that vines like crazy in your climate and soil condition. Close consultation with a gardening expert might result in a short list of plantings that would be dense enough to drown out the ugliness, while still not so heavy that the fence begins to sag.
You can also do use a technique called
espalier, which means essentially growing a fruit tree (often apple) in a flat
pattern. Of course you need to consider whether the height to which the trees might grow is suitable for your application. It wouldn't work for a front yard.
The other somewhat obvious way to deal with the situation is to leave the posts in place but to replace the fencing material itself, probably with wood. You could use scrap or reclaimed wood, even making a pattern with several different types of scrap wood from flooring leftovers, pallets, or old boards you found in the garage or attic. You can bolt end boards onto the posts and then fasten the boards to one another or to the top rail of the chain link material
Another "solution" that is sometimes seen is something called the put-in cup, where sure enough, you push what looks like a paper cup into the holes in the fence. We think this is just about as tacky as the rusting fence, but in certain places, such as adjacent to schools or day care centers, it might work as a bit of whimsy, a nod to the sensibility of the kids, and a stop-gap measure to brighten up the scene.
Notice that we are not advocating that you try to clean up or clean off the ugly chain link fence. That is a losing proposition if there is any rust on the fence--and rust is the major reason that many of you would want to replace these fences. If you simply think the industrial look is too unrefined for its application, you can use the camouflage technique quite effectively, providing your distraction for the eye is substantial enough and pretty enough.
In neighborhoods where the ugly chain link fence predominates, your city or town government might want to contract with a designer to come up with some solutions that could be made available as suggestions to homeowners. You might even go bold by inventing a program that allows residents to apply to become part of a city-administered bid that would take advantage of mass purchasing power to try to drive prices down for individual homeowners who wish to implement a particular solution.