When Susie Lynch went fence shopping recently, the Tucsonan suffered a pleasant sort of shock.
"Corrugated-metal fences weren't ugly anymore," she said in an e-mail, after checking out various houses around the Old Pueblo.
Increasing numbers of designers, builders and homeowners have made the same discovery. Corrugated metal fences — and porches and siding — have graduated from Early Junkyard to high style. Rust, even bullet holes, and all.
"It's in," said landscape architect Judith Ratliff, who likes to incorporate metal elements in the yards she designs. "It's also been interesting the way this rusted look has caught on, which I think is extremely handsome. I thought I was going to have a harder sell with a lot of people."
Denice Osbourne, an agent with Long Realty Co., concurred.
"I've seen them for all different kinds of purposes," Osbourne said. "A lot of the barrio neighborhoods have them as decorative (elements). Because the houses all back up to one another, it kind of separates them a little bit. Even in Sam Hughes (neighborhood), you will see a wall that has it. It gives a very barrio, Old World feel. It changes the way a property looks and feels. It gives it a little more texture."
Corrugated metal is cheap — especially compared with masonry and stucco. It offers security and privacy. And it's virtually maintenance-free.
"Maybe in 10 to 20 years, it will need to be painted or something," said Ken Olney, the proud owner of a formal wrought-iron and corrugated-metal fence surrounding his home in the Blenman-Elm neighborhood.
Plus, the determined or creative homeowner can easily build a corrugated fence or similar structure for himself or herself.
Olney did. Three years ago, when the retiree Olney bought a home he knew was going to be a major project, one of the first things he did was add a fence for his dog.
He bought sections of plain wrought-iron fence, lined each section with sheets of corrugated metal, and painted the interior of the fence green to reduce reflected heat. The curlicued gate? Old security screens from the house.
"It's all off-the-rack, except for the gate," Olney said. "I got everything at Lowe's or Home Depot. . . . The hardest part is digging the holes in the caliche."
Today, his fence and yard stop traffic — at least in part because of the gorgeous yellow cannas that surge over the fence every growing season. The shelter of the fence helps provide great growing conditions for the heirloom flowers.
Ratliff, the landscape architect, said she has seen fences made of masonry pillars interspersed with sheet metal. And there's no reason you couldn't make decorative metal pillars with, say, a metal ocotillo sprouting out the top of each. "Your imagination is the limit on that sort of thing," she said.
Another equally simple use of corrugated metal — roof lean-to porches — transformed life in one home in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains.
When Suzanne Baker and Robert Dalrymple bought the Territorial-style masonry house, they had spent most of their adult lives in Oregon and California. The couple had no idea that the same east-west orientation that serves up gorgeous mountain views would also make the house insufferably hot in the Tucson summers. They soon found out.
Ratliff, who was redoing their yard, suggested that porches would add shade as well as character to the house. Now, the two spend much of their time on the back porch or in the adjoining Arizona room, which benefits from the porch's shade.
Corrugated metal most often sprouts in infill projects, which in Tucson often means housing that is trying to build an aesthetic bridge between industrial and residential neighborhoods.
"A lot of the things we are doing are in more mixed neighborhoods," said Page Repp, president of Repp Design + Construction. "They have some industrial, and they have some commercial adjacent to residential. Those kinds of materials blend in, and they complement the surrounding context."
Late last year, David Henkel moved into the first of three infill houses he built in the Lost Barrio. The fourth-generation Tucson builder's great-grandfather plastered the inside of Downtown's landmark Fox Theatre, and his great-great-uncle created what was then the suburb of Menlo Park in 1912.
It's no surprise then, that Henkel is fascinated with historical and recycled materials. The fence surrounding his latest project is, like Olney's, wrought iron lined with corrugated metal.
But Henkel's metal is recycled, complete with those bullet holes. "I'm a scrounger," he said happily.
His metal sports an exuberance of metal screens, some glowing with the copper from local mines where they spent their industrial careers, and other salvaged accents. The curved metal arch over the gate into his courtyard looks like it came from Japan, but it cost $5 at a local junkyard. Hot-pink bougainvilleas are beginning to climb the exterior fence.
"If you do it right, I think it looks fantastic," Henkel said. "It's shabby chic, if you will."
» want to be a metal head?
• A general contractor or handyman should be able to handle building a corrugated metal fence or other simple structure.
• Lumberyards stock fencing materials.
• A 12-foot-long sheet of corrugated metal costs between $7.29 and $14.29, depending on height and quality, at local Home Depot stores.
• Plain wrought-iron fencing runs $39 to $79, again depending on quality and height, for sections slightly less than 8 feet long at Home Depot.
• Rust is optional. You can buy sheet metal that will rust and let nature take its course. But be aware that this can lead to dripping — Suzanne Baker wasn't happy to find red blotches on the edges of her new porches and wound up adding gutters to catch the rust.
• You also can have metal rusted to whatever shade you like in a shop, then sealed to prevent further rusting and spotting.
• Galvanized metal is treated so it won't rust.
• Depending on the setting, reflected heat may be a problem with a corrugated metal fence.
• Combining corrugated metal with wrought iron discourages graffiti vandals, who can't reach a big section of corrugated metal to deface it. In addition, corrugated metal's sharp edges can discourage intruders.