On The Fence: An Artistic Solution To A Practical Need

Catherine and Mel with one of their dogs, Max. Photos by Mike Hnida

Catherine and Mel with one of their dogs, Max. Photos by Mike Hnida

“Good fences make good neighbors.” Though Robert Frost penned those words long before our time, this phrase calls to mind a fence in our community that has everyone talking. As part of a personal landscaping project designed and built by Mel and Catherine LLeras, this fence is more than just a wooden privacy barrier; it is a work of art itself. Complete with garden boxes and handmade stained glass pieces, this cedar fence is functional and aesthetically pleasing—no matter what side of the fence you’re on.

In order to keep their three puppies safe and contained, Mel and Catherine knew they needed a fence. Several years ago, Mel (a licensed structural designer and builder) promised to use his woodworking skills to create a fence for Catherine as a gift. But an ordinary fence wouldn’t do; the couple wanted something that would create a tranquil and happy atmosphere for their backyard while providing a certain amount of privacy. Working together, Mel and Catherine utilized their shared interest in design to create a fence that surrounds their home with beauty.

Made from cedar, the fence consists of latticed panels and traditional panels with stained glass insets. Catherine notes that the alternating panels keep the space open. Garden boxes run along the bottom and middle of the fence, which allow Catherine to plant her favorite flowers. Mel notes that it’s important for him to honor the space he’s working in by embracing existing natural elements. This feeling encouraged him to incorporate an existing tree into the fence line instead of having it removed. Mel’s future plans for the area include a waterfall that will flow around the tree and into a handmade bamboo arbor.

When Catherine sees the fence, she is reminded of Mel’s love and thoughtfulness. “I feel the loving energy that Mel built into the fence for me…a gift for me and our family. Every time I look at a piece, I remember the immense thoughtfulness put into it.” Mel acknowledges that Catherine and their family was the inspiration for the design, adding, “It’s a creation born of how I feel about them in combination with the type of energy and experiences I felt Catherine needed to be able to take in.”

Although Mel and his core group of subcontractors provided the physical labor and professional building skills to pull off their project, Mel and Catherine worked together to design the fence. Mel notes, “My wife is an integral part of the conception process. We think differently so when we start a project together, we’re coming at it from two different angles. In every case, we’ve found that when we work together the project ends up pretty amazing.”

Photo by Mike Hnida

Photo by Mike Hnida

With regard to his personal design style, Mel says, “I tend to start with the big picture and then focus on the details that will create an experience within that big picture. Experiencing [different aspects of] life through my senses is very important to me, so I try to create spaces where other people can also stop and just experience the moment. I know most people just see a fence, but I see a transformation of the surrounding energy.”

Though the fence is one of Mel’s most well-known projects, Mel’s talents span far beyond the fence in his backyard. Other clients have utilized Mel’s skills to create patios, arbors, custom furniture, and wall murals. Regardless of the project, Mel knows it’s important to understand the purpose for the piece as well the underlying “why beyond the why.” Mel likes to get to know the clients so he can “get a glimpse of their primal needs.” He explains that he knew why his wife wanted the fence, but he also recognized that her fast-paced life carried into the home. Mel says, “I knew the real goal was to provide a sanctuary where she can find peace of mind and decompress.”

Mel’s attention to his clients’ needs and wants requires that he only take on one sizeable project at a time. This allows him to give the project at hand his undivided attention, guaranteeing that each product is exactly what his clients want and need. He adds, “Sometimes this means potential clients have to wait a bit before I can start their project, but so far everybody has considered my work to be worth it. Yeah, I’m totally tootin’ my own horn there.”

Since each project Mel takes on is completely unique, Mel works closely with his clients to create his project bids. Although he understands that some people want set pricing, he notes that it’s not practical for such custom projects. “If you want to work with me, you’re not working with somebody who uses the same template for every home they work on. You’re working with somebody who’s going to bring something out of your home and present it to you as a gift in a different form.” Mel believes that the value his projects bring to their environments is worth more than the price of the project itself. As with his personal fence, the presence of a work of art is invaluable.

Mel’s business, Mel LLeras LLC, was established in July of 2013. For more information, or to ask Mel how his designs can enhance your space, email Mel at mel@moderntoolbox.org or call (763) 447-1389.

 

Gallery photos by Mike Hnida.

 

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