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Garden gates open into private spaces

Lawrence Pierce
Izzy and Matt greet visitors who stop at the wrought-iron gates that open to the courtyard of Steve and Donna Mallory's Fort Hill home.
Lawrence Pierce The curve of the gates completes the oval formed by the arbor's arch in the entrance to Joe and Faye Guilefoile's South Hills gardens.
Chris Dorst Decorative clay squares break up the hand-crafted lattice on the gates that lead out of Tom and Paula Flaherty's hillside garden in Edgewood.
Kenny Kemp The iron gate into Bill Mills' garden is usually open.
Chris Dorst An iron "vine" created by blacksmith Dave Mills climbs one side of the arbor entrance to Tom and Paula Flaherty's backyard. The vine curves away from the arbor to form a handrail down the steps away from the gated arbor.
Chris Dorst Roses embellish the tops of the arched gates in Don and Cheryl Sensabaugh's gardens.
Kenny Kemp Bill Mills enjoys the transition from the outside world when he drives through gates he designed and built that open into a courtyard in front of his Fort Hill home.
Chris Dorst Two matching wrought-iron gates enclose part of a stone walkway that leads through Don and Cheryl Sensabaugh's rose garden at the Edgewood home.
Lawrence Pierce Donna Mallory is especially fond of dragonflies. Blacksmith Matt Wallace crafted one tucked into a corner of the Mallorys' gate.
Lawrence Pierce Two sections of an antique iron fence frame the pathway to a seating area tucked into Joe and Faye Guilefoile's wooded backyard. The fence and vintage chairs reflect Faye's love of antiques.
Chris Dorst A simpler arched gate leads out of the enclosed gardens to a set of table and chairs in Tom and Paula Flaherty's side yard.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gates send mixed messages.

They say "come on in" or "keep out." They block a view or encourage a look at the space beyond.

Once inside, occupants leave through them or are held inside. Their design is sometimes utilitarian and practical, sometimes artistic. They often reflect the owner's personality or the space within the gate.

Charleston landscape designer Beth Loflin considers a gate's purpose, the style of the home and the space beyond and whether the owner considers the gate a focal point or something that should blend into the garden when she works a gate into a design.

"A gate is the first object you see when you enter a space. It sets the tone," she said. "It can be welcoming or not so welcoming."

Loflin's choice of a simple loop of rope instead of a sturdy latch to secure the picket wood gate into her own backyard reflects her personal message. "Everyone is welcome. All you have to do is lift the rope. Latches are too hard to work," she said.

When Bill Mills, Charleston garden designer and general manager of TerraSalis, steps out of his car to open the gate on his driveway, he appreciates the transition from his home into the rest of the world and vice versa.

"Coming into the gate, I let myself into my own private refuge," he said. "When I open it to leave, I peer out into the world beyond."

He designed and built the substantial wooden gates that open into his secluded Fort Hill home and property. He first planned to build stone gate pillars, but was inspired by the simple wooden gates friends in Vermont chose for their property.

"They described them as unpretentious, which is perfect for my home," he said.

A look into a few other Charleston backyards and gardens reveals a variety of styles, materials and purposes.

Contemporary reflection

Donna and Steve Mallory's gate is both artistic and functional. They commissioned blacksmiths Matt and Tessie Wallace to create unique gates into the courtyard entrance of their Fort Hill home. Their house number appears twice on the gate. An easily visible "400" in the upper left provides clear identification. Upon closer examination, a more abstract "400" can be seen in a large "4" on the left gate and a circle within a circle that's part of the geometric pattern on the right gate.

The imaginative design was long in the making. The Mallorys first talked about replacing the old wooden gate that kept their border collies in the hilltop yard of their contemporary home about five years ago. "We wanted something different that was easy to open and close. It had to be something our dogs couldn't get through, but that our friends could operate," said Donna, who labels herself "gate-impaired."

Steve eventually found inspiration in the website of a graffiti artist whose geometric designs resonated with him. He drew a rough sketch. "I thought we could adapt something like that into a gate," he said.

He showed the Wallaces his design of squiggles, numbers and geometric shapes, which they used to forge, weld and install the wrought-iron gates. Matt worked a small dragonfly into a corner of the taller gate when Donna mentioned that she liked dragonflies.

The asymmetrical gates open into a sunny stone courtyard dotted with brightly colored potted plants with a hilltop view of Charleston's West Side across the river. And even Matt, their "escape artist" dog, can't find a way out.

Common ground

After about six months of renovations to their Edgewood home, Tom and Paula Flaherty knew their contractor Steve Mooney of M&M Builders well. When they asked him to build a gate and arbor into their secluded hillside backyard and gardens, Tom, a lawyer who happens to enjoy woodworking, suggested they work together on the project.

"They worked in collaboration. Steve is a really skilled woodworker," Paula said.

They sketched a rough plan, and then built the arbor and gates that open into restful gardens designed by Loflin of lush, shade-loving plants, stone walls and relaxing dining and reading areas. The wood lattice gate and arbor hints at the gardens within, but serves a practical purpose as well.

"We really did it for privacy," Paula said of the space in which the Flahertys often eat quiet dinners or host parties and celebrations.

Rosy entrance

Don and Sheryl Sensabaugh had a blacksmith work a rose into the design of the wrought-iron gate into their well-established rose garden. He designed the gate to complement the iron the Sensabaughs added to the top of a stone wall surrounding the backyard of their home in Edgewood.

Welcoming retreat

Joe and Faye Guilefoile relocated a driveway that dominated an area they converted into woodsy gardens and inviting brick patios and seating areas not long after they moved into their South Hills home 26 years ago. Eventually, they added a wooden arbor with a bench to the gated entrance to their outdoor living space.

The driveway comes off a sloped road, from which the back of the house is visible and more accessible than the front.

"Everyone always comes to the back door anyway, so I wanted to make an entrance to the backyard," she said. "The arbor and gate set it off."

The bench under the arbor provides a handy place to set packages, but also retracts to allow passage of large items.

Previously an antique dealer, Faye discretely placed some of her treasured finds into her shady hillside garden, including a rusty set of iron fence sections that points visitors down a stone path leading toward a quiet seating area.

Like an open gate anywhere, they invite people into an enclosed space.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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