Toby Rolt, owner of Blank Canvas Construction, had to employ all his negotiation, scheduling, and design skills for this West Hollywood retaining wall and fence project. The original contractor hired by the homeowners had disappeared — after removing the fence and retaining wall along with some shrubbery — leaving a dangerous and crumbling trench.
There were issues. Not only are retaining walls particularly important for structural support in the Los Angeles area because it is an earthquake zone, but the neighbors were unhappy with the missing wall and worried about the aesthetics of the replacement fence. City codes require that the impact of remodeling projects on neighbors’ views be assessed.
This project was Rolt’s first time working with the city of West Hollywood. To make the process go more smoothly, he says, “I start with the premise that nobody wants to have a fight. Most want to say ‘yes.’ I try to give them the opportunity to say yes. We ask for their help. We say, ‘Here’s the problem. What do you suggest?’”
The former Los Angeles remodeler, now based in Phoenix, built a masonry retaining wall, then covered it with stucco.
Per the city’s code, 50% of the fence had to be open to views and light. “The problem with that, is it means anyone can look into your yard, which is a disadvantage,” Rolt says.
To provide privacy, Rolt used two layers of mosquito screen on the top half of each section of fence.
To add interest, he turned to his favorite hobby, sailing, and used yacht rigging — 500 feet of stainless steel cable and calipers — from a marine supply store to create a random tension-wire pattern over the screen. “Yacht equipment has quality about it — a highly-engineered element that, when mixed with simple redwood, adds panache,” Rolt says.
He was careful to use the rigging on the client’s side of the fence because it matched their modern, angular home. The neighbor’s house is a more traditional 1930s bungalow, so he kept that side of the fence more traditional.
Rolt says that, as with everything he does, the design is based both on practicality and how to make the effort that goes into creating the design appear effortless. As Spencer Tracy said, “Never let ’em catch you acting.”