When deciding what to buy, Whiteside suggests first figuring out how you're going to use it. If you want to hang the fence like art on the living room wall or use it as a headboard in the master bedroom, then looks will be more important than condition. "If you want function, you'll need something that's got more integrity, especially if you plan to use it outside," says Whiteside. Heavily corroded ironwork installed as a swimming pool enclosure, for instance, won't hold up as well as material that shows little pitting and rust.

Whiteside's customers often use fence sections to cordon off space in an open-plan interior, such as a combined kitchen and dining area, where a solid wall would be too imposing. To create an ironwork partition, he suggests framing a fence section vertically between wooden posts anchored to the floor and ceiling. That way you can divert foot traffic while still allowing light to pass through the divider.

For all its strength, old architectural ironwork has an airy look and rugged elegance that simply can't be duplicated by modern building materials. It can be a perfect solution when you want to divide a sprawling space indoors or establish a boundary outdoors. And it won't block the view.

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