There is a mystical-looking fixture in the front yard of a home in Los Altos. It is comprised of several iron rods that look like tree roots sprouting from a stone pedestal. The iron "roots" spring upwards to cradle a triangular copper box.
Looking at this beautifully mounted box, one would think its purpose was to hold some sort of treasure. In reality, it serves as a residential mailbox.
"A mailbox, usually a functional element, became a fun thing," said Diane Hayford, landscape designer for Skyline Design Studio in Palo Alto, who designed the mailbox.
"I've always been fascinated with everything organic and free-formed, plant-like patterns," Hayford said. She draws inspiration for her designs from what she sees on her bike rides around the area -- seeing the way trees grow out of the hillsides as she rides, she said.
It is very challenging to recreate these natural forms into a physical form, she said.
The mailbox is made from stone, copper and iron atop a pedestal built by a stonemason. Then, Tony Majors, an artistic metalworker, came to the site to create the iron "roots."
Majors attached the roots to the pedestal, heated up his torch and allowed for Hayford to do the shaping of the roots. "Iron has enormous flexibility as a material," she said. Wearing insulated gloves, Hayford shaped the iron as Majors heated it. "It was truly a 'hands-on' experience," she said.
The mailbox became the symbol of the whole landscaping project they had done for this home in Los Altos, she said.
"[Before the project the mailbox was half-broken and just in on a stick all crooked. People kept backing into it," Hayford said. "It was the last thing we did."
Hayford's mailbox design proves that a simple everyday fixture can become an object of beauty and can even take on a deeper meaning.
But transforming a mailbox into a meaningful object does not require the talents of designers.
In the Barron Park neighborhood, where rural curbside mailboxes are common, many residents have personalized their mailboxes.
And each box has a story behind it.
Some of the mailboxes in the neighborhood were gifts and simply add a special touch to the house.
David Golick bought a custom mailbox for his parents as a Christmas gift. The mailbox on Encina Grande Drive is a brown dollhouse-like mailbox with windows and shutters. Their last name is painted on the front.
Golick said it was custom-made in the garage of a family home in San Carlos.
He found out about these custom mailboxes when he was a real estate appraiser.
A little American flag goes up on the house to signal that there is outgoing mail, he said.
J. George got her mailbox about 15 years ago as a gift from her daughter-in-law. Her colorful mailbox, on La Donna Avenue, has iris, tulips and buttercups painted on it.
"The neighbors have said they liked it, especially when I first put it up," George said.
Others mailboxes in Barron park were art projects.
Judith Wasow took a one-day class at De Anza College on how to do pique assiette about five years ago.
"I thought it would be fun to try on a mailbox," she said. "I've done it twice now because the first one fell to pieces when we re-did the fence."
Her current mosaic-like mailbox, on Barron Park Avenue, was decorated two years ago.
She said that occasionally people say, "Oh, yes, you're the one who has the mailbox."
Harry Pedersen's mailbox on La Donna Avenue has a rainbow motif.
"My daughter painted it, five or six years ago," he said.
"I was just really bored one summer," said his daughter Allie Pedersen, who does not normally paint.
"We've had people come knock on the door and say it brightens up their day when they walk by," Pedersen said.
Other neighbors said their personalized mailboxes serve to remind them of a place they used to live. When Barry Gold and his family came from Arizona, they brought along a mailbox.
"We bought it near Tucson where there is great desert Southwest art so we could have a little bit of Arizona with us," said Gold of his armadillo-painted mailbox on Paul Avenue.
Bringing a piece of his old neighborhood, Gene on Paul Avenue brought a piece of his old San Francisco Haight district with him. The door of his mailbox is a clay face of the god Pan.
"He's the fun god, that's where the word pandemonium came from," he said.
The clay face has a long nose protruding from it. "It's easy to open, you just grab his long nose," said Gene, who added that it is time to re-paint his mailbox.
The neighborhood postal worker, Alex Gregorio enjoys working in the eclectic Barron Park neighborhood.
"It is a joy to deliver mail for the people around here," he said. "When the children say 'Hi, mailman,' it makes your day."
Thinking about the box
Postal worker Alex Gregorio, who delivers in the Barron Park neighborhood, noted that mailboxes should be large enough to accommodate your daily mail.
Additionally, the USPS website offers these guidelines:
1. Custom-built mailboxes must be approved by the local postmaster. These mailboxes must generally meet the same standards as approved manufactured boxes for flag, size, strength and quality of construction.
2.You need to contact your local post office before moving your mailbox.
3.Every curbside mailbox must bear a box number, if used, or a house number, if assigned a street name and number as the postal address.
4. Numbers should be at least 1 inch high on the side of the box, visible to the carrier's regular approach.
5.Mailboxes should be installed with the bottom of the box at a vertical height of between 41 and 45 inches from the road surface.
6. The mailbox door should be set back 6 to 8 inches from the curb or road edge.
7. Generally mailboxes should be on the right-hand side of the road and in the carrier's direction of travel.
8. It is the responsibility of the resident to keep the posts and supports neat and adequate.
9. It is the responsibility of the resident to keep the approach to the mailbox clear of obstructions to allow for safe delivery.