ISSUE 19  |  Wedding Season

The Landscape Designer Is In: A Modern Garden for a Midcentury Eichler Gem

May 15, 2015 7:00 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

To live in “an Eichler”–a home by Joseph Eichler, a midcentury housing developer and proponent of modern architecture–is not a rarity in Northern California. It’s special, to be sure, but Eichler was so prodigious that he’s estimated to have built 11,000 homes in the region from 1956 to 1965.

But to live in a thoughtfully remodeled Eichler that remains true to the original design is rarer. As Beth Mullins, owner of San Francisco-based landscape design firm Growsgreen notes, Eichler renovations run the gamut, some “honoring the Eichler intent” more than others. Says Mullins, an Eichler fan herself, “It is a nice challenge to update but still stay true to the origins of the house.”

Here, Mullins had the chance to honor the Eichler intent in a family garden in San Mateo belonging to Mark, a web producer and all-around creative type; May, an artist; and their 9-year-old daughter. They wanted a garden they could use in three ways: entertaining, relaxing, and as studio space for May. They set the budget between $75,000 and $95,000, and Mullins set out to create a low-water, low-maintenance landscape that would do justice to the master developer of California style.

Mullins will be joining us for the next 48 hours on Saturday and Sunday to answer any and all questions about the project. In the comments section below, please ask away! 

For more from Mullins, visit Growsgreen in the Remodelista + Gardenista Architect/Designer Directory

Photography by Beth Mullins and Margo Tomaszewska-Richter.

Above: A crucial piece of Eichler (and all California Modern) style is how outdoor and indoor spaces relate to each other. Mullins’ clients, who had just completed an indoor renovation, were thrilled that a garden would make the living space feel complete. They wanted the indoor-outdoor flow restored, and for individual outdoor spaces to reflect the aesthetic of the house.


Above: Mullins notes that before the garden renovation, if you were indoors you were “looking out onto a flat space with no visual interest. I wanted for the client to look out and feel good about the garden while being inside, even on crummy-weather days.”

Though they kept as many plants as they could, Mullins knew that “a lot of plants would become compost,” citing specifically a host of dark-foliaged phormiums that were too large for the space.

Above: According to Mullins, the landscape as they found it was not likely original to the house. “It was all Versa-loc retaining and terracotta pavers,” she says–more contemporary materials than what would have been used then.


Above: Homeowner Mark collects vintage planters from Gainey Ceramics. Many of the succulents were saved from the previous garden and repotted. 

Above: Mullins chose colors for the house exterior and the fence: “I wanted the garden to feel cohesive and enveloped,” she said. “The dark colors do that.” The house is painted in Benjamin Moore Wrought Iron, and the fence is stained in Benjamin Moore Arborcoat Solid Black.

For the benefit of all gardens, Mullins emphasizes the importance of choosing the right paint colors: “Since walls in your garden are hard to ignore, it’s important to incorporate them into the space,” she says. By using a rich color like charcoal, “you set off the greens of the plants” while making the space feel cozy. 

Above: All large trees and shrubs were retained, including fig trees, a palm, and a plum tree in the middle of the lawn that the family relies on to make their “amazing” plum jam every year. Says Mullins, “I’m growing to like the twisted trunk on it and it is thriving now with consistent care.”

Above: Mark, who builds furniture as a hobby, made the single ipe bench on the side of the lawn. At Mullins’ suggestion of a low-profile floating bench, Mark added his own twist with metal legs. Says Mullins: “I love what he did to make it his own.” Miscanthus junceus grass lines the fencing. 

Above: Mullins and Mark designed two concrete built-in benches that provide generous seating for parties and help define the garden without blocking access to any one area. “By having the benches backless, you can see through the space and the space stays connected.”

Above: Mark and May had been collecting the white Heath tile with the intention of using it in the house or garden. (Once their kitchen remodel was complete and the tile still hadn’t been used, into the garden it went.) Mullins points out that the scale of the concrete highlights the tile without overwhelming it. It was Mark’s idea to split the two benches to make an entrance to the rock garden (described below).  

Above: A custom ipe planter (matching the bench) holds Stachys byzantina ‘big ears’ and Chondropetalum, along with gentle uplighting. 

Above: Mark proposed the rock garden and chose the individual rocks himself. The rock concept, says Mullins, “ties into a lot of the Asian influences on midcentury design,” noting that it was “fun to think about what Eichler might have been inspired by in this decade.” Behind the rock is a landscaping uplight, which illuminates the garden at night and lends a festive atmosphere during parties. 

Above: An art studio for May, built by Eric Enns of Modern Spaces–”one of the most artistic contractors I have ever met,” says Mullins. Enns specializes in small sheds customized to the needs and style of each client.  

Landscape architect Beth Mullins is available to answer questions for the next 48 hours. Using the Disqus commenting tool below, please ask away! 

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