Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

10 Ideas to Steal from Midcentury Modern Gardens

Search

10 Ideas to Steal from Midcentury Modern Gardens

April 5, 2019

Midcentury modern garden design evolved alongside the breathless optimism of America’s suburbs. In the decades following World War II, greater prosperity and more leisure time seemed as inevitable as buying molded plastic chairs for the patio.

A central tenet of midcentury modern landscape design: “Gardens were to be lived in, not looked at. Outdoor spaces would be woven together in free-flowing plans,” writes Ethne Clarke in her book The Mid-Century Modern Garden (Frances Lincoln, 2017).

The easiest way to remember the difference between modernist garden design and midcentury garden design is that while all midcentury modern gardens were designed in the modernist era, not all modernists embraced midcentury modern design. Restrained palettes? Modernist. Bright, primary colors? Midcentury modern. Outdoor living rooms? Both. See more at 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from the Modernists.

We have midcentury modern garden design to thank for (among other things) the rise of the backyard as a destination, lawn mower culture, and the ubiquity of the charcoal grill. And here are 10 ideas, as fresh and modern today as ever, to steal from midcentury modern gardens.

See-Through Walls

Above: “British architect John Winter, who died in 2012 at the age of 82, was known for his quiet modernist designs,” writes Remodelista editor in chief Julie Carlson. “His most celebrated project was his own house, built in 1969, which featured the first domestic use of Corten steel in the UK.” See more of this project in A Lion in Winter: A Midcentury Masterpiece in London on Remodelista. Photograph of the Corten House via Modern Estate Agents.

To emphasize the connection between indoors and out, in midcentury modern homes sliding doors opened onto the garden and large expanses of glass replaced walls to frame views and invite light into the house.

Patio Living

Above: Designer Shamshiri employed neutral tones on her Hollywood Hills patio, with furniture by the Los Angeles artist John Williams to complement built-in seating. For more, see Garden Visit: At Home in the Hollywood Hills with Pamela Shamshiri. Photograph by Nicki Sebastian, courtesy of Rip & Tan.

“The patio became the perfect place for a backyard grill and patio furniture made with new materials like plastic and aluminum,” according to the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit, Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard. A generation that benefited from the postwar prosperity that turned the backyard into what the Smithsonian describes as “an extension of the house, a room designed for relaxing, recreation and entertaining.”

Low-Maintenance Shrubs

Above: Architect and industrial designer Finn Juhl, credited with introducing Danish modern design to the United States, designed his own house in Charlottenlund, Denmark. Simple, geometric blocks of shrubbery line a walkway. Photograph courtesy of Juli Daoust; see more at Kitka.

See more in Daring Color Ideas to Steal from the Finn Juhl House in Copenhagen on Remodelista.

Butterfly Chairs

See more of this garden on Shelter Island, New York in our book, Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.
Above: See more of this garden on Shelter Island, New York in our book, Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

The portable lounge chair was a midcentury modern invention that remains fresh today. “Knoll acquired the US production rights in 1947, and about 5 million chairs were sold during the 1950s alone,” writes our columnist Megan Wilson.

Lightweight butterfly chairs can move from patio to poolside (or indoors to the living room in inclement weather). See more in Object Lessons: The Butterfly Chair.

Primary Colors

Colored panels add exuberance to the facade at Charles and Ray Eames&#8\2\17;s house in Los Angeles. For more see A Modern Garden: At Home with Charles and Ray Eames in California. Photograph by John Zacherle via Flickr.
Above: Colored panels add exuberance to the facade at Charles and Ray Eames’s house in Los Angeles. For more see A Modern Garden: At Home with Charles and Ray Eames in California. Photograph by John Zacherle via Flickr.

Geometric shapes and patterns—as evidenced by flat roofs, angled corners, and cantilevered overhangs—were typical features of midcentury modern homes. To emphasize the squares and rectangles of the architecture bright colors adorned flat panels on facades and walls in gardens.

Natural Stone

&#8\2\20;Even for arch Modernists, natural materials were all-important. Here huge slabs of natural limestone are set into a grassy slope to create a rustic stairway at a hillside house near Carmel, California,&#8\2\2\1; writes Clare Coulson. See more at Required Reading: The Mid-Century Modern Garden by Ethne Clarke. Photograph by Ethne Clarke.
Above: “Even for arch Modernists, natural materials were all-important. Here huge slabs of natural limestone are set into a grassy slope to create a rustic stairway at a hillside house near Carmel, California,” writes Clare Coulson. See more at Required Reading: The Mid-Century Modern Garden by Ethne Clarke. Photograph by Ethne Clarke.

Midcentury modern garden designers placed a premium on the use of local materials, particularly natural stone, which added an organic element to low-maintenance landscapes.

No-Flower Gardens

For more of modernist architect Philip Johnson&#8\2\17;s house, see Glass House Landscape: A &#8\2\16;Permanent Camping Trip&#8\2\17; for Architect Philip Johnson. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.
Above: For more of modernist architect Philip Johnson’s house, see Glass House Landscape: A ‘Permanent Camping Trip’ for Architect Philip Johnson. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

“From inside Johnson’s shimmering box, perched on a promontory overlooking a pond, the view of apparently untamed New England forest and un-mown grass was carefully planned and pruned to resemble both the naturalistic gardens of 18th- and 19th-century Europe and the midwestern farmland of his Ohio childhood,” writes our contributor Betsy Gleick.

Breezy Patios and Courtyards

Above: A steel cantilevered pergola at the Ballantyne House, a midcentury modern house in Christchurch, New Zealand, creates a sheltered hallway and patio. “The architect, Sir Miles Warren, consciously designed homes with a sense of containment and enclosure to protect the inhabitants from the cold, flat Canterbury plain where Christchurch is located,” says owner Pickford Wolfe. Photograph by Sam Hartnett.

To connect indoors to out, open-air breezeways forced residents into the fresh air when they ventured from one wing or room of a house to another. See more at Garden Visit: Landscaping for a Modern House in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Specimen Plants

A single shrub that knows how to take care of itself grows against the facade at the Ballantyne House in New Zealand. Photograph by Mary Gaudin.
Above: A single shrub that knows how to take care of itself grows against the facade at the Ballantyne House in New Zealand. Photograph by Mary Gaudin.

“In mid-century gardens, a scattering of shrubs was low maintenance yet stylish,” writes our contributor Clare Coulson, in her review of The Mid-Century Modern Garden by Ethne Clarke. “While there may be a defined style to mid-century gardens, this was not an era of plantaholics and gardening enthusiasts.”

Curb Appeal

Above: A tongue-and-groove privacy fence and garage door are additions to an otherwise well-preserved midcentury modern exterior. See more of this update by Simo Design in A Masculine Midcentury Revival in LA on Remodelista.

An understated entry and front garden is a hallmark of midcentury modern gardens.

If you’re designing a new garden or rehabbing an existing landscape, get started with tips and inspiration from our curated guides to Garden Design 101. From Shrubs: A Field Guide to our design guide to Decks & Patios, we’ve got growing and design tips tailored to your climate. Read more about midcentury modern design:

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0