Guest-blogger Ted Cleary, ASLA, of Studio Cleary Landscape Architecture offers insights into midcentury modern garden design. Today’s post is the wrap-up of his first “Case Study Garden”.
MCM enthusiasts will be familiar with Arts & Architecture magazine’s legendary design feature known as the “Case Study House Program”. From its inception near the war’s end in 1945, through 1966, the CSH Program showcased innovative modernist designs, many of them modest, others more grand, meant to address the postwar housing needs of the typical American family. Like the CSH examples, some unbuilt, others still existing, these Case Study gardens strive to offer solutions you can apply to your own outdoor spaces.
In Part One, we looked at a very traditional home, in the French Provincial style, whose owners nevertheless have a very modernist sensibility. Besides giving me a clear direction as to their desires, their contemporary art collection reinforced the sort of taste they shared. My challenge was: “How can I get these these two seemingly incongruous directions to ‘speak’ to each other in some complementary way?”
The existing lower level’s outdoor space was an inadequately-small bulbed-out patio, with a formless curving wall wrapping around one side of it to hold back the significant grade change. But the clients had an ambitious program, for both an active family-with-kids and for grownup entertaining: full outdoor kitchen and cocktail bar, and various bells & whistles that are part of many clients’ wish-lists such as pizza oven, TV, outdoor heater, and some kind of fire feature. A pool was also mentioned as a possible future-phase item (seen here at the far-left of the Conceptual Plan).
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The design solution is a multi-layered composition of orthogonal elements. The large Holly tree at the end of the existing patio, a nice specimen in an otherwise open yard, was worth saving and working around. That high curved wall is replaced by a com-fortably-lower right-angled one, creating seatwalls that wrap around two sides of a stepped-up terrace. Family and friends sitting at both terrace and bar can enjoy the natural-gas linear fireplace. Square planters step down and around the existing columns adjacent to the upper deck’s stairs down to the yard. Taken together, all these elements transition down to the lower level in a terraced, gradual fashion.
The kitchen area becomes “defined” by its square, flat canopy overhead. This not only provides some shelter from sun or an unexpected rain, and a logical place for recessed task lighting (controlled by dimmer switches....always include dimmer switches!), but also a more cozy sense of enclosure, so the cook and his companions at the bar don’t feel so exposed next to the looming deck and three-story house. An “oculus” --- a simple but dramatic circular opening in the roof --- relieves some of the heavy dark feeling of the kitchen, located off to the side away from the cook. The flat roof is not wasted; it becomes a “green roof”, covered in an interesting tapestry of sedums that makes for a much more enjoyable view down onto it from the home’s occupants.
At the bar, a formed-in trough in the concrete countertop aligns with a simple “waterfall” on the wall (really, just iridescent tiles that mimic one), to serve as a place for chilled water or ice among beer and wine. One of the roof columns is larger, housing a pizza oven; at the other end, a “spider leg” column, an element devised and often employed by architect Richard Neutra, is for both interest and function, opening up the space and circulation.
Could you envision integrating a modernist garden into your tradional home’s outdoor space? If you look beyond the obvious, and find fresh ways to reference the existing --- in this case, with the same brick as used in the house, but assembled in a ‘cleaner’, less ornamental way, and with bronze-painted metal elements that echo the color & material of the house’s standing-seam metal mansard roof --- it might just feel more “right” than you first thought.
All images credited to: Studio Cleary Landscape Architecture
Written by: Ted Cleary, ASLA