By — Ted Cleary, ASLA / Studio Cleary Landscape Architecture
When it comes to creating a period landscape for your Midcentury Modern home, it’s all about the garden geometry and the hardscaping. Plants are plants; they don’t care whether they’re part of a “French Chateau” garden design or an “MCM” garden design . But it’s in the shapes of constructed elements of wood, concrete, masonry, metal, that a design vocabulary asserts itself. One such component, all the more visible because of its three-dimensional qualities, is fencing.
When you think of a fence, what definition comes to mind? You probably see it as a practical way to keep someone (or Fido) in or out. But I urge you to think of it in broader terms. When it comes to creating enclosure for outdoor “rooms”, the subject can be interpreted anywhere from the actual physical security provided by a high fence surrounding a property’s perimeter, to just a subtle suggestion of privacy screening that doesn’t lock anything out except curious eyes from certain directions. It can be a work of art rather than just a utilitarian means to an end.
The midcentury landscape architects, notably people like Garrett Eckbo and Bob Royston, used fences and other vertical elements to great effect to create this infinitely-varied range of enclosure. They found inspiration from the Expressionist painters of the early- and mid-20th century, which they translated both on the ground plane and vertically. And, just like their counterparts designing homes, they were driven by a basic premise of using off-the-shelf materials to compose inventive, bold, but affordable design suitable for the explosion of the post-war middle class.
Note that there’s no rule that says you have to limit a fence to the property line; fences and walls can likewise be used to delineate outdoor spaces in whatever form a design theme, and circulation through and around it, suggest. A landscape architect should approach the task thinking not solely “Where does the property line run?”, but rather “What kind of subtle geometry is going on in the house that we can take inspiration from?”
In subsequent blog posts we’ll explore more aspects of fences and enclosure for Midcentury Modern gardens: appropriate materials; the different spatial experiences created by varying fence heights or amount of ‘transparency’; when you might want fences or walls to be an extension of the house’s own material vs. a design that stands in dramatic contrast. But for now when you realize you need to contain Fido in the backyard, after you’ve spent untold energy making your Atomic Ranch or International Style home perfect, outfitted with that cool Eames lounge chair you scored on Craigs List, realize that you don’t need to just accept the standard choices from the fence aisle at the orange big-box store!
— Ted Cleary, ASLA / Studio Cleary Landscape Architecture