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The ongoing resilience and appeal of mid-century design includes exterior spaces that satisfy both the eye and lifestyle of today’s homeowners.

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Landscape design took the same leap forward as architecture and residential construction in the heady days just after World War II. The war years were characterized by government-promoted victory gardens, which encouraged people to grow their own vegetables so that large-scale farms could produce food for the troops. The effort was wildly successful. By 1943, there were approximately 18 million victory gardens throughout the country, and at one point, the amount of fruit and vegetables they produced equaled all commercial production combined.

Photo Credit: Gardening Know How

After the war, though, homeowners throughout the US celebrated victory and the unbridled optimism it unleashed. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, lawns were brilliantly colored palettes of carefully arranged roses, rhododendrons, marigolds, and the like. However, within a relatively short time, fashionable landscaping began to emphasize the simplicity and balance between man-made structures and natural elements that mid-century modern home design promoted.

It was a rejection of traditional lawn, garden, and landscape design that was seen as overly ornate and formal. Natural materials such as stone and wood were combined with geometric patterns that emphasized the land itself, and the selection of plantings that were meant to mimic the typically long, low, and streamlined aesthetic of the new modern home.

One advantage of mid-century modern landscaping is that it essentially never went out of style. And with the renewed interest in homes and buildings of that era, the landscaping itself is key to the curb appeal of these homes when they go on the market.

Photo Credit: Spaces Magazine

Mid-Century Modern Inspired Landscaping Ideas

Japanese-inspired design caught on in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and it is relatively easy to replicate in almost any climate. It features large stones placed seemingly at random in gravel beds, with trees and shrubs here and there. However, the design is anything but unintentional. In actuality, every element is carefully placed to create a sense of calm and peace.

Photo Credit: Atomic Ranch

Geometric shapes and patterns of gravel or crushed stone can be used to create pathways or beds for shrubs. Raised beds made from wooden slats, stone, or brick can be used to “accessorize” the space with pops of color.

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Certain plants and shrubs lend themselves to the mid-century exterior design aesthetic. Native wildflowers and grasses look natural and effortless. Boxwood and Holly are ideal for creating hedges and borders, adding structure and symmetry. Hostas create thick, lush banks of multiple hues of green, while daylilies, black-eyed Susans, and cornflowers add natural colors that blend artfully into almost any landscape plan. These all share one common advantage for the homeowner: they are perennials, so they reliably come back every year and require relatively little maintenance.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Other styles lend themselves to particular regions. In desert areas where the “Palm Springs Look” flourished, very specific stylistic trends emerged to complement the popular swooping butterfly roofs. Not only that, they had practical applications that made them ahead of their time.

Many front yards in dry areas where it is warm year-round feature geometrically perforated concrete “screens” or breeze block walls. They are not only decorative but also serve as permeable fences and walls to filter sun and wind, and offer privacy. Before air conditioning and double-paned glass became common, they helped keep homes cool by allowing air to pass through freely. Using native vegetation is on trend nationwide, but it began in earnest in the 1950s and 60s in desert communities. Cacti, succulents, and palm trees, all native to the desert, have been part of home landscaping in those areas for years.

Photo Credit: J.S. Enterprises

The Mid-Century Modern Era: Shaping the Family Landscape

The mid-century modern era also gave birth to the notion of the nuclear family, a unique mid-20th-century concept of what the ideal family life looks like. That included making the home’s exterior an extension of the family’s living space, designed for relaxation, entertaining, and recreation. Access to the outdoors, and the welcoming patios, gardens, and lawns created another aspect of “home” that drives the ongoing popularity of the mid-century modern dwelling.


Buying, selling, and renovating Mid-Century Modern homes around the Kansas City metro is Ashley Kendrick’s passion! For expert advice no matter where you are in your homeownership journey, schedule a meeting with Ashley today!