Ideas for Modding Up Your Outdoor Space

by Lynne Rostochil

 

In case you don’t know it by now, one of my very favorite mid century publications is Living For Young Homemakers magazine, which was always full of great architecture and design and which was around all through the 1950s but sadly folded into the much less sassy McCall’s in 1961.

While looking through a couple of issues recently, I found a lot of great outdoor landscaping and design ideas that you might find interesting if you’re wanting to liven up your backyard space before summer rears its steaming hot head.

LFYH outdoors driveway

Pattern for Accent: It can range from a small statue to a summer house

As the key to personality in a home, accents do not lose their importance at the terrace door.  On the contrary, the significance of accent pattern is, if anything, increased when it comes to planning outdoor rooms.  Space in the open air seems larger and more diffuse.  If it is to be brought into relation to human scale, if it is to be personalized, accents must be carefully considered.  Exactly what is an accent in exterior decoration?  It can be a dwarf evergreen, placed just where the eye can best catch its gnarled form; it can be the plastic panel which decoratively delineates a solarium; it can be the trellis that adds a sense of shelter to a summer pavilion or the constantly changing elongation of shadow pattern cast on the paving below.  Night illumination creates a whole new world of garden accents: a clump of shrubbery whose texture might pass unnoticed by day comes to life under a floodlight.  Eye-catchers are easily devised when you think of them as pawns in the fascinating game of garden planting.

LFYH - outdoor shoji

LFYH whimsical outdoor

Pattern for Harmony: A theme is all-important in outdoor room planning

“What goes with what” is not a question limited to interior decoration.  The problem of blending pattern is also a difficult one in planning outdoor rooms — perhaps even more difficult since, besides the pattern in furniture and accessories, you have the unlimited color and texture of nature to choose from.  A theme helps enormously to “pull it all together.”  For example, in the garden below, geometric pattern establishes the theme — in a garden bench, in planters, an overhead trellis, in paving and in planting beds.  In another set of circumstances, an oriental motif or a contrast of textures is found equally effective.

As a focal point of interest, a garden shelter becomes the major accent in an outdoor living area.
As a focal point of interest, a garden shelter becomes the major accent in an outdoor living area.
Concrete rectangle, scored at right angles to pattern of a bench, is the focal point.  Surrounding grass and planting beds take their dimensions from this central module.  Designed by landscape architect John Vogley
Concrete rectangle, scored at right angles to pattern of a bench, is the focal point. Surrounding grass and planting beds take their dimensions from this central module. Designed by landscape architect John Vogley
An oriental motif themes a small garden, with a low screen of hardboard panels framed in redwood serving as a backdrop for display of picturesque dwarf evergreens.  Gravel ground cover is a textural complement to the shaggy shrubbery.
An oriental motif themes a small garden, with a low screen of hardboard panels framed in redwood serving as a backdrop for display of picturesque dwarf evergreens. Gravel ground cover is a textural complement to the shaggy shrubbery.
Horizontal lines of a small sun-deck provide an interplay of pattern with the concrete block wall which screens a front yard.  Planting adds color and softens the angular composition.  Deck is an easily made do-it-yourself design of redwood plank.
Horizontal lines of a small sun-deck provide an interplay of pattern with the concrete block wall which screens a front yard. Planting adds color and softens the angular composition. Deck is an easily made do-it-yourself design of redwood plank.

Pattern for Background: Garden boundaries can be defined to enhance nature

Since most of us are not blessed with vast acreage, we have boundaries to look to.  Fences can do a number of things besides keep the children in and stray dogs out.  They can afford privacy from neighbors’ gazes; they can serve as outdoor room dividers; they can screen drying yards and other service areas.  In so doing, they become part of the view and pattern becomes an important element to consider.  Fences can be designed to seemingly widen your plot: to accentuate special planting, to lead the eye to a focal point in the garden.  New and old materials are being combined in fascinating ways that make an imaginative, plain-Jane fence a thing of the past.  Another major source of pattern is the background created by the underfoot area of the garden.  Decking, paving, and lush ground cover offer virtually limitless pattern and texture possibilities.

Redwood strips add texture and pattern to a sturdy fence constructed of 4 by 4 redwood posts, with cap and verticals of 2 by 4s.  Play of light on strips provides interesting shadow pattern.
Redwood strips add texture and pattern to a sturdy fence constructed of 4 by 4 redwood posts, with cap and verticals of 2 by 4s. Play of light on strips provides interesting shadow pattern.
An outdoor room divider shields a facade from the street, also creates a small living area.  For privacy, vines will be trained to cover the baffle.  Landscape architect, John Vogley
An outdoor room divider shields a facade from the street, also creates a small living area. For privacy, vines will be trained to cover the baffle. Landscape architect, John Vogley
Curved fence of translucent plastic panels attached to wood frame follows the contour of textured paving.  Strips were nailed to frame for additional pattern.  Landscape architect, Eric Clough.
Curved fence of translucent plastic panels attached to wood frame follows the contour of textured paving. Strips were nailed to frame for additional pattern. Landscape architect, Eric Clough.
Paving pattern is an interplay of squares and circles.  Grids, painted black, define areas of fine and coarse gravel.  The circles are segments  of concrete drainage collars, planted with bright flowers.
Paving pattern is an interplay of squares and circles. Grids, painted black, define areas of fine and coarse gravel. The circles are segments of concrete drainage collars, planted with bright flowers.