Tour a Milwaukee Mid Century landscape where architecture, plants and hardscapes are a union of modern thought.
Mid Century Modern landscape design isn’t fussy. Distinguished by clean lines, linear pathways and geometric angles, its aesthetic feels solid, compact and straightforward. It presents a kind of curb appeal that a layperson might believe took no time at all to accomplish. In truth, mid century landscape design isn’t just about pretty plants. Rather, it’s a confluence of architecture, horticulture and art, and its success requires intentionality and design aptitude in equal measure.
“Mid Century Modern landscape design isn’t easy. The style is challenging and there are many levels of detail,” says James Drzewiecki CPLD, an award-winning designer and principal of Ginkgo Leaf Studio, a landscape design firm in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.
James and his team, whose combined backgrounds encompass architecture, art and design, take a holistic approach when it comes to planning a project. They consider the totality of a mid-century design in relation to other factors, including zone, wildlife, soil, environment, a client’s wish list (and budget) and, of course, the home itself. “The Mid Century Modern movement is about the intentional blurring of the indoors and outdoors,” James says. “Landscaping is arguably even more important to a mid-century home than it is to a traditional home because the style needs to be consistent. We seek to understand what the architect was thinking; we let the house speak to us.”
Mid Century Landscape in Milwaukee and the Midwest
The mid century landscape of this Milwaukee, Wisconsin dwelling was in desperate need of a refresh thanks to overgrown, declining foliage and neglected walkways and outdoor living spaces. The home, located on a corner lot, is one of several Mid Century Modern homes in its community. “The homes in the neighborhood are all spectacular,” James says. “The bar was set pretty high in terms of what we were going to do.”
The homeowners wanted to elevate the curb appeal while increasing the usable outdoor space. One of the first things James did after walking the property was ask for a tour of the inside. “The view from inside the house to the landscape is just as important as the view from outside the house,” he explains. “The interior of this residence is stunning; we didn’t want to lose that vibe.”
James and the team relied heavily on the lines, angles and corners of the home’s structure to inform their design choices. In the front, they replaced unruly yew and nondescript foliage with symmetrical rows and sectioned beds of low-maintenance shrubs and grasses. They installed a linear bed—filled with slate chip mulch and designed to the precise width of the chimney—that serves to connect the landscaping as a unit to the home. The addition of a circular bed in direct view of the front entrance adds texture that balances a pristine concrete walk, laid in sections divided by bluestone inlays. The result is a clean continuity of design.
Front to Back Landscape Design
The same hardscape aesthetic continues around to the backyard, where the team completely transformed what was an uninspiring patio into an energetic outdoor space with a circular fire deck, an eating area and a hammock.
“We wanted to create a series of outdoor rooms that would feel connected,” James says, noting that the materials used in the design—namely concrete, natural stone and wood—also play to the home’s lines, angles and corners. “When we angle spaces in relation to the house, it creates an interesting visual dynamic,” he says. “That’s why the patio is angled away from the house. It changed the feel and the view entirely.”
Of the time, energy and effort that goes into a mid-century landscape design, James notes that staying mindful of the client, the home and the integrity of the style is important to the process and the project’s success.
“It’s not just about creating a beautiful environment,” he says. “The greatest compliment is when somebody says that our designs could be original to the house, that they belong there.”
For more information about Ginkgo Leaf Studio, visit ginkgoleafstudio.net.
Check out more of their work by reading A Wisconsin Yard Gets a Dream Modern Makeover. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Mid Century Modern inspiration!