WORDS: Rob Bowman | IMAGES: Tahvory Bunting
When updating mid-century gems, homeowners are faced with the conundrum of marrying technological modernization with historic preservation. So it becomes a noble move, indeed, when owners take it one step further and not only preserve the integrity of the architecture and façade, but recreate the original landscape, as well. The Sawyers are those people.
When Nic Leggett at Three Sixty Design was hired to transform the yard of their Krisana Park home, homeowner Gene Sawyer had a request: that the landscape architects “create a distinguishable but coherent design within their mid-century neighborhood.” It not only had to be faithful to the pedigree of the home, but it also needed to adapt to an age where water conservation is a given and economy of design is treasured. Not only that, the Sawyers needed a yard fit for their two young children.
“We wanted to renovate the landscape and bring it up to the speed of modern life while being faithful to mid-century design,” Leggett said. The front of the home had been neglected before the Sawyers bought it, and it needed serious attention. But there was not a limitless budget. For inspiration, Leggett looked to the originals. Palm Springs has a treasure trove of mid-century homes and absorbed a good deal from looking at their landscapes. “We also collected a lot of old photos from other mid-century planned communities along with textural/landscape inspiration photos to learn about what kinds of landscapes were originally included,” said Leggett. “We were able to look at design and even what species of plants were being used at the time,” including junipers and the use of big sod in front yards.
Drawing from designs of the past, he was able to discern something of the intentions by the original architects. But updating the design meant that it had to be not just a showpiece, but also a livable space—a place that would need minimal upkeep and where the children could play. What’s more, Leggett would have materials available to him that didn’t exist when the home was built in the 1950s.
A standout in regard to materials is the weathering steel that forms the island the grass sits upon. The steel has a finish that rusts and develops a patina-like iron, but the patina only penetrates to just below the surface, preserving the integrity and strength of the metal while providing a rich, organic color. “We turned the idea of the lawn as background and turned it into lawn-as-object by raising it with the steel band,” said Leggett.
The ’50s saw a plethora of ceramic pots, but they are not the best material in Denver’s climate. Instead, Leggett found the Bones line of pots by Italian manufacturer Vondom. “They are a nod to the mid-century style ceramic but also have something a little more progressive and their shape,” said Leggett.
But not all of the materials and elements were new and cutting edge. Sometimes the best solution for aesthetics and budget takes looking to the past. The landscape has a swath of crushed white marble. While it was popular to the point of saturation through the ’50s and ’60s, that popularity resulted in its being designated stiff and old. To the contrary, it is inexpensive, readily available, and produces a stark contrast, which complements mid-century design. The crushed white marble outlines the raised weathering steel island of grass like a sandy beach and is lined with river rock; smaller poured islands of concrete form a walkway to the home.
“Mid-century design has a wonderful potential for tying inside and outside together and we wanted to really push that,” Leggett said. This was partly achieved in the choice of plants that were used. The Sawyers painted the home a rich charcoal color and used bright green accents. The river rock nicely paired with the charcoal and the Bones pots were filled with angelica sedum plants, which pop with a brilliant sharp green.
While being mindful of budget, the Three Sixty Design delivered to the Sawyers everything they wanted: a modern look that is currently responsible and a yard where their children can play. The family particularly loves “the steel elements and island nature” of the lawn. It is low-maintenance and environmentally responsible. It is a solution to being faithful to original intentions while adapting to new techniques and materials. And it serves to enhance their home. ♦
Tips for Trimming the Edges
Nic Leggett at Three Sixty Design knows renovators don’t always have enormous budgets. Here are his tips for updating your space on a budget.
Use native plants. They are going to thrive and look beautiful. In addition to those at the Sawyer home, look to Red Flowering Yucca. It looks nearly tropical when blooming.
Use less popular materials. You may have to hunt around for them, but their lack of popularity will provide two large benefits: They are inexpensive and they will be unusual, giving your landscape a unique feel.
Repurpose materials. Look at what you have. How can it be reclaimed and reused? There are also businesses in the area with reclaimed, odd materials. With some invention, they can be used in innovative ways.
Change the levels of the yard. Changing the topography, even slightly, can make for a dramatic effect.
Research isn’t just for professionals. Look for ideas, whether that is an inspirational image or a new material you want to use. That is where the best ideas come from. Look at things other people aren’t looking at such as old photographs, so that you have something unique. Having something different doesn’t just provide with something visually interesting, it gives a story to your home. Everything is better when it has a good story with it.