Blending the minimalist geometry of Modernist design with the easy-going atmosphere required for comfort is the creative challenge of MCM homeowners everywhere. Don’t be fooled by the yard’s relaxed nature—the polished result disguises the intense labor that it required.
For our DIYers, we asked Robert a few questions to get the inside scoop on his creative process and backyard renovation strategies.
I lucked out with my home being positioned at the top of a hill, which also happens to be one of the highest elevations in Sacramento County, so I have a nice, flat rectangular space to work with.
This kept my options pretty open when it came to landscape design, so I wanted to create a space that offered a variety of areas with flexibility to expand and further develop as my vision continues to evolve. Ultimately, I see the backyard as a space to entertain and escape, so having various areas for guests (and myself) to retreat has been a big part of that vision.
Visiting home tours in the Bay Area and Palm Springs have offered a lot of great ideas for minimalist landscapes. I started by cutting down poorly placed trees that were preventing me from maximizing my yard’s potential in early 2017, then replaced the fence around the entire perimeter in the summer of 2018.
My home has acted as a mid century sandbox for restoration and renovation ideas, and the backyard is a prime example of that ideology Knowing how to divide that into usable, livable and inviting spaces that still flow together has proven to be a little daunting at times.
I’m not much of one for hot tubs, so I wasn’t sure what I would do with this area of the yard, and the abandoned concrete didn’t look great. These metal sculptures were originally brushed nickel, but I gave them a vibrant pop with a few coats of bright orange spray paint.
This was one of the more expensive routes I could take, but it provided visual interest, durability, and a classic feel that isn’t seen in every backyard. The dark backdrop and faceted surfaces give surrounding colors, textures, and plants a visual pop.
Just 2 weeks before the Sacramento Mid-Century Modern Home Tour, in which I was participating, we opted to take this project on to make the backyard shine. I had this design on my radar for a couple of years as I had seen a small, 3-foot version in a Sunset magazine publication from the early ‘60s.
The staggered design and bold orange color add visual interest and contrast to the extended black backdrop. I’m always pleased to show beautiful, finished spaces, but delays, difficulties, and road blocks are a real part of any renovation, and I want readers to know they’re not alone in facing challenges along their journey.
Most recently, I had to replace the drainage system in the backyard before constructing the decorative screen and surrounding landscaping. This set me back a day in my fast-paced mission, but it was an important step I had to take to ensure a long-lasting end product. Of all the home renovation projects we’ve tackled in the past 2.5 years, landscaping has proven to be some of the most intense and challenging work.
I’ve found that doing a little research before diving into a project goes a long way, and gives you the confidence to start into your vision.
Before you go grab a shovel, seek inspiration from publications and from spaces you’ve visited, measure, devise a plan, and make sketches. I have grand plans for an in-ground aggregate pool, casita/bar and sun deck, raised garden beds, and additional dryscaping.
And of course, don’t forget to follow Atomic Ranch on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Mid Century Modern inspiration!