Design experts dish on how to create a mid-century outdoor oasis
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Backyard photographs from a bygone era have a certain panache that we covet today, whether it is a poolside paradise or a lush green space crawling with cocktail-carrying guests.
We spoke to several design experts about how to create a mid-century modern oasis in your backyard and have it looking Frank Lloyd Wright-worthy in no time.
No backyard? No problem. Any of these ideas can be modified to fit your small outdoor space.
Outdoor patio furniture with clean lines and neutral colors
The modernist movement of late 19th century inspired more thoughtful furniture designs focused on ergonomic comfort and style. Natural materials and clean lines came into play, and design gravitated to simplicity instead of embellishment. But thankfully, this didn’t mean boring.
Los Angeles designer Mae Brunken says, “Simplicity is key, and repetition is a great way to emphasize the design,” when it comes to furniture for your patio or pool area. “Incorporating refurbished vintage pieces, such as the curvy 1960s and 1970s fiberglass loungers, adds a touch of both history and interest.”
Look for classic pieces like a vintage freestanding hammock, which can impart a certain mid-century laissez-faire with its wonderful yet functional shape, or Cesca-style outdoor chairs.
Although much of the mid-century’s palette is void of color, that also doesn’t have to translate to a neutral yard. According to Brunken, you can’t go wrong with accents of turquoise or any of the other traditional mid-century colors like green, pink, and yellow.
“Built-in seating with decorative throw pillows is a great way to add color, pattern, and comfort to an outdoor space, while saving the more sculptural shapes and lines for accent chairs and tables,” she adds.
- Get the Bullock Outdoor Loveseat at Wayfair for $540
- Get the Mid-century Modern Geometric Orange Throw Pillow from Society6 for $25
- Get the Bates Bavy Metal Outdoor Lounge Chairs at Home Depot for $289
Add texture through furniture by using tactile fitting
Brunken suggests adding a pair of Acapulco side chairs or wire Bertoia dining chairs for a textured twist on your patio furniture.
“The mid-century Brown Jordon metal furniture often had vinyl webbing, which can easily be found in reproductions today,” she explains. She also suggests pairing today’s bamboo pieces with fabric pillows for even more textural contrast.
Sohrab Bakhshi, founder of cityFoundry in Brooklyn’s Industry City, agrees. “Nothing says ‘mid-century modern outdoor oasis’ more than Russell Woodard's Sculptura line of metal mesh furniture that can be painted or powder-coated to match any décor and spiced up with contrasting cushions.”
Bakhshi also suggests adding woven furniture, such as rattan, wicker, and bamboo to covered patios and sunrooms to bring a cozy mid-century vibe.
- Get the Mod Made Chrome Wire Dining Side Chair at Overstock for $131
- Get Songmics Acapulco Chairs and Table on Amazon for $201
- Get the Blu Dot Hot Mesh Lounger Chair at Lumens for $385
Keep it cool with modern outdoor lighting and shade
While twinkle lights are popular outdoor décor, Bakhshi says it's time to swap out that string of bulbs for mid-century style table and floor lamp made from weather-resistant materials.
Also consider adding several rechargeable LED light cubes that can double as side tables.
For shade during the day, Bakhshi's partner, Claudia Cuseta, suggests using a square, cantilever umbrella with clean edges, minimal pole height, and a square base.
- Get the Round Black Sun Shade with Pole at CB2 for $213
- Get the Mr.Go 16-inch Rechargeable LED Light Cube Stool on Amazon for $139
- Get the Purple Leaf 10-foot Square Patio Umbrella at Amazon for $569
Fill your space with modern planters and pots
During the 1950s and 1960s, interior designers worked with natural materials, and the outdoor hard-scapes weren’t ignored. Today, says Brunken, “This can be contrasted by a scattering of ceramic planters, often on metal stands, which is a great way to add staggered heights, shapes, and color. Simplicity in shrubs and specimen plants can also be low maintenance and drought tolerant."
You will need to perform regular lawn maintenance in order to keep your modern backyard oasis looking in tip-top shape, says Cuseta.
“Keep landscaping low, neat, and clean to match the lines of your modern pieces,” she says. “And so you can enjoy your lovely mid-century outdoor [setup] without those pesky mosquitoes!”
- Get the Veradek Metallis Series Steel Planter from Hayneedle starting at $191
- Get the Veradek Plastic Pot Planter at Wayfair for $48
- Get the Iris Indoor/Outdoor Planter Stand at West Elm for $119
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