Lush landscaping for a mid-century modern home

Bold shapes and foliage soften a home's angular lines

Lush landscaping for a mid-century modern home

An abundance of grasses ― including golden pheasant's tail and green Miscanthus transmorrisonensis ― lends softness and movement to the garden, while agaves and other succulents add starchier textures.

Steven Gunther

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Good designs are sometimes like good intentions: They start off right but can veer off track, losing sight of their original direction.

That's what happened at Gary and Cindy Bonifield's home in San Luis Obispo, California. Built in 1961, it had strong, clean lines and lots of windows with good views. The front window had the best one, looking out toward Cerro San Luis mountain and Bishop Peak. The architect had taken full advantage of that view, angling the house so it faced the two mountains head-on, which created a series of triangular landscaping spaces whose angularity made the house look even more modern.

Problem was, the landscaping fought the intent of the house. The strong line of junipers in the parkway, marching resolutely downhill, was so insistent that you noticed little else. Trees blurred the home's clean outlines. And too many verticals ― all those pickets in the fence and rails on the upper deck ― fought its clearly horizontal style.

Landscape architect Jeffrey Gordon Smith helped the Bonifields resolve these problems. He removed the offending landscape, replaced the existing fence with an ipe wood screen that has definite horizontal lines, and used ipe supports and nearly invisible wire cable for the balcony railing. Smith and the Bonifields decided to repaint the house from sunny yellow ― more suitable for a cottage ― to a contemporary earthy buff that enhances the home's striking shape.

With the removal of an overgrown pyracantha, the front door was finally visible. But the steps leading to it still looked daunting, even treacherous; they went straight up, without landings or railing. "Most people used the driveway instead," Cindy says. Smith designed new stairs with much wider steps and several switchbacks along the way to slow the journey, plus generous landings that encourage pausing to admire the landscape en route.


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