Stephen Kent Johnson/Otto
A patch of fescue, a hardy no-mow grass, is surrounded by planting areas. A tight edit of plants, like aeonium and agave, keep the yard feeling sleek, not busy.

A playful garden with uncut grasses and rounded edges softens an angular mid-century home in Marin County.

Christine Lennon  – May 4, 2021 | Updated May 6, 2021

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A large patch of no­-mow fescue grows long and windswept under a Giant Se­quoia in the yard of this 1953 modern house, recently remodeled by the mod­ernist masters at Marmol Radziner. It sig­nals to anyone who wanders past that de­spite its pristine lines and mid­century pedigree, this house wants to play it a little loose. 

“The owners’ wishes were to create a park­-like environ­ment that could accommodate a new guest house and am­ple space for recreation,” says Ron Radziner, one of the principles of the Los Angeles–based design­-build firm known for its show­stopping new construction and expert way of updating classic mid­century architecture. Their work has become so synonymous with sleek, chic Los Ange­les style that few people realize that they have an office in the Bay Area. The team is clearly just as adept at carving out playful living spaces hidden in the forests of Marin County as they are creating minimalist sanctuaries in the blazing sun further south. 

Mid-Century Modern Outdoor Furniture
Bay area design firm Chroma chose outdoor furniture with curvilinear shapes inspired by stones and mushrooms, like these Vondom stone lounge chairs. ($875, lumens.com)

Stephen Kent Johnson/Otto

“From inside the home, the view outward of the canopy of trees creates the feeling of being inside of a treehouse,” says Radziner. “It was important that the landscape honor the site and its existing character, while creating moments of focal interest where the family can gather and enjoy the property, spaces to run around, play, and entertain without being fussy or too formal.” 

The trick to creating a streamlined, contemporary gar­den is to use fewer varieties of plants in larger mass. By sticking to a smaller range of finely edited textures and blocking out large areas devoted to just one type of plant, the vibe is minimal without feeling austere. Throughout the property, Japanese maples provide spots of seasonal color, like punctuation marks in a sea of green. A decades­-old ap­ple tree planted by the original owners remains untouched. Areas for larger gatherings and quiet conversation are tucked all around the garden, furnished with mushroom­-shaped side tables and Italian cork seats that lean in to the quirky, organic-­modern feel of the house and its surroundings. 

Fire Pit and Outdoor Furniture
A grouping of six identical cork chairs and reclaimed wood stools, arranged around an open fire pit on a kidney-shaped patio, is a wholly unique approach to outdoor conversation seating.

Stephen Kent Johnson/Otto

“This garden serves as a reminder that it’s best to work with what you have. Allow some of the quirkiness of an existing home and garden to help tell the story of the site,” Radziner adds. “Find ways to enhance the existing landscape. Don’t try to fight it.” 

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