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Mid-Century Hardscapes and Feature Elements with Ginkgo Leaf Studio

24 min read Remember the delightful Jim Drzewiecki from Ginkgo Leaf Studio? We barely scratched the surface of all the listener landscaping questions we received last season. So, naturally, I had to bring him back on the podcast to continue our chat! Today, we’re diving in on hardscaping and adding feature elements to your landscape.

Hardscaping includes any solid surfaces in your yard – think patios, walkways and driveways. These elements aren’t just practical; they set the stage for the entire landscape design. While many folks think landscaping is all about plants, according to Jim it’s actually the hardscape that lays the groundwork for everything else.

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • Why concrete may be the perfect mid-century hardscape. 
  • How to work through your mid-century landscape design. 
  • Where feature elements can add livability and interest to a simple mid-century yard. 

So, what materials should we consider for our mid-century hardscapes? Jim has some great suggestions:

Concrete

Your mid-century ranch may have come with a (slightly sad?) concrete patio nestled in a sea of grass. And concrete is still the hero of mid-century landscaping – relatively affordable, versatile, and perfectly in line with the period’s style. Concrete is almost always appropriate for mid-century homes, making it the go-to choice for creating a sleek, modern look.

Brick

This one’s a bit pricier but can work wonders if it complements your existing architecture. If your house already features brick elements like a chimney or wall, brick paving can tie everything together beautifully. Planter in the front, pavers in the back! Just be careful not to overdo it, or you might end up with a yard that feels more overwhelming than cohesive.

Natural Stone 

For those willing to splurge a bit, local stones are an elegant choice. And, as we’ve talked about many times a mix of materials is one of the cornerstones of mid-century design. Stone can add a natural, timeless beauty to any yard, though it comes at a higher price point.

While all these materials may work in your landscape, they may not all work for your budget. Concrete is the most budget-friendly option, costing about $10 per square foot in the Milwaukee area. Brick can be two and a half times that cost, while natural stone can reach up to five times the cost of concrete. It’s a bit of a shocker, but it’s all about balancing your dreams with your budget. 

Even if your budget requires that you work with your original rectangle of concrete, why not break it up into functional “outdoor rooms”? Think dining areas, lounging zones, or grilling spots. Each space should serve a specific purpose, making your yard not just beautiful but also highly functional. Considering expanding your concrete just enough using geometric shapes and dividing large spaces into smaller sections to keep things dynamic. Concrete might be the budget-friendly option, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring!

Jim advises starting with the big picture – the hardscapes – before moving on to adding plants and smaller details. Think of hardscaping as building the walls and roof of a room to define the space. Once the hardscape is in place, you can add the “dressing” – the plants and decorations that bring everything to life. 

Next define the feature elements you’d like to add. Consider pergolas, fire pits, and other features to add both functionality and aesthetic appeal. A pergola can provide much-needed shade for a dining area, while a fire pit is a cozy addition that extends the usability of your yard into cooler seasons.

Go ahead and start dreaming up your perfect mid-century outdoor oasis!

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Read the Full Episode Transcript

Della Hansmann 

When you love a mid-century home, you want to love the yard around it, you want to make great choices for mid-century landscaping. Last season, I had such a great free flowing conversation with Jim Drzewiecki of Ginkgo Leaf Studio, that we didn’t even get to several of the official questions I’ve been meaning to pass along to him.

Della Hansmann 

I had to have him back on the podcast. And that is happening today. So get ready for some great advice on how to plan the space around your mid-century home to best effect. We’re going to talk about mid-century landscaping materials, what different materials might cost, the layouts of spaces, how to figure out how what you do in your yard affects the kinds of spaces you create, and how to work with the rules of your local municipality. Yes, there are landscaping rules, just like there’s a building code.

Della Hansmann 

Hey there. Welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is the show about updating NCM homes, helping you match your mid-century home into your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann, architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, and you are listening to Episode 1801.

Della Hansmann 

So before we get into this, feel free to lean back and listen or maybe pause right now and go grab your favorite way to take notes. Because this is an action packed episode. If by the way, thinking about the yard around your mid-century home, as you’re wishing for some house itself, curb appeal updates, you might want to check out my free checklist of easy front door area updates.

Della Hansmann 

I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for you to find them. Oh, and of course, the transcript of this conversation and some gorgeous photos of past ginkgo leaf projects at mid mod dash midwest.com/ 1801. Here you go.

Della Hansmann 

So let’s talk about hardscape. First off, what do we even mean when we say hardscape? What is that in a landscape context?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, when we use that term, we have to remind ourselves that maybe your average homeowner really doesn’t know what that means. And a lot of people that reach out to us sometimes don’t realize that landscape designers actually design hardscapes. Yeah, so it’s important that there is a definition to that. And it really is mostly any paved surface. I mean front walk patio, even driveways, we designed a few driveways. But we also kind of rope into that. fire pits, fireplaces, pergolas, grill islands, really the more built things kind of fall under that bigger umbrella of hardscaping.

Della Hansmann 

It can be the crossover between what you do and what an architect like Nevada glass might do. And both pieces are they come together really importantly, outside of a house. It can’t just be Well, I suppose. Do you ever do a yard that has no hard surface? It’s just plants and sod and green things? Or do you always incorporate a hardscape element?

Jim Drzewiecki 

No, it really depends on the client. That’s a great question. Because really, every project is different because every client is different. Yeah. Occasionally, we get the client who says I don’t want any lawn. So let’s just put in all plants. We’ve had a few blank slates, we had an Illinois project a few years ago, the house was there for 20 years, without a patio. And

Della Hansmann 

just a house sitting in an island of grass.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yes, they walk, but no patio. And honestly, after we did our design, the client literally said, I wish I hadn’t waited 20 years to do this.

Della Hansmann 

Bless their heart, well, but then now they haven’t now. So that’s good for sure. So when people are thinking about hardscaping, or paving, what are the pros and cons of different paving choices, what’s on the menu?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Well, for sure, in terms of paving choices, cost cannot be avoided. And once you get to the higher end of per square foot costs, suddenly the hardscaping can be 75% of the overall budget.

Della Hansmann 

Wow.

Jim Drzewiecki 

So it’s important to look at what are the price points of the different types of paving. The best news to me for people who are mid-century homes. Is that concrete, which is still the least expensive material is honestly period correct. Almost always. Yeah.

Della Hansmann 

What else would you consider for a mid-century home? Is there anything Well, first off, is there anything that’s not a mid-century appropriate hardscape?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Concrete pavers from Home Depot

Della Hansmann 

Right? They have an indelibly New Look, don’t they?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, they have an 80s to 90s Look to me. They do fade over time. So if they were attempting to be brick red originally, they’ve kind of faded to an odd soft pink 20 It’s later. So right off the bat, I would say that’s the number one. Don’t do it. Not mid-century paving material. Yeah. On the opposite side of that coin, though, depending on where the project is made of stone of some kind may be a typical and appropriate paving material in the Midwest, as you know, the local limestone, which we call lannon stone in Southeast Wisconsin, as a quarry that produces it is in the town of Lannon. But flagstone will using local native stone is probably the second choice after concrete.

Della Hansmann 

Well, it’s great when the least expensive choice is also the number one choice. And that’s honestly that’s true. So much of a mid-century interior as well. It’s not an era that was all about luxury. It was about livability practicality, using industrial materials and interesting ways. So it’s on the inside it’s plywood, it’s simple pine finishes, it’s tile countertops, rather than your marble your sort of your high end your Lux things Same is true outside.

Jim Drzewiecki 

For sure.

Della Hansmann 

What else is on the other possibilities list in addition to using a great flagstone or concrete?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Well, smack dab in the middle, between concrete and natural stone in terms of cost is Brick. There are some mid-century homes that have brick chimneys, brick, wainscoting across the front. And I’m not opposed to using brick paving when we can play off the house. Again, the number one thing I always keep in mind with brick is if the entire house is Brick, then I’m likely going to not recommend brick for the paving because it can become overwhelming number one. And number two, of course, if the house was built in the 50s, or 60s, and let’s say it even has the really nice thin Roman brick on it, we’re not going to be able to match that brick. Yeah.

Della Hansmann 

And we find the same thing when we’re looking for materials for an addition, citing. If a house has really great brick, the instinct is like, well, let’s do another brick wall. No, because we’re not going to be able to match the quality won’t look the same. So yeah, that’s an interesting, if there’s a little break, you might be able to pick it up. But if there’s too much break, then the answer becomes now. Yeah.

Jim Drzewiecki 

And one other comment about brick. Most people don’t know this. But House brick is manufactured differently than bricks that are meant to be used for paving

Della Hansmann 

how so?

Jim Drzewiecki 

they fire it differently. Because they know it’s going to be in constant contact with moisture as a paving brick. They manufacture it differently. So every now and then we have a client who says Well, I have leftover brick from my house. Can’t we use that for a porch or a sidewalk? And the answer always is no. If you’ve ever seen it done, oftentimes those bricks are starting to crumble and disintegrate.

Della Hansmann 

You know, this, I’ve learned something new. And I’ve learned that that’s why you see those crumbling brick. In fact, my parents once had a house that had brick details that were picking up the brick in the house and they had fractured really, surprisingly, they must have been fascinating.

Della Hansmann 

Well, I often spend a lot of time talking on podcast on the blog about not painting the mid-century brick of your house because you’ll among other aesthetic and philosophical concerns, you’re gonna mess with the water permeability of the material. And we just, we need to let brick be what it is.

Della Hansmann 

And now there’s another added thing of landscaping brick needs to be let do the job it was designed to do. Fascinating. So if you’re gonna stick with concrete, what would you do with concrete to make it particularly suitable to a mid-century project is their shape and arrangement you choose?

Jim Drzewiecki 

I think the best thing you can do and we’ve talked about this previously is look for the geometry of the house to kind of guide you look for details on the house shapes, geometry. That’s my starting point. And if there’s a strong angle on the house that maybe the pavings going to have an angle to it. I can go the opposite way though, too.

Jim Drzewiecki 

We’re working on a Usonian style house in Illinois right now. So it’s very basic and square and the bulk of the house has a flat roof. And we went back and forth on whether we should do what we call a rectilinear design which is lots of straight lines and 90 degree corners because it had a hidden ala Franklin Llyod Wright front door set way back from the front facade of the house, we wanted to make sure people were guided to the real front door.

Jim Drzewiecki 

And when go through sort of the side door that the homeowner uses. So we came up with an angle. And then really, as I sketched it, the whole design kind of just bloomed from making that one angle decision. And we carried it through the whole design, front yard courtyard backyard.

Della Hansmann 

So that’s great.

Jim Drzewiecki 

In that case, we kind of ignored the fact that the house was very square and rectangular, and, and brought in this really bold angle.

Della Hansmann 

So in this case, at least, you started from the hardscaping, and then went out into the rest of the design. Is that typical when you’re thinking about the design for landscape?

Jim Drzewiecki 

100%? That is such a great question, Della, because even when I used to teach landscape design, the students always focus on the plants first. Because that to them, while certainly is the easiest subject matter, because you can just pull a tag out of a plant, and it tells you how big it gets and what kind of light it needs. But you can get bogged down, because it’s like picking carpet or tile samples, right?

Della Hansmann 

Yes. Okay, keep talking. I’m agreeing with you 100%

Jim Drzewiecki 

that you can get overwhelmed, because suddenly there’s 30 Different crab apples out there. Yeah. And some are wide, and some are skinny, and some have fall color and some hold their fruit and some don’t. So if you’re just like, well, which crab apples should I put in my front yard? But you haven’t decided where the crab apple is going to go? Well, that that type of crab apple actually doesn’t matter yet.

Della Hansmann 

You couldn’t actually know the right answer until you know, there’s other things

Jim Drzewiecki 

Correct.

Della Hansmann 

This is your singing my song. And this is what I’m constantly telling people who come and they’re trying to pick up their backslash for their kitchen before we’ve done anything else.

Della Hansmann 

And if you don’t start from the big picture, and then sort of focus into those details, it is so chaotic and overwhelming. So hardscape first is kind of a way to start from the big picture and then and bring yourself into focus later.

Jim Drzewiecki 

It’s what I used to teach it’s what I believe in. It’s really like you can’t design a room without the walls and the roof around it.

Della Hansmann 

No.

Jim Drzewiecki 

And then the windows and doors kind of come second to that. Outside. It’s hardscapes first, then the bed lines because the bed lines play off the hardscapes. Then the plants. And I’ve said before the plants are like the wallpaper or paint or carpet. They’re not the bones.

Della Hansmann 

Yeah

Jim Drzewiecki 

They’re the dressing on the meat of what you have to start with.

Della Hansmann 

Good. So any other final advice about choosing the right hardscape? As we think about this topic?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Well, I could just run through quickly what the basic price points are between the different materials.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Everybody wants to know this

Jim Drzewiecki 

I think it will crystallize in everyone’s mind maybe what direction they want to go. Concrete in the Milwaukee area is currently about eight to 10 to sometimes even $12 a square foot 10 Yes, installed cost. So let’s use 10 is a nice even number. Brick can be two and a half times that cost. So a $10,000 patio becomes two and a half times that in like that, just like that. All right, and, and natural stone. Of course, everything’s gone up since COVID is now basically $50 a square foot, right? So five times, but there’s a cost.

Della Hansmann 

So if you want to work with concrete, which I’m now assuming a lot of people watching this video are thinking, hey, concrete, what a great.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Wow.

Della Hansmann 

Is there anything you recommend to think about pouring a big whitespace or dividing it up into pieces that would make it more interesting or more livable? Or perhaps last longer? Any advice about the design for concrete specifically?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, that’s another great question. Because what do mid-century homes usually come with in terms of a concrete patio? A rectangle? Yeah. My 71 ranch had a rectangle that’s gone had a very big one either. Oh, not a very big one.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Because even though all the advertising of that period showed everyone outside grilling and the kids running around with their cowboy hats, and of course the whole mid-century mantra of blurring of inside and outside, right To me, it’s sometimes strange how small the outdoor spaces were.

Della Hansmann 

Yeah, I think it was, you know, they wanted to have the concept. It’s a lot like in the mid-century Ranch; they had the concept of a glass wall and a post and beam structure and an Eichler house and they boil it down to a picture window. It’s, it’s bigger than a regular window. But it’s not exactly that vision of indoor outdoor living that you see the magazine spreads. Yeah, if someone has an original, tiny little square concrete pad, should they try to work around it build off of it? Or should they start by removing it and starting fresh?

Jim Drzewiecki 

I always, I always start with the condition of the existing paving. If it’s in great shape, and no cracks, maybe it makes sense to try to add on to that, okay, certainly requires some design skill to take an existing space, and now add pieces around it that don’t end up looking like a band aid, or that they are really two different things.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Back to your original question, the plus side of you know, starting from scratch, is now it doesn’t just have to be a rectangle, or II question about outdoor spaces is how are you going to use it? Are you outdoor dining people? Do you like to grill a lot? Do you want a lounge area? Do you want a fire pit area, and that can be separate or even part of this space. But our favorite thing to do is to take the patio space. And you kind of started me on this thought and break it up into outdoor rooms that have specific uses.

Della Hansmann 

Thanks so much for sharing your insights about hardscaping and mid-century specific yards. You’re welcome. So let’s dig into the design toolkit of a mid-century yard. What are your favorite features to add to the landscape? The hardscape of a mid-century yard beyond just flat patio? Or what can you do with a patio?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, the one thing to think about with a patio to me is thinking of how you’re going to use it.

Della Hansmann 

Right?

Jim Drzewiecki 

And does that mean dining only? Does that mean dining and grilling? Does that mean dining grilling and lounging? And on and on? Then that helps us or your homeowner to think about well, how big does this space need to be? Can I create separate zones or outdoor rooms within this one patio space? And then you sort of think about these add ons? If it’s a dining area, do I maybe want to pergola overhead to help knock down the sun a bit? My favorite element is the fire pit at least especially in the Midwest, because it really extends the usable seasons of your patio.

Della Hansmann 

Yeah. So when you think about when you’re designing a fire pit specifically, is there are there safety considerations? And then beyond that, what are the sort of livability considerations of putting fire in the yard?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Well, number one, there are code issues. The general rule of thumb is a minimum of 10 feet away from the structure.

Della Hansmann 

Right?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Some people lean more towards even 15 feet to build in a little extra question. Of course, I would recommend always checking with your local municipality.

Della Hansmann 

First, this is not a place where permission will be granted after the

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, and I’ll tell you what I once heard. Everyone should you know take this with a grain of salt. But I once spoke to a fire marshal who said well don’t call it a fire pit, call it an outdoor grill. And he half-jokingly said keep a bag of marshmallows next to it because then we can’t tell you can’t have a fire pit in your yard.

Della Hansmann 

About a grill that’s

Jim Drzewiecki 

yes, municipalities who don’t allow them or their minimum requirement is so ridiculous. And there is a local suburb in the Milwaukee area that the distance was 300 feet ah,

Della Hansmann 

I wonder how many yards actually had 300 feet from the none probably

Jim Drzewiecki 

do the math. So yeah, probably almost none.

Della Hansmann 

So that one person with a really with a five acre lot is they’re just really enjoying they’re the only firepit in town. Sure, you know, of course for the most part codes are there for our safety and they need to be respected and then imagined there are also some commonsense things that might not be X number of feet from the house but do you think of like X number of feet from green lines or other features things like that aren’t required but are good idea?

Jim Drzewiecki 

That’s a great question. I don’t get too worried about tree branches overhead. Naturally, it seems like a logical thing to think about And it really maybe comes down to if you’re having bonfire sized fires or not.

Della Hansmann 

Is it a person size fire? Or is it you know, a nice little dish,

Jim Drzewiecki 

I probably wouldn’t want six foot flames if I had a tree branch over my fire pit. A key point to me. And if you go online and see fire pit patio photos, I’ve seen so many where the chairs are maybe 18 inches away from the fire pit itself. And then the back edge of the paving is literally where the back chair legs are sitting. And if you really look at that photo, you realize that if that fire gets too warm, you’re not backing up to get away from that fire.

Della Hansmann 

There’s nowhere to go.

Jim Drzewiecki 

So we’re big. Proponents of five feet of space from edge of fire pit to edge of paving minimum.

Della Hansmann 

Okay, so you’re always looking at like a 10 foot diameter. Regardless, well, probably more because you’ve got the space of the fire itself.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, if you if your average firepits pride 36 inches across at five and five, you’re at 13 feet. So

Della Hansmann 

You need to think about do you have space in your yard? To create this? What do you think about? I imagine it’s a case by case we keep talking about what does the homeowner want. For people who listen to the mid mod remodel podcast? Hi, this is the dream phase, you have to start by asking what’s important to you. But with a little bit of a nod to what’s important to the person who wants this firepit? What’s your general thought on having it connected to house adjacent spaces or trying to make the firepit? Like a getaway a remote spot more separated? completely separated paving structures to it? Or should it be connected to other hardscape elements of the third sign?

Jim Drzewiecki 

The correct answer to that really good question is it can go 50/50 either way.

Della Hansmann 

This is what I always say when people ask me what should I do?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, it’s, it’s yard specific. Yeah, it’s house specific. Another favorite thing of ours to do is to maybe line up the fire pit on the centerline of the big picture window. So if you have a cool fire pit out on your patio, but you’re stuck inside your house, the fire pit almost becomes a sculptural item to just look at.

Jim Drzewiecki 

But my wife loves that outside our big kitchen window, when there’s a fire going, you see it and you can see it from the house. So that may drive its location. If you’re able to arrange the other patio spaces, and include the fire pit as part of that, where you can almost imagine in your head, you know, after dinner, everyone’s going to now go over to the fire pit and chill out with beer or wine.

Della Hansmann 

Yeah,

Jim Drzewiecki 

And they go to somewhere else later in the evening. The idea of that separate space, though, is equally cool, because now you draw even more attention to that fire pit space, it might make the choice of what the fire pit is maybe even a little more important because now you’re you’ve created a focal point in your yard.

Della Hansmann 

Right? So when you think about a firepit are you looking at pre manufactured products? Or are you more interested in designing something out of the material? That’s the hardscape or something contrasting? So when there isn’t a fire? It’s an object in itself. How do you think about that?

Jim Drzewiecki 

It can go both ways. We love designing them. But the price point for a lannon stone dry stacked fire pit i.e. permanent because their radius cut so it’s a big doughnut of stone $7,000 installed

Della Hansmann 

so then you can start looking for your used mom’s stove instead. Maybe

Jim Drzewiecki 

Maybe, I wish solo made yet a bigger one than their current big one. Because they’re super-efficient, but they’re not much to look at. There’s so many manufacturers online, have different styles firepits core 10 steel, weathered steel bowls work really well with mid-century landscapes. They’re clearly a today product, but their simplicity and their almost industrial raw feel. Yeah, I think fits with that mid-century ideal.

Della Hansmann 

So for someone who’s looking for a total time capsule, maybe not or for someone who’s looking for something modern, adjacent to mid-century that shares that same DNA. It’s a great choice. No, I absolutely agree. But

Jim Drzewiecki 

then go online and look at the brightly colored you know chiminea is and atomic styled firepits that are out there, most of those are for gas only because they are a little more decorative. But there are definitely these retro styled fire pits out there. Yeah.

Della Hansmann 

What are your thoughts on? Obviously depends on preference. But do you think there are safety? What’s the cost difference in terms of getting a gas outdoor fire setup, or when you put in your own logs,

Jim Drzewiecki 

the cost is running the gas line. And if you have an existing patio that may be cost prohibitive, or even functionally prohibitive, because who wants to trench through your current patio to run that gas line? Some of the nice brands out there even Crate and Barrel, make fire pits, fire elements, I should say that have a hidden propane tank within them. Okay, so as long as you keep an eye on your propane tank gauge, you can fire with the flip of a

Della Hansmann 

switch, you know what I had out there set all up and then realize, yeah, you’re out.

Jim Drzewiecki 

But that’s the plus of gas fire features to most people is it’s instant on its instant off, it will probably never be a heat generating kind of fire. So if that’s, you know, in the back of your mind about sitting out there in the fall, and you want to be warming yourself around the fire, a gas fire may not cut it. Yeah. If you don’t want to smell like a campfire at the end of the night, then you may want to lean towards gas, right? Other people are a little Pyro and they want to have that big fire and they want to keep dumping logs on it all night, then you’re going to be a wood person

Della Hansmann 

write if you love wood fires, gas is never going to do the job. And if you don’t enjoy keeping a fire going then then gas is what it is. What about other fire elements outside? How about for a grill? Do you think about design specifics for that rules of thumb things you ask people in order to suss out their preferences in order to make good choices for them?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Well, you know, people who are grilling fanatics are very specific about their wants and needs. I think the full on outdoor kitchen, from the 90s and early 2000s has kind of gone out of favor, at least in the Midwest, because you put all that money into an outdoor kitchen that you may not be able to use year round. You have to run plumbing to it electrical and those are added costs. mini fridges How long are those going to last, you know through multiple Wisconsin winters, right. So as people have downsized that idea, we’ve done a lot of what we call grill islands. It is an it is a stainless steel grille insert. Typical is the 36 inch wide. But then we build counterspace around it. And it is permanent. So

Della Hansmann 

that can live there year round. But maybe the grill gets winterized and put away at

Jim Drzewiecki 

a minimum covered in the winter. But my wife and I like going out and grilling a pizza occasionally in the winter. So we’ve made sure our grill is somewhat close to the back door. Yes, definitely something to think about. But we’ve done some where there was a griddle next to the grill or a green egg or a smoker even. It really comes down to the client and how elaborate they want that grilling station to be.

Della Hansmann 

Excellent. So what are other fun things to think about? We’ve got Oh, we haven’t really talked about overhead coverage. Do you ever play around with fully roofed outdoor areas or when you’re thinking about something overhead isn’t always going to be open to the sky pergola based.

Jim Drzewiecki 

I like pergolas because I like the shadow factor and what that does to the feel of an outdoor space. Yeah. pergolas are great in that they are a vertical element. A pergola over a dining or lounging area completely then really helps to define that as a separate outdoor room. Yeah, I always remind clients that pergolas do not drop solid shadows. So when the sun is not at the ideal angle, people on one side of the dining set may have the sun just burning the backs of their necks because the shadow is somewhere else. Yeah. I love designing them because I used to be an architect before I got into landscape design. So they’re fun to do. But there’s lots of passcode kits out there that have moveable overhead beams. They’ve got mosquito netting as part of the structure, the roof thing. Almost all of the kits are roughed ones, interestingly enough, but when you add a roof to a scratch build structure, you are now thinking about snow loads in the Midwest, have to think about what the wind might do to that. And some municipalities consider it more of a well, this is an Architectural Review kind of structure, where we usually get around that with open air pergolas.

Della Hansmann 

Interesting. So that gives you a little more freedom to move around with design and put things where you need to. Yeah,

Jim Drzewiecki 

and the other point I’ll make quickly about pergolas is if they’re not attached to the house, that’s also in your favor, as soon as they are connected now the building inspector is involved.

Della Hansmann 

Interesting. And since the design we’re putting together are always going to require inspection, we don’t really worry about that. But that’s a nice thing to know, especially if you’re trying to break your project apart into multiple phases, which a lot of my clients are.

Della Hansmann 

If you can keep the pergola separate from the house, it can be a phase that is on or less inspected, just more of an easy DIY, set your pace or you know, hired out certainly, but requiring less paperwork and red tape.

Jim Drzewiecki 

For sure.

Della Hansmann 

Fascinating, that’s, that’s not on my radar, because typically, I’m expecting that everything we recommend is going to require the city’s attention at least a little bit. Um, marvelous.

Della Hansmann 

So what other design elements would you consider if people were asking for ways to make their front or their backyard more marvelous? As you’re, as you’re pulling from these what other things fall into this category? Yeah,

Jim Drzewiecki 

well, naturally breezeblock walls? I’m surprised we didn’t start with that element.

Della Hansmann 

Maybe that’s a topic of its own. But let’s talk about them just a little bit right now.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, a breeze, a breeze Black Wall, the low fence which is, you know, contemporary modern thing that you’ve seen a lot of mid-century landscapes where the house numbers are on that element? Why are both of those popular? Again, it’s another vertical element in the landscape. Everything isn’t just flat.

Della Hansmann 

Resist, I have to know more about what you think about breezeblock and Midwest. Do you feel like you need to do things to weatherproof it? What’s the what’s the secret to making breezeblock work here?

Jim Drzewiecki 

Well, I think let’s face it, probably old breezeblock was probably maybe made better than new breezeblock I think I mix was more robust. Because I’ve seen it around commercial buildings. And it’s still standing there. 50 years later, hey, you know, barely worn away. I’ve seen them painted a lot, right? Yeah. But if you use masonry paint on a breezeblock I think that’s certainly better than a brick wall. Because the brick wall on your house is supposed to breathe.

Della Hansmann 

Yeah, I think I’m gonna say to somebody, I never recommend it. But people do paint. CMU, they paint concrete block that paper is black. And I wouldn’t, because I think it’s gorgeous as is. But it’s definitely a thing that I think is less disastrous than painting brick. There’s Oh, go that far.

Jim Drzewiecki 

I actually agree with you. I think breezeblock in the Midwest can look out of place, because it is a more California southern part of the country detail. I have seen it used in commercial settings where there’s huge areas of it.

Jim Drzewiecki 

But if you occasionally come across a house that does have it original, it’s usually you know, maybe a narrow column as a porch roof support. Maybe it’s a low privacy wall in the backyard.

Jim Drzewiecki 

But adding any vertical element to the landscape, front yard or backyard, I think is a plus. What is it made out of? The tough part in the Midwest is if you did a brick wall as an example. Well, now you need a frost footing. And suddenly the cost of that element just skyrockets.

Della Hansmann 

Right? You’re excavating down. It’s making a big disturbance. It’s messy. It’s putting in stuff you’re not ever gonna see again, but you need it so it doesn’t he then yeah, yeah,

Jim Drzewiecki 

I say you’re burying money in the ground.

Della Hansmann 

I mean, yeah, that’s, that’s accurate. So if you wanted to make a vertical element that didn’t require frost wall, you’d go to events to what carpentry

Jim Drzewiecki 

for sure that that address marker that’s got vertical bands of wood. That to me is it is the most DIY certainly I DIY mind. Yeah, I have a client who DIY theirs after we did what we do and got their own house numbers and did the whole thing. We’ve done specimen boulders where we hang mid-century house numbers on that rock

Della Hansmann 

that’s not DIY unless you are some sort of professional lifter.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, but you put on that blade on it at night. So now you have your house number out near the curb. That’s a real nice way to go if maybe your house leans a little prairie style or a little Asian than the back element might be the way to go.

Della Hansmann 

So again, we go back to the great podcast episode we did just a few weeks ago, well, depending on when this goes live. Listen to the house and look to the house for your inspirational details.

Jim Drzewiecki 

Yeah, we have a project on our portfolio where there was a stone wall that bent the corner of the house field stone mortar to the house, the rest of the house was sited, we took that stone idea and built a stone column that we hung them the wood fence off of for address numbers.

Jim Drzewiecki 

And we even made sure to choose the same colors of stone to match the house. So there was occasionally a black one mixed in with the pinks and the grays. And then the house mortar work was kind of that over mortar where they get a little sloppy intentionally. We made the Mason, you know, replicate that.

Jim Drzewiecki 

So if you look at the photo with Well, we did the element we did in the foreground and the house in the background. Your average person probably wouldn’t even know that that element didn’t come with the house and adds that key to me.

Della Hansmann 

Yeah, the timeless choice. It’s the one that’s going to last through whatever trend comes next. Mid-century is popular right now. But even when it’s not a house that’s cohesive is always going to feel appropriate. Personal Details match the new details.

Della Hansmann 

Whereas if you make a trendy choice, it’s only going to last as long as the trend does. And this has been my TED Talk. This is so much fun. Okay, well, I think we’ll have to move this to another conversation. But thank you for sharing your go to design details. And specifically, I think everyone is now imagining a fire pit in their backyard. I think they should. Excellent.

Della Hansmann 

Was that fun? Great because we are absolutely going to go again soon. Find the transcript of this episode and the links to the resources I mentioned today. Plus, you know, beautiful photos at the show notes page made mod dash midwest.com/ 1801.

Della Hansmann 

Next time I speak with Jim, we’ll be covering how to introduce lighting into mid-century yards and where to even begin with choosing the right plants. This is a question I can’t answer but Jim sure can.

Della Hansmann 

Next week though, I’ll be introducing you maybe to another great mid-century person you should know Adrienne Kenny of mid mod Colorado is a realtor, a remodeler and an extremely houseproud with good reason mid-century homeowner.

Della Hansmann 

You won’t want to miss his advice on finding a unicorn house and on house hunting for a mid-century home in general in this economy. More on that next week.

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