A landscape pro looks to this house’s historically significant modern architecture for a whole-yard makeover
This house in Racine, Wisconsin, was designed in 1951 by architect John Randal McDonald, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright’s who built it for his own family. More recently, James Drzewiecki, an architect and landscape designer who has studied Frank Lloyd Wright extensively, was over the moon at the opportunity to rework the home’s neglected landscape. Drzewiecki took his cues from the architecture. “The couple who bought the house know they are living in a museum piece,” he says. He treated it as one in his design, as well. “It would be very hard not to be inspired by the architecture of a house that looks like this, but it was also important not to go overboard and overshadow the home,” he says.
Patio at a Glance
Who lives here: Two architecture aficionados
Location: Racine, Wisconsin
Size: 760 square feet (71 square meters)
Designer: James Drzewiecki of Ginko Leaf Studio
Before: We’ll prepare for our trip to the back patio by checking out the front of the house because its redesign set the tone for the landscape around the historically significant house. “I think some of this front path is original because Frank Lloyd Wright often hid the front door and created a circuitous path leading up to it. As someone who studied under Wright, McDonald would likely have done that,” Drzewiecki says. But the entry was plagued with problems including crooked steps, cracked concrete and pavers that were not level. His clients wanted to create a safer entry approach while paying homage to the architecture.
The driveway and walkway work occurred in tandem. There was a slight grade change between the driveway and the entry path and gardens so Drzewiecki composed a low retaining wall of Tennessee sandstone that matched the chimney.
- Traditional prairie plants typically used to complement midcentury modern homes in the region
- The homeowners’ love of bold color
- The way the lines of ornamental grasses complement the midcentury modern lines
- Continuous color and bloom from spring through fall, as well as winter interest
But it had seen better days. Instead of drainpipes, the roof has scuppers that dump rainwater collected on the roof. This water ran back toward the house due to a bad pitch in the patio. This solves the mystery of why a couple of aesthetes had an unsightly garbage can in the middle of their patio — it was collecting that water to keep it away from the house.
The furniture and tabletop items seen in these photos belong to the homeowners, not a photo stager. Their extensive collection of Fiestaware shows off their love of bold color, and their Masters chairs by Philippe Starck were a cheeky choice. The chairs’ silhouettes combine those of three iconic midcentury modern chairs. Squint and you’ll see midcentury Saarinen, Jacobsen and Eames chair silhouettes in the lines.
He paid homage to the depression with the shape of the patio’s edge. He filled the area where the pond had been with a combination of the slate chips and beach pebbles and placed a little sprite statue there. His design could be turned into a water feature someday, an option that the homeowners are considering but have put off for now.
The mix of flowers, grasses and shrubs provides year-round interest and loads of color. “I’m never one for ‘choir planting’ — tallest in the back down to shortest in the front,” he says. Instead he mixes up the planted forms in terms of height, shape and texture to add dimensionality.
Plant list. This is the plant list of the perennials and groundcovers in the backyard. The selection is based on native prairie plants but Drzewiecki amped it up with some colorful additions like salvia and allium to suit the homeowners’ love of bold color.
Courtesy of Becky Harris August 24, 2019
Becky Harris August 24, 2019