Cliff May living – Inside out

Like a piece of jewelry that complements an outfit perfectly, the outdoor spaces of Cliff May homes and most Mid-Century Modern homes should enhance the overall look of the home, without overwhelming it. Never fussy or large in scale, the landscaping and outdoor furnishings of your home should merge seamlessly with its interior.

Cliff May houses are built with a number of geometric patterns, which makes creating an outdoor space for these homes a joy. When looking at the exterior of a Cliff May, the vertical lines line up with the roof joists. The effect is an open but rectilinear façade. The clerestory windows—the long triangular windows near the roofline—also create an interesting architectural feature. While letting in natural light from an elevated height, the windows also make for distinctive exterior details that really set these homes apart.

This Cliff May home is a great example of the integration between the outside world and the interiors of the home.


We love how the interiors open up to the yard, extending the space outward. Notice the patio constructed of rectilinear, oversized concrete pavers that allow for passage into the yard. For a variation on that theme, lay pavers in a carefully measured grid pattern. Allow for an inch or two between pavers so that grass can grow between them. If you want a more eco-friendly yard, scatter gravel between the concrete slabs to create a patio and walkways to reduce the amount of water needed in the yard. This Tustin home makes use of a similar design:

1592Garland_Tustin 7

The pavers guide people through the space and join the different parts of the yard to the home itself. What’s also important to note here is that the landscaping is kept low to the ground. These homes are so distinctive—with architectural details that extend from foundation to roofline—that you want to make sure nothing gets in the way of viewing the house itself.

Succulents M.SwabbDuring the mid-twentieth century, these homes would have had brightly colored flowers like hybrid tea roses and dahlias growing in the flowerbeds. Today the trend is to fill planters and beds with architectural plants, the kind that have a very structured leaf and growth pattern. San Diego-area designer Maegan Swabb loves to use succulents to give an outdoor space some defined greenery.

These rubbery plants are good for the environment too, as they require little water. If you haven’t got a green thumb, you can let most varieties of succulents just do their own thing. Most will spread to fill in open space between pavers or in planter boxes, and will only need a thinning once or twice a year. Other options include yucca and natural grasses.

Mid-Century Modern architects like Cliff May focused on integrating the interiors of home designs with the outdoors. The homes are built to open out to the private oasis—better known as the backyard—either visually or physically, through the use of large doorways, whenever possible. Outdoor furniture is a great way to complete the look of your own oasis.

Start by picking pieces for their function and then be sure to select items in colors that coordinate with the exterior of your home. You may love that chaise lounge in the design studio, but it may look out of place against your home’s paint color.

 sol y luna chaise

This Sol y Luna Adjustable Chaise from Design Within Reach is the contemporary version of Dan Johnson’s 1950s Gazelle Collection. While the original pieces were made from wood or bronze with woven caning for the seat itself, these chaise lounges are made from durable cast aluminum and feature a fade-resistant fabric for continued use year after year. The organic style of the lounge is true to Mid-Century Modern style, and its simple lines mean that it will be seen, but it won’t overwhelm the outdoor space.


It’s no secret that we love Charles and Ray Eames’ style, and this Eames Aluminum Group Lounge Chair is no exception.

 Outdoor Eames chair

Its clean and classic style makes it a chic addition to any Mid-Century Modern backyard.


Pot Planter GreenDon’t be afraid to add a few pops of color throughout the space. One way to do this is to accessorize the seating area with bright planters, like this Scheurich USA Pot Planter:

For homeowners who love to entertain and dine outdoors, the Herman Miller Eames 4 Piece outdoor dining set is a great example of authentic Mid-Century Modern outdoor décor:

 Herman Miller Dining Set

The set is simple and streamlined to provide a place to dine without taking up much room or detracting from the home’s façade.

Overall, treat the outdoor areas of your Mid-Century Modern home just like you would treat the indoor spaces. Focus on the lines of the home and emphasize the enjoyment that can come from being out of doors, and you’ll have the perfect outdoor living area.

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Megan Winkler

Megan Winkler is a professional writer, editor, and author with an extensive portfolio. Her works include interior design coffee table books and advice articles on the best ways to turn a house into a home. She credits her master’s degree in history and her relationships with professional designers for providing historical and philosophical context to her design pieces. Megan is passionate about Mid-Century Modern and historic homes, and believes they provide modern generations with a glimpse into the past.

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