Furnishings for the modern garden are not limited to tables and chairs. One of the remarkable innovations that came about in 1950s California was the reinvention of garden ceramics, which keyed a flourishing art pottery industry. Drawing on historical models, California pottery at the time was becoming famous for both its vibrant beauty and functionality. This design tradition took a modern turn in the late 1940s when ceramic artist Legardo Tackett began encouraging his students at the California School of Art in Los Angeles to make large-scale sculptural vessels that functioned with equal ease both inside and outside the home.
The bold, geometric forms of these early student efforts—truncated cones, biomorphic tubs, and stout cylinders—would eventually become the design trademarks of Architectural Pottery. These planters, sculptures, and garden accessories gained notoriety in part because they were prominently featured in 'Art & Architecture' magazine's now famous Case Study House program. The indoor-outdoor use of pieces by Architectural Pottery, and other companies such as Gainey Ceramics of Los Angeles, became symbolic of the casual outdoor-oriented lifestyle of California.
Many of these classic pieces are still available as flea market finds or in vintage furniture stores. Today, modern homeowners can recapture some of the look and feel of the Case Study program through new, reissued examples of classic pottery, available from several manufacturers and online retailers.
"We spent four years finding out everything that we could about the original [Architectural Pottery] company," says Stephenson, whose Vessel USA began to reintroduce many of Architectural Pottery's original pieces in 1994. "We researched the original designs, spoke to the production manager who was there in the 1950s, and worked with Max Lawrence, the original owner. Our goal was to make our collection in every way the same as the original."
In addition to the companies highlighted in our 'Garden of Delights' below, here are some other resources to explore:
• Gainey Ceramics
Patio furniture restoration
• Vaider Metal Refinishing (Rohnert Park): 707-584-3655
• New Dimensions Furniture (Napa):
• Patio Furniture Doctors, Inc.
• Rick Drury Associates (Palm Springs):
Photos by JC Miller, Barry Sturgill; also courtesy Hip Haven, Ikea, Knoll, Inc., Marmol Radziner + Associates, Modernica, Show Los Angeles, Steichen Lewis Designs, Vessel USA Architectural Pottery
One of the perennial questions that confronts the modern homeowner when furnishing both the home interior and the garden is whether to purchase vintage originals, new reproductions of period pieces, or new contemporary designs—or have pieces custom made to their family's needs.
There is something fascinating about the original furniture designs from the postwar period that can really add to the style of the garden. Part of the appeal may be rooted in the genesis of these designs.
In response to the indoor-outdoor innovations of mid-century residential architecture, designers and artists began creating new and exciting forms for garden furniture and accessories following World War II. Some of the period's furniture originated, quite literally, in the shipyards created to supply the American fleet during the war.
In that era, the curvaceous patio chairs and lounges designed by Walter Lamb were fabricated from bronze tubing and cotton cording salvaged from damaged navy vessels. In the Bay Area, architect and furniture designer Luther Conover fabricated patio loungers in his Sausalito studio from sleeping bunks removed from decommissioned troop transport ships.
Bertoia, inspired by his work with Charles and Ray Eames, created the curvaceous wire diamond chairs and stools that are still in production today. The Eameses are, of course, famous for many remarkable furniture designs, notably their fiberglass shell chairs that can often be found in the garden.