Sources for Block that Rocks

Ten MCM-friendly patterns of decorative concrete block—and where to find them
Fridays on the Homefront
Decorative concrete block is back—and now we know the cool patterns and where to buy them. Screen block is “undergoing a mini-renaissance with people who are restoring their vintage homes, says author and block expert Ron Marshall. “It immediately exudes hipness”—like the retro hip scene above, with its backdrop of Vista-Vue screen block. Photo: courtesy National Concrete Masonry Association
Fridays on the Homefront
Four MCM-friendly patterns of concrete screen block that are still available today: (top to bottom) Festival, Vista-Rama, Empress, Half Moon. Images courtesy Ron and Barbara Marshall

When seeking a synonym for permanence, the word ‘concrete’ is often employed, and why not? The Roman Colosseum is mostly built of concrete and going on 2,000 years old. There are Bedouin cisterns made of concrete in Asia that are even older.

Style, on the other hand, is much more transitive. It is by definition a passing fancy. Decorative concrete block, which rose to prominence as a building material in the mid-century, is hence the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object: a style made from something that is darn near permanent.

“I think what appeals to people is the natural desire to see a pattern,” author Ron Marshall said recently of the lingering appeal of concrete screen block, which features design motifs that are formed by perforations in the block. “It’s undergoing a mini-renaissance with people who are restoring their vintage homes…It immediately exudes hipness.”

Ron and his wife, Barbara, just spent about a decade researching and writing their co-authored new book for the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, Concrete Screen Block: The Power of Pattern (2018).

While decorative block may be more in demand lately than during the past few decades, that runs up against the fickle realities of style. As homes using the blocks are no longer ubiquitous as they were in the ‘60s, so the number of active manufacturers has likewise dwindled.

“The enduring value of our book is the ‘Pattern Identification Guide,’” Ron says of a 26-page section concluding the coffee table-style paperback. “We’ve now chronicled 273 [patterns], and we’re still going!”

The problem for today’s modern homeowner is that the availability of most patterns hasn’t been, shall we say, concrete. Fear not, intrepid owner. Eichler Network has your back.

“We went through the Marshall’s painstakingly researched and invaluable guide and earmarked the block that featured the coolest patterns—and would be most attractive when used for a mid-century modern home today,” says CA-Modern publisher Marty Arbunich of the ‘10 Blocks that Rock’ sidebar tagged to the online version of ‘Blocks of Beauty,’ the feature story that appears in the new Summer ’18 issue of CA-Modern magazine. While reviewing the Marshalls’ guide, Arbunich says he looked strictly for patterns of MCM-friendly block that are still available today.

The sidebar identifies which U.S. manufacturers are currently making the ten selected patterns. Some come from only one place; others are manufactured by at least five different companies. That’s where it gets tricky.