The right retaining wall blocks can pack a lot of personality, eschewing the traditional in favor of an Eichler-ready look.
Whether you’re creating a courtyard divider, terracing a small garden or building a flower bed like I did, these modern blocks will fit in beautifully in a mid-century style landscape.
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About Retaining Wall Blocks
There are a few design details to consider when choosing retaining wall blocks.
Curvy/Trapezoid or modular
Some blocks have a trapezoid shape that works well for curvy walls like mine. Others are modular and better suited for straight walls.
INTERLOCKING or Smooth
You may notice a little lip along the back of a block. The lip points down and locks behind the block below, adding stability. This causes the blocks to move inward as the wall rises, as you can see in the corner of my wall.
Blocks without the lip, like bricks, can be stacked straight up and down.
Caps or no caps
Modular blocks may not need caps, but awkward trapezoid blocks usually leave gaps along the top, depending on the curve of your wall. In that case, you can top off your wall with special cap blocks for a cleaner look.
Modern Retaining Wall Blocks
Try these popular block styles from the mid-century era.
Brick (Especially Roman Brick)
Brick has a reputation for being traditional, but it can also take on a modern look in mid-century ranches and Usonian style homes.
Brick is perfect for a low retaining wall, planter or extension along your home’s entryway. Della at MidMod Midwest has lots of MCM brick inspiration on her Instagram (click the right arrow for more).
Also check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House for a red brick retaining wall example.
Where to Find Bricks
Standard bricks are available at most home improvement stores like Home Depot. Locating the skinny Roman style bricks may be trickier, but you could try Craigslist or a reclaimed materials store in your area.
Cinder block deserves a lot more credit for how stylish and versatile it is in mid-century design.
This modern block can be simple, gray and brutalist. Or you can give it a fun retro paint job, like Jenny’s backyard retaining wall at Suburban Pop.
The sandy beige paint ties in with the Californian landscape, while drawing attention to the bright retro orange, turquoise and yellow paint.
More recently, Jenny added this polycarbonate fence and modified the cinder block color scheme. Both paint jobs are perfect for a mid-century backyard.
On the more brutalist side, see the cinder block wall holding up my backyard.
Now I’m wishing I had given it an MCM paint job! But it needed repairs, so this wall is in the process of getting a makeover. It will be smooth concrete on the outside…with room for a mod mural?
Where to Find Cinder Blocks
Cinder blocks are readily available at Home Depot and other home improvement stores.
Stacked stone walls are about as old as time, with a natural look that fits in with a modern landscape.
Where to Find Ledgewall Blocks
Here are some modern ledgewall blocks available at Home Depot or Lowe’s.
- Arcadian ledgewall block (this is what I used)
- Charcoal/tan block
- Belgard bluff block
- Belgard quarry block
Building a Small Retaining Wall
Watch our retaining wall come together in this quick video.
We dug out a trench and tamped down paver gravel to create a sturdy, level base. Then we staggered the blocks, attaching each one with landscape block adhesive.
While our trapezoid blocks aren’t particularly well suited for right angle corners, we made it work by cutting the corner blocks like this.
Note: If your wall is going to be straight with square corners, you may want to use a modular block like this. The stacked stone design continues around the sides for clean corners that don’t need to be cut.
Finally, we capped the wall with Arcadian cap blocks.
After letting the wall set for a few days, we filled up the bed with soil and then planted lily, crocosmia, candytuft, marigold and succulent tiles.
The Many Looks of Our Retaining Wall
This little flower bed was seven years in the making. Check out the progress.
It started as a pile of rubble. Gotta say I don’t miss that.
Later on it graduated to loosely stacked rocks, and then loosely stacked gray bricks. None of this was glued down, hence the resulting fallen bricks.
Once we decided on ledgewall blocks, we built the final version with proper adhesive and everything. Now we have a retaining wall planter that won’t topple over every winter.
I love the modern slate look of the blocks. And my plants are happy they can finally settle in.
Get more ideas for updating your mid-century style yard.
- 101 ways to beautify your backyard
- Landscaping around your raised beds
- Mid-century modern curb appeal ideas