Where to Find Modern Retaining Wall Blocks for Your Mid-Century Home

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.

Mid-century modern ledgewall blocks in backyard retaining wall planter

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.

Here’s proof.

Mid-century modern house with brick retaining wall front
Photo courtesy of Della at MidMod Midwest.

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).

You can find more examples in Della’s articles about mid-century brick and the mid-mod color, Cherokee red.

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

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.

Suburban Pop's colorful cinder block wall
Photo courtesy of Jenny 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/Ledgewall

Stacked stone walls are about as old as time, with a natural look that fits in with a modern landscape.

For my small retaining wall, I chose these ledgewall blocks in the style of stacked stone. My Arcadian blocks have flecks of gray and brown, and I topped them off with these Arcadian caps.

Where to Find Ledgewall Blocks

Here are some modern ledgewall blocks available at Home Depot or Lowe’s.


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.

Cutting angled trapezoid retaining wall blocks for a sharp corner

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.

Lilies growing in the new block planter

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.

Planter made with modern retaining wall blocks in mid-century backyard

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.


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2 thoughts on “Where to Find Modern Retaining Wall Blocks for Your Mid-Century Home”

  1. Lots of great information for building a retaining wall MCM! I LOVE the one you guys built ..it’s awesome!! And..the flowers are a perfect MCM yellow/orange! The video was great..you guys work well together. “Teamwork”! I also liked the other examples. The CA one was very “happy and inviting”! The ones in the Midwest also great and yes there are lots of that type house in that area of our country. But loved your’s the best and am amazed and gobsmacked at all the improvements you guys have made both inside and out. Awesomeness!!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Judy! The various MCM block styles are so much fun. I’m glad many of them are still available.

      It’s a relief to have a permanent little retaining wall here now, instead of the constantly toppling versions we had before! 😀 The big cap blocks also add a nice spot to sit in the garden.

      I am loving those orange/yellow lilies, too. When the red crocosmia blooms, I think it will look pretty with all the warm colors. And my candytuft is happy it won’t be moved around this flower bed anymore.

      Reply

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