Decorative concrete block offered privacy & light for mid-century modern homes in the 50s & 60s

Mid-century modern homes with decorative concrete block designs

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


Walled courtyards and terraces featuring lacy concrete block walls was part of a trend that surged mightily with mid-century modern architecture in the later 1950s and well into the 60s.

The openwork, grill-style of decorative concrete block (also known as breeze block or screen block) afforded privacy without sacrificing light, while offering a fresh, textured look that fully complemented the clean lines of the mid-century modern (MCM) aesthetic.

Midcentury modern entryway with private garden and concrete block designs (1968)

These artistic concrete privacy walls, room dividers and textured walls were used lavishly both inside and outside the home. Form and function were so in sync, the only real mystery is why this fashion ever died; however, this architectural style has come to be identified as an exclusively mid-century modern element — revived today pretty much only for those homeowners looking to emulate MCM aesthetics in their contemporary homes.

Check out some of the ways architects and home builders incorporated lacy concrete block designs into both walled terraces and indoor room dividers, as well as featured decor elements!

Lacy pierced concrete blocks offer new design options

Article adapted from House Beautiful, October 1959

Light, used in magical new ways, shapes an enchantingly original house designed by architect Edward Durell Stone

At night, the house shimmers with light, mysterious and radiant. By day, the interior is dappled with sun streaming in the glass-tipped pyramidal roofs.

The grille around the house (and two courtyards) gives it a lacy pattern of light and shade.

Midcentury modern house with decorative concrete block facade (`1959)

The living room terrace is a spacious gathering place where guests can be served cocktails while the dining court is readied.

This living terrace also provides ample space for barbecues and active games, and expands the house for large open-house parties.

Planter boxes define terrace boundaries, beyond which lawn slopes down to a grove of weeping willows.

Midcentury modern The living room terrace with cement block wall

The bedroom court has a relaxed and intimate look. Mounds of low plants in the landscaping separate the areas outside each room, giving a feeling of privacy without obstructing general courtyard traffic.

Evergreen ivy and laurel are spiced with seasonal color, like these azaleas and pansies in summer.

This court is an inviting spot for after-dinner coffee and conversation, or leisurely weekend breakfasting.

Comfortable plastic-covered chaises supplement the sturdy redwood and black-steel-tubing furniture which is used both here and on the living room terrace. The study-guest room also opens to this court.

Vintage MCM home's bedroom court with decorative walls (1959)

A house with built-in privacy (1959)

From Better Homes & Gardens, November 1959

Privacy on a narrow lot is hard to come by. Big windows often look out on a neighboring house or a row of backyards. But Five Star Home 2911 offers an unusual, highly successful remedy.

A house with built-in privacy - Concrete block entryway (1959)

This house creates its own private view with two courtyards at front and rear! These twin courtyards also divide the house into two wings: one for active daytime use, the other for quiet activities and sleeping.

Between the wings is a spacious entry (it has a big storage wall, too). And how easy on your building budget is the straightforward concrete-block construction!

Neighbors and traffic seem miles away from this front entry court. The family room has a garden view with sunlight streaming through roof cutout.

Mid-century modern 1950s home with decorative cinderblock (2)

ALSO SEE: Mid-century modern door knobs (and other bold hardware) with a space-age theme were all the rage in the 1950s and 60s

Draperies seldom need to be drawn, so the room is bright and cheerful all day. Simple furnishings take rough wear in stride. Spatter-design linoleum needs minimum care to keep it sparkling.

The other courtyard, at the rear, becomes an extension of the living room. It’s furnished for use as a sheltered patio, day or evening. Sliding glass door is natural here with all these protected windows.

The master bedroom, across the courtyard, also opens to this secluded area. Inexpensive building materials help hold down costs for all these features.

Mid-century modern 1950s home with decorative cinderblock (1)

The sweep of roof across the double carport enlarges the house — it can stand against houses twice its size. Front entry court is screened by concrete tile grille; you could also use wood or other materials.

Handsome entry court is a bonus feature: it welcomes guests in style, and provides shelter for planting. Simple rock mulch keeps garden care at a minimum; evergreens would assure greenery all year long in more northern climates.

Concrete block patterns for walls (1959)

From The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) July 12, 1959

Time was when a wall was just a wall — a flat, uninteresting surface, expensively covered and painfully lacking in-depth, definition, and character.

A new concept in wall fashions, however, is beginning to change all that. Many of the fashions fit the backyard pool area.

Backyard lace concrete block wall from 1961

The concrete block industry, with an offering of countless sizes and shapes of units, now provides the tools for dimensional wall patterns designed to render unlimited dramatic interest to exterior walls, and also to the interior.

Block wall patterns can be custom-built for a complete change of pace. They can be as conservative or arresting as the builder wishes.

ALSO SEE: These gorgeous screened-in porch, patio and lanai spaces from years gone by are total backyard goals (1930s-1980s)

Small garden wall made with a wood frame and circular concrete molded blocks (1950s)

Some concrete masonry units have designs sculptured right into their face. Among them is the popular Shadowal block, the most recent addition to the versatile concrete block family.

Either one or two of its face corners have been recessed at 30-degree angles. When the light catches these angles, a pre-determined design is stylishly defined in the third dimension.

Midcentury modern staircase with triangular shadow concrete blocks (1959)

Modern home planners, with the assistance of Shadowal block, architect, and builder, can now design any wall of their new home to fit their own unique personality or to express some particular mood or motif.

The National Concrete Masonry Association, whose members produce the unit, reports that pattern arrangements are virtually unlimited. All that is required is the imagination of its user.

Two concrete shapes for outdoor wall

Dakota Screen Block – Decorative concrete units (1961)

Keeping pace with modern construction trends, the Dakota Lime and Brick Co. is proud to introduce four new screen block.

Designed for multiple uses, these decorative concrete block afford the builder the ultimate choice in screen wall construction. DAKOTA screen block is Ideal for curtain walls. for fences, for room dividers, for carports or for veneering.

Concrete Products magazine reports: “Almost by itself, screen block is fashioning a new image for the concrete masonry industry, an image of beauty and versatility that has never before been applied to concrete block.”

Dakota Screen Block - Decorative concrete units (1961)

ALSO SEE: This cozy vintage living room had a masonry fireplace wall & some special features

Intricate concrete block patterns are easy (1959)

By Albert Cason, The Tennessean (Nashville, TN) December 27, 1959

Grown-up do-it-yourselfers are playing with blocks these days, and adding a new dimension to modern living. These blocks are supplied by the concrete masonry industry, and they provide the adult with much the same thing as he did with wood blocks as a child.

Home decor with concrete blocks of various styles (1959)

That is, they challenge the imagination in working out interesting shapes and patterns to provide something practical, useful, and interesting.

With the many varieties of concrete grille units now available, Mr. and Mrs. Designer can mix shapes and sizes of blocks to create patterns that comply with their own personalities.

Perhaps you have noticed the trend of masonry block screen designs that are being used more and more for exterior applications.

Architects and do-it-yourselfers are coming up with imaginative styles also for room dividers, or complete floor-to-celling walls.

Pattern possibilities are virtually unlimited. And besides finding them highly elaborate in appearance, they have found certain appealing practical advantages in them.

General Lace Stone block dividers for the home (1963)

Decorative concrete block dividers for the home with young children

For example, a mother is allowed a view of small children at play in the adjoining room. They may also serve as dividers, giving accent and relief to more conventional walls in the room. They absorb sound.

Often these screen units are designed to function mainly as solar veils to reduce sun glare, and provide a room which will be cooler in the summer.

Positioned near large windows, the screens will also catch the sun’s rays and transform them into distinctive networks of shadow play, resulting in a gradual change in the room’s character as the sun rises and sets.

Concrete blocks defining midcentury home’s courtyard (1961)

Concrete blocks defining midcentury home's courtyard (1961)

Scaled-down concrete blocks as a retro room divider (1960)

Scaled-down concrete blocks as a retro room divider (1960)

ALSO SEE: See the mid-century modern Scholz Mark 60 home from 1960, inside & out

8 vintage midcentury modern decorative screen concrete block styles

Screen blocks are not structural. Their delicate open design makes them ideal for privacy fences, non-loadbearing partitions, facades, or curtain walls. Screen blocks are usually 4 inches thick by 12×12″, 12×16″ or 16×16″.

Vintage midcentury modern decorative concrete screen block styles (1)

Vintage midcentury modern decorative concrete screen block styles (2)

Vintage midcentury modern decorative concrete screen block styles (3)

Vintage midcentury modern decorative concrete screen block styles (4)

Retro decorative concrete block created a custom look in homes (1963)

Article from The Sacramento Bee (California) September 13, 1963

With imaginative flair, almost any home can possess a coveted look of originality, without a custom price.

Recognized increasingly today for its creative malleability in home building is concrete masonry.

Once spurned by the home builder and home buyer as commonplace, modern concrete block with its wide selection of sizes, colors, textures, and shapes offers numerous unique applications for homes of beauty and good taste.

DON’T MISS: See 41 vintage backyard decks, plus find out how wood decking became a popular part of American homes

Vintage concrete block shapes and styles (1960)

Block long has been used in homes as a reinforcing material, ultimately to be covered with something else. Today, however, its role is augmented in almost “Cinderella” fashion as it serves both structural and decorative needs.

Concrete block - Hollowcore and solid units (1959)

Block has literally captured the imagination of the residential designer. While sustaining its initial drama of texture, block’s architectural flexibility is virtually unlimited.

For exterior use, myriad pattern possibilities express the perennial quest for distinction and the substantial appearance usually associated with masonry construction.

Although regular concrete masonry units most often accompany modern styling, new types of block have been developed primarily as a facing material for either traditional or contemporary homes.

General Lace Stone concrete blocks (1965)
Discerning architects insist on General LaceStone: Styles – Monterey, Montecito, Carmel (1965)

Inside the home as well, concrete masonry responds to exciting new trends in interior decor.

To evince a warm and elegant air, decorators often prefer to leave interior masonry exposed. Block’s natural beauty then becomes a rich backdrop for handsome furnishings and proud wall hangings of the finer arts.

Decorative interior concrete block (1960)

DON’T MISS: The mid century conversation pit: A photo timeline of that fascinating 60s and 70s living room trend

The medieval look in midcentury concrete block

From the National Concrete Masonry Association (1959)

What’s new? The medieval look, believe it or not! The recall of moats and medallions, of kings and queens and castles and courts is today’s vogue.

Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, St. Louis, devised an ingenious way of reflecting the whole exciting era in a single screen design. By alternating hollowcore and grille units and stacking them vertically, a dramatic and highly textured screen was formed.

Beautiful as a breeze-way. . . Gracious as a carport grille . . . Perfect as a partition. Units making up this stylish pattern measure 4″x 8″x 16″. 

Decorators will often add a cheerful expression of grillework around the home to increase property value.  When it’s picnic time on the patio, the picture is never complete without elaborate grille units of concrete block to lend enchantment to the festivities.

Look how well the “medieval mood” mixes with the modern decor. And look, too, how nicely it coordinates with the solid of Shadowal block. Where else will you find such economical extravagance?

Decorative concrete block around a 1950s courtyard patio

Basketweave style decorative concrete blocks

From the National Concrete Masonry Association (1959)

Endless is the alchemy of architecture. And architect Alfred B. Parker of Miami proves it.

By exposing the concave ends of 8″ square block in a basket weave, Parker created a mature and mottle-textured wall reminiscent of the hand-hewn stone walls of the Aztec civilization.

Who before thought of utilizing the mundane ends of block in this attractive and anomalous way? The neat network of coffers, even when left unpainted, is a dramatic and unique departure from the long, uninteresting wall areas we see so much of today.

Decorative concrete block - 1950s home (2)

A fab fancy frog screen from the fifties made from concrete block

From the National Concrete Masonry Association (1959)

Here, in what has been described as “a chorus of frogs arranged in a series of totem poles and emitting a happy serenade” is a fancy screen design fashioned by Charles Walton of the architectural firm A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Timmons, Los Angeles.

Frilly, but far from frail, the ornate screen can be beautifully employed as a backyard fence to filter wind and sunlight, or as a patio wall to provide extra privacy.

YOU MIGHT LIKE: A mid-century modern show home: See H&G’s Hallmark house for 1963

Grille designs of concrete block are ideal as an outside material. More than just being distinctive in appearance, block is a permanent material requiring almost no main-
tenance and is totally free from damage by rodents and vermin.

Decorative concrete block - 1950s home

Vintage concrete block decor: Hollowcore block design

From the National Concrete Masonry Association (1959)

Time was when a wall was just a wall. A flat, uninteresting surface, expensively covered and painfully lacking in depth, definition and texture.

A new concept in wall fashions, however, is beginning to change all that. And concrete block is leading the merry way.

Marcel Breuer, New York, crafted this expressive wall by alternating hollowcore block and two 4″x 8″x 16″ units. His rendition is a complete and relieving change from the silent, stereotyped walls of yesterday and is reserved only for those who wish to go modern . . . and stay there.

MORE: Tour the ultimate mid-century modern house: The Scholz Mark 58 Home of the Year

Choose from a palette of pastel or vivid colors — and splash on your own unique personality in paint. Everything nice is locked right in. The beauty, the high style, everything you could possibly want in a wall. And a little more!

Notice how a special emphasis is given to the design detail when light passes the hollowcore units. Note, too, the smooth texture and pleasant gradation of tone the horizontal units exhibit.

Decorative concrete block - 1950s home (3)

Private retro patio design with concrete blocks

Private retro patio design with concrete blocks

NOW SEE THIS: 47 vintage backyard ideas you’ll want to re-create for a relaxing sixties-style outdoor vibe

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

3 Responses

  1. love these blocks and terrace iideas !! My uncle owned a blockyard and in the 60’s n 70’s these were all the rage in our town Bayonne NJ ! I am doing a terrace now and WISH i thought to use block ! 🤦🏻‍♀️ Im using a flimsy vinyl lattice from H. Depot. Block would have been so much more beautiful!!! and low maintenance!!!

  2. One of the last breeze block makers left is in Schenectady, New York. I was at the house of the person who started the company (because the house is for sale) and someone there was telling me that they still make the breeze block and it is so popular that they ship it all over the world. Imagine paying to have that heavy block shipped somewhere. I was amazed. It’s the block on the right in the row of three patterns in the article above (Sacramento Bee 1963). Looks like four leaves. They had the block around their entire back garden.

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.