Pools, Patios, and the Invention of the American Backyard

Written by Maria Allen

A Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition opens at the Eustis Estate.

Manicured lawns, inground pools, lounge furniture and barbecue grills—in the 1950s, Americans fell in love with their backyards. Functioning as an extension of the home, mid-century backyards were places for relaxing, recreation and entertaining.

Patios boasted furniture made from state-of-the-art materials like plastic and aluminum, and lawn mowers began to appear in sheds across the country.

A new Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition titled “Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard,” explores this cultural phenomenon and is currently on view at the Eustis Estate Museum in Milton. Drawing from the collections and research of the Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens, the exhibition includes rare photographs, historic drawings and period advertisements that reveal how postwar Americans made use of their outdoor spaces.

Historic New England, a nonprofit historic preservation organization headquartered in Boston, created a playful mid-century vignette to complement the exhibit using items from its own collection. The display includes mannequins modeling swimwear and enjoying croquet in a backyard setting complete with AstroTurf and a white picket fence. “Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard” will be on view through May 26.

For more information, visit historicnewengland.org.