Incredible Chicago Roof Garden

City rooftops go green and gorgeous with designs that marry beauty to function.

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

Photo By: Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan / Courtesy Mariani Landscape

An Oasis in the City

When the owners of a Chicago penthouse needed an area to relax and entertain, they turned to Mariani Landscape. The challenge was to transform their U-shaped, rooftop terrace, which sat atop a vintage, 11-story building, into a colorful and functional garden. The owners also wanted a classic design that would echo their Art Deco interior. Landscape architect and Mariani Design Director Sara Furlan partnered with Morgante Wilson Architects to bring privacy to the sprawling space.

Faux Grass

Since the building that houses this apartment dates back to 1919, Mariani reused the existing pavement by turning it on an angle and staining it to resemble the patina of the limestone facade. Grass panels were also added. The panels are actually faux turf; it isn't always practical to install a real lawn that needs mowing and maintenance on a rooftop.

Historical Inspiration

Many of the building's historical features, such as its stone lions, parapet walls and limestone balustrades, inspired Mariani's design for the rooftop garden. Here, window boxes were added to the east side of the walls for a visual break in the space; they're planted with pink pentas and blue pentunias.

Colorful Containers

Lush plantings that attract butterflies and hummingbirds bring color and movement to the rooftop garden. The containers also make this large, urban space feel more like a natural oasis. The planters were placed strategically to create multiple sightlines without sacrificing privacy. The trees are serviceberry; the groundcover underneath them is stonecrop (Sedum spurium 'John Creech').

Rooftop Planters

Mariani used a variety of planters for a backdrop of greenery. The containers had to be strong enough to withstand Chicago's high winds, yet light enough to be supported by the penthouse floor. Boxwoods gave the space a sense of formality, while other plants were selected for color, ease-of-care, and their ability to tolerate the city's weather. The trees are serviceberry.

Beautiful Views

The penthouse owners overlook a lake and the Chicago cityscape, and wanted Mariani to create a beautiful view from every window. When looking outside, the first thing the owners or their guests see is the garden, filled with colorful flowers and foliage.

Garden Seating

Evergreens in the planters keep the penthouse seating area private, but don't block the spectacular views. The seating arrangements were designed to be flexible, so the owners can change them around as needed. Mariani repeated a pergola on both ends of the terrace for a sense of place and balance, whether you're looking east or west.

Rooftop Dining

Because the penthouse rooftop is surrounded by tall buildings, Mariani added a pergola to help define a space for dining. The pergola also houses a heater, speaker system and retractable fabric sections that provide shelter from rain or sunlight. Since trees can't be planted overhead, the pergola creates a sense of proportion and makes diners feel comfortable and less exposed.

Fountain Focal Point

Mariani used a fountain, which features an iron S-curve and a wall of water, as a focal point for the terrace. It separates the dining area and a large parapet wall to the south. Dark purple angelonias and pink Lantana montevidensis, also known as small lantana, are planted underneath.

Dining on the Terrace

This dining area is on the west end of the rooftop terrace. A barbeque grill sits close to the door of the home, so the cook has easy access to the kitchen, while an overhead heater provides warmth in the wintertime. A wall of frosted glass ensures privacy; boxwood evergreens thrive in planters along the outer wall.

Outdoor Fireplace

An outdoor fireplace was a practical addition to this Chicago rooftop garden, and makes the space usable for most of the year. This spot, located directly off the master suite, serves as a private oasis, but seating can be re-arranged if the owners want to entertain here. Morning glories are growing in the trellis box, while lamb's ear, blue petunias, blue angelonias, and climbing clematis flourish in the planter on the far wall. A window box holds more sky-blue petunias and pink pentas.

Lighting in the Trees

Mariani worked to preserve the views of skyscrapers to the west and a lake to the east, while keeping the rooftop area private. Lights in the trees play off the city lights, so the setting feels magical and romantic after the sun sets.

Soft Lighting

Since the owners of this property enjoy entertaining, Mariani Design Director and landscape architect Sara Furlan dedicated an open space to use for dancing or for additional dining tables. Gas lights on the exterior cast a soft glow over the setting.