Keyword Site Search

Chicago Suburban Estate
Landscape Architecture, Design by Lawrence Dziurdzik, Exterior Spaces for Extraordinary Living



At this suburban Chicago residence, the landscape architect designed a dramatic front entrance to the house by carving out a circular auto court into the sloping front lawn. The crushed granite court is backed by two undulating limestone retaining walls that provide planting terraces. Fifteen foot deep steel piers were driven into the ground to support the retaining walls and provide support for the concrete foundations. The auto court was designed with extensive underdrainage and 18" of stone base, as the water table was quite shallow. Underground cisterns are installed at two locations to handle stormwater runoff from new and existing impervious hardscapes. The court is balanced with a central limestone planter and formal boxwood hedge. The grade change from the original house entry down to the auto court required a grand limestone staircase detailed with custom iron railings and lighting.

The Chicago suburbs are home to numerous residential estates that are hidden from the public eye. When a commercial real estate developer purchased this land, he saw the privacy it could afford his family, a place to entertain and relax after running a development company all week.

"We wanted a quiet elegance and for anybody who came here to feel comfortable," is how the homeowner put it. The house was built first and the property development followed almost 10 years after. The master plan in the eyes of the owner was always going to be a phased project; after almost a decade of living in the home and walking the property, he was ready to begin.

Landscape architect Lawrence Dziurdzik's first impression of the property was mixed. It was a heavily wooded land with low lying areas that would require drainage, tree removals and, most importantly, municipal approvals.


Almost a half acre of undesirable woods was cleared and restored to a natural tall grass prairie. Over 300 different types of plantings were installed over a course of four years that consisted of wetland marsh, pond and upland dry conditions. Black-Eyed Susan, Blazing Star and wild quinine are among the plantings pictured.

"I'm very specific with the projects I work on," said Dziurdzik. "I only work on one residence per year, so it has to be really special property," he explains.

The property was oddly configured with residential and forest preserve property as close neighbors. The master plan created would require extensive zoning variances for setback allowances, crushed stone drives, accessory structures, pool and impervious coverage, county stormwater requirements, wetland compliance and tree removals.


The lower terrace offers cozy seating around a rough hewed stone fire pit, with a backdrop of a tiled pool fountain with a vintage bronze ornament. The landscape architect selected the pool tiles and designed the water to flow to a lower pool on the back pool wall. Indirect lighting gives the stone walls a warm glow and does not compete with the fireplace.

The landscape architect presented the master redevelopment plan to the local municipal board and received approvals for a fireplace, spa, pool locations and numerous other features that were planned for the property. Numerous governmental bodies weighed in on the design and complimented the use of natural materials, reforestation, stormwater management and best management practices. The plan for the estate organized the property into three main areas: an entry auto court, pool and terrace and a native planted garden. The plan was composed of simple forms that were engaging, warm and comfortable. Hardscapes were kept to a minimum and would be enhanced by vibrant mass plantings. Each component had engineering and drainage problems, the result of the poor soils found throughout the property. The landscape architect coordinated pier and structural engineering for the auto court retaining walls and grand staircase. Fifteen foot deep steel piers had to be driven into the ground to support the retaining walls and provide support for the concrete foundations. The crushed granite auto court was designed with an extensive underdrain system, as the water table was quite shallow and required 18" of stone base. The stormwater design was also complex: Underground cisterns had to be installed in two locations on the property to handle runoff from new and existing impervious hardscapes.


The dining terrace was sized to accommodate 100 plus guests. The dining table was placed under the oversized hardwood pergola to take advantage of the views out to the native gardens while maintaining a view to the pool. The elaborate kitchen accommodates a commercial sized grill for preparing meals, a refrigerator and storage space. The countertop is polished buff Valders limestone with accent lighting under the wall cap.

"We couldn't afford to lose land with a traditional basin and the wetland area was off-limits," Dziurdzik explains. The design for the front walls needed to match the stone on the house. Stone wall mock-ups were completed and reviewed by the landscape architect for color, size and texture. The wall stone coping was 3" thick and consisted of horizontal and vertical curves. The fabrication and install was complicated, requiring Dziurdzik to work with Eden Valders Stone and the contract mason to insure a seamless fit. The pool and terrace needed to wrap around the entire length of the house and provide ample space for large parties and seating for different occasions. The terrace consists of Valders' limestone pavers set on a concrete slab and laid in a running bond pattern parallel with the home. Clean lines were obtained with a plank shape and a light sandblast finish in buff. Concrete piers were set below frost to stabilize the terrace slab.

The terrace needed drainage because of the poor soils and water conditions. An extensive drainage system was designed to tie into underground cisterns. There are very few places where water flows over paved surfaces into planting or lawn areas.


The pool and spa are surrounded by Valders limestone plank pavers set on a mortar and concrete base. The modern sport pool has a depth of 4.5' to facilitate family activities like volleyball and to allowing party goers to stand in the pool (perhaps with drink in hand). The pool is clad with various shades of blue glass imported from Italy.

Pool Design
The owner had two requests for the pool design: It had to be modern looking, and be completed and operational for the following outdoor season. This required the pool construction start at the onset of a Midwest winter. Excavation was completed before the ground froze, enabling construction of a wood frame and plastic housing that could be heated. Concrete and tile work continued throughout the winter months, with the terrazzo applied as spring flowers began to bloom. The landscape architect designed a sports pool for the owner, an avid swimmer, with a water depth of 4.5' to allow for all kinds of sporting and swimming activities. The pool size was determined by the length of the house and needed to be visible from the living and dining rooms. The pool and tanning shelf contrasts with the limestone terrace by using blue tinted glass imported from Italy. The glass mosaic tile adds a beautiful touch to the pool. At sunset the tiles have an iridescent glow. The pool's water elevation was set at the terrace grade with a very tight quarter inch tolerance. This zero edge detail had to be carefully coordinated with the adjacent terrace concrete slab and pool wall. The landscape architect determined the mortar and slab thickness to make the pavers flush with the pool coping. The opposite side of the pool has a 3' vanishing edge that flows into a lower trough. The native prairie garden can be seen across the pool and over the vanishing edge, offering a superb view of 4 years of planting effort.


The infinity edged pool looks to the native garden area and traditional lawn.

The tanning shelf is connected to the pool with a series of steps and is enclosed with an interior glass veneered wall. Six inches of water is maintained here and is used for sun bathing or relaxing in the shade under an oversized umbrella. The spa is separate from the pool and takes on a minimalist approach as the shape is square and appears to be a glass cube floating above the terrace. The spa was designed to accommodate 12 adults and is always a popular hang out with the owner's teenagers and friends. Towels and sandals are neatly tucked in stone cubbies several feet away.

The landscape architect designed the lower terrace as a quiet respite from the pool and higher terrace. It's a surprise for guests to walk down the terrace steps and find a completely different room with a feel that's different from the higher terrace. The limestone terrace is set on sand to allow informal seating around a rough-cut circular gas starter wood-burning fireplace. The fireplace is centrally positioned on the fountain wall, which has cobalt Spanish tiles and limestone surrounds. The fountain is a vintage bronze plated ornament that dribbles a small stream of water to a stone pool. The pool and terrace look like they've been there for a long time, which was the goal from day one.

"The design fits the home and property. I couldn't be happier," said Dziurdzik.


The lower terrace is anchored by a custom hardwood swing. The beams were connected with traditional mortise and tenon joinery with round pegs.

The kitchen, adjacent to the sunken dining terrace, was designed with commercial appliances and ample layout space to serve either small family dinners or large family gatherings. A large hardwood pergola with custom beams and steel joinery defines the kitchen. Lighting fixtures were studied and eventually selected for indirect light qualities surrounding the pergola and stonewalls. The dining terrace greets a visitor entering the pool terrace and offers a glimpse of the gardens beyond. Designs for a kitchen garden were drawn but simplified to include an apple tree espalier. This tree has become one of the owner's favorites.

The gardens adjacent to the pool terrace are of two styles. The traditional garden is a meandering lawn with mass perennial plantings and mature evergreen trees specifically selected and sited to encourage views towards garden follies. The landscape architect selected more than 200 trees and ornamentals for the estate in local nurseries and sited them for the owner. The native garden has been a work in progress for the past four years. The landscape architect sited plant locations for over 5,000 grass and forb plugs.

The owner understood that the prairie would not be established overnight; he was very patient and now considers this garden to be his favorite.


The pergola's hardwood beams span nearly 24 ft. in each direction and were cut with traditional joinery and custom steel connections. The beams are connected with custom steel powder coated hangers and are stained yearly to keep a consistent dark umber color.

Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect was responsible for concept designs through construction drawings. Permitting and zoning was complex and required almost a year to complete. The LA coordinated designs with structural, electrical, geotechnical and architectural consultants, and also interviewed general contractors with the owner and assisted with contract negotiations. The landscape architect also sited every tree, shrub and perennial and approved irrigation piping and valve placements.


The drawing shows the layout of the limestone plank pavers through the upper pool terrace, with the pergola, dining and outdoor kitchen area (right), and the lower terrace (left) with a seating area around a fire pit.

Construction for the pool, terrace and main gardens took 2 years to complete. The native garden has been a work in progress and is moving towards 4 years of planting, maintenance and additions. The landscape architect worked on a daily basis with half a dozen trades to ensure a smooth coordination effort, and continues to serve as the property manager, designing seasonal displays, coordinating replacement plantings and experimenting with new prairie plantings for the native garden.

Project Team
Landscape Architect, designer: Lawrence Dziurdzik, Exterior Spaces for Extraordinary Living
Architect: LA Design Inc., Randolph Liebelt
Civil Engineer: Cross Engineering, Inc., Steve Cross
General Contractor: Woodridge Deck & Gazebo Co., Eric Hoffman
Pool Contractor: Downes Swimming Pool, Jim Maddin
Native Plant Consultant: McGinty Brothers, Brian Wilson
Iron Work: Iron Impressions, Bon Dronjak

Product List:
Terrace: Eden Valders Stone: 'Buff' sandblasted custom planks
Kitchen Appliances: Viking Outdoor
Landscape Lighting: Alliance Outdoor Lighting
Furniture: McKinnon and Harris and Henry Hall Designs


Plant Pallet

As seen in LASN magazine, November 2017.

Widget is loading comments...

December 10, 2019, 7:06 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy