Tom and Jennifer are an active couple living in Elmhurst, IL, with exuberant kids full of energy—and growing bigger and more active every day. Tom and Jennifer were looking to maximize their outdoor space for both kid’s play and, well…“big kid’s” play, too. They wanted an outdoor kitchen and dining space along with a comfortable area to watch TV. As major sports enthusiasts, they hoped to enjoy watching games in the privacy of their own back yard.
An extra consideration in the design of Tom and Jennifer’s landscape was that they spend their summers in Wisconsin—so they wanted a way to extend their outdoor enjoyment to include fall, winter and spring. Baseball games wouldn’t be the only games on their TV—they wanted to watch plenty of football and hockey, too.
They called on Hursthouse to fulfill their wish list and thoughtful consideration was given to Tom and Jennifer’s way of living, their home’s elegant and tasteful architectural style, and existing site conditions, so that their new landscape would look like it had always been there.
In order to maximize the yard’s space, the children’s play area was moved to the back of the yard, creating an ample lawn for the kids to run around on. An unwieldy side door in back of the house that opened up onto a small patio left by the builder was removed and replaced with a window. French doors were added to the dining room creating a sweeping view and improving circulation into the back yard. While solving architectural problems goes beyond the scope of most landscape companies, Hursthouse is able to provide trusted artisan specialists to do the work and coordinate with anyone else assigned to the job.
This efficient use of space allowed for the development of four intimate outdoor rooms: a “media room”, a kitchen, a dining room and a fire pit that correspond to the layout of the home’s beautiful interior spaces.
A cedar pergola attached to the home and stained to match the trim of house provides a sense of intimacy and sets the stage for the center point of the outdoor “media room”—a SunBrite outdoor flat screen TV with surround sound speakers built right into the masonry wall that was created for both privacy and sound diffusion. Columnar English Oaks placed along the wall provide even greater privacy and separation from the neighboring property. And, of course, overhead infrared heaters attached to the pergola provide warmth, so even in freezing weather guests can sit comfortably while watching a football game.
The outdoor kitchen is constructed from brick that matches the house and features an expansive countertop in honed bluestone for serving. Stainless steel appliances: a large gas grill, rotisserie, and side burner a built-in refrigerator have Tom and Jennifer ready to serve up delicious burgers, plenty of drinks and more on game day.
The outdoor dining room plays off the home’s interior dining room. “And in order to get a better sense of the division of spaces with our outdoor rooms, we switched paving materials and used red brick to create an accent point where the dining table sits. The red brick defines the space and adds distinction to the dining area.”
The fire pit is centered off of the home’s family room bay window, creating a center line of force that plays off the interior space and offers strong visual continuity out into the landscape. Whether inside or out, the fire pit can be experienced year round.
Close attention to detail was given to the material palette including sourcing the exact same brick from the original manufacturer for a seamless match to the home’s brick and all vertical masonry. Everything horizontal is built out of bluestone. “We used thermal bluestone for the doorstep, which provides a very clean, uniform thickness, and for the patio we used a natural cleft bluestone that adds a subtle texture,” Bob Hursthouse shares.
Not only do Tom and Jennifer summer in Wisconsin, they admittedly aren’t gardeners, either. So when it came to the plant material, what they needed was a sound, easy landscape to enjoy. A high canopy of elm and maple filters sunlight to the soft, natural planting scheme below. Redbuds arch over the outdoor kitchen and define a living framework for the garden and deciduous shrubs and evergreens add privacy and soften noise. And since the family won’t be there in high summer to see the landscape spring and fall flowering shrubs such as viburnums and late season hydrangeas will offer beauty well beyond the summer months!
Site challenges for this project included a municipal requirement that meant Hursthouse needed to engineer an underground infiltration vault for rainwater harvesting. In doing so, they facilitated the ability to capture and retain the water, thereby minimizing runoff.
Lastly, the home needed a landscape lighting plan. Again, with fall, winter and spring being the primary seasons of enjoyment for the family, the shorter days mean that lighting plays a critical piece in allowing them to see and enjoy their landscape long after the sun has set. Hursthouse used three styles of lighting:
- Path lights intentionally located to allow safe movement through the space.
- Key up-lighting of trees and plants to define them and make them pop in the darkness.
- Moonlighting that creates a great feel after dark by strategically lighting the big, existing trees so that the branches and trees offer shadow patterns across the lawn and patio.
More than just a nice yard, Tom, Jennifer, and the kids are able to use their outdoor space as though it is a new “addition” to their home.
The kids are outside constantly. The grill has seen major action. And many games have been enjoyed under the toasty warmth of the infrared heaters in their “media room”—including plans for an outstanding Super Bowl!
As a relatively new reality for them, Tom and Jennifer are still discovering all the ways their new landscape can add joy to their lives. As the kids get older, it can become a safe place to hang out in and maybe even play video games. It will grow and evolve with the family…and continue to provide memories to cherish from one year to the next.