When Keith and Rita returned to the home where they raised their son, they meant it to be for good.

The couple had already rehabbed this Wheaton house when they bought it – but that was 25 years before. Since  then, they’d raised a family in the suburbs and then spent some time living in a condominium in downtown Chicago. Now it was time to return to their house in the suburbs, but with different goals in mind.

This time, the home would be a haven.

“The goal was really to create a retreat, right in their own backyard,” Bob Hursthouse says. “Some of the adjoining properties to this were actually college student housing – so we needed to make sure it still felt very private. Keith and Rita wanted to dine outdoors. And there were some natural elements – birds, water, fish – that were key to them as well.”

How to you turn a suburban lot into a series of small, private spaces for rest and reflection? That was the challenge at hand.


Bob’s landscape design called for a series of individual seating areas, all connected by bluestone paving. One area would become the outdoor dining space. Another provided views of a koi pond and waterfall, while a third centered around an outdoor fireplace.

During the fall planting season, Hursthouse construction teams brought in a variety of large evergreen trees – 16, 18 and even 24 feet tall – to create a sense of privacy and seclusion. The following spring, they added feeders to attract birds.

But birds need three elements to thrive in a landscape: cover, food and water. The trees provided the first and the planters provided the second. The third element – water – would come from the koi pond. And that provided its own set of challenges.

“It’s a challenge to do a pond that looks like it really belongs on your property,” Bob Hursthouse says. “The sense should be, ‘this pond was here and we built around it’ – not ‘we build this pond.’ So I’ve really studied how water works and how rocks behave in ponds in nature so we can design things to look natural.”

In Keith and Rita’s case, the key was hiding the source of the water – an upper basin fed by a pump – with plants, so there no sense of any artificial water source. Things seem natural. Then, Bob, designed a series of small rock waterfalls into the lower basin where the fish would live.

“We want the water to dance,” Bob says. “We want it to splash down layers and levels just like it would in a natural waterfall.”


Before this project, a rear driveway cut across the spot that’s now a koi pond – functional and even attractive, but hardly a retreat. It was the right solution for the home and its owners in the past. But now, it’s time for something different.

“The design is key to all our projects,” Bob says, “and design is really driven by lifestyle. It’s this question of, ‘how do you want to live?’ For most of us the answer changes over time as we get older or our families change.”

Keith and Rita’s home is certainly no exception. This is a new landscape, and they’ve only just begun to enjoy it. But the plan is to stay in this haven, now and for a long time.

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