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Modern Oasis

Chalet transforms a haphazard garden into clean-lined perfection.

The new garden’s hardscaping was designed to highlight the clean lines of the home’s architecture.

The construction access road in the backyard was transformed with repurposed flagstone steppers from the original design.


The green wall is a living-art installation disguising the side of the garage.

A new lounge area with a fire pit is surrounded by a birch grove that will mature into a semi-private woodland space.

A black-bottomed water feature creates a soothing first impression in the front courtyard, which features limestone slabs that reference the original Japanese design.  

The inviting minimalism and simple architecture of a post-midcentury-modern home in Winnetka was what made two well-traveled animal lovers fall in love with it at first sight. But they didn’t fall in love with everything: The property was surrounded by a dated landscape, with a heavily wooded front that starkly contrasted with existing plantings around the home. Washed gravel and Japanese maples overwhelmed the scene in an attempt to mimic a traditional Japanese garden.

Adding to the hodgepodge was a mismatched in-ground pool, an old concrete aggregate walkway and a disintegrating patio. A small walkout deck off the main bedroom was in rough shape too.

Clarity of design was just one of the things on the homeowners’ wish list. With three energetic rescue dogs in the mix, animal-friendly areas were an absolute must, as were gathering, entertainment and quieter meditative spaces. While all of these factors jostled for position, one simple central fact quickly became clear: The hardscaping and plantings screamed for a more contemporary approach.

Enter Chalet (, who created a scheme that both complements the architecture of the home and transitions flawlessly into the surrounding neighborhood (the property sits adjacent to the Winnetka Golf Club). The haphazard pond was replaced with two flawless water features, which reference the linear nature of the home while creating “areas of both reflection and focus,” explains landscape architect Ian Wagan, one of a team of five that worked on the project. What’s more: Interconnected spaces, perfectly framed in relation to the home’s access points and centerlines, create multiple open entertainment zones. 

Undoubtedly, however, the green wall on the north side of the garage is the true head-turner. It’s “the only one of this style on a private residence in Illinois. It was designed as a piece of living art,” explains landscape architect Eleanor Brandt. The unique installation was inspired by the homeowners’ travels to the West Coast, where living walls burst with verdant plantings year-round.

It’s definitely everybody’s favorite feature—with the exception of the dogs. Three perpetually excited hounds will happily tell you the expanse of open lawn is really where it’s at. And therein lies the beauty of this design: entertaining, reflecting, chasing full speed after a ball—for everything that’s most important in the lives of these homeowners, there is now a space for it.