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Illinois Landscaping

Lakeside Backyard Enhanced

A multi-level deck & stone fire pit provide an outdoor gathering spot with lake views

  • This home's new deck and fire pit have views of the lake below.
  • The deck has multiple levels and custom wrought iron railings.
  • Granite boulders help retain the fill dirt that was added to create a level spot for the fire pit.
  • The fire pit is surrounded by irregular radius cut stones that give it a casual appearance.
  • Fond du Lac stone was used for the steps that lead down to the lawn.
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Project Highlights:

  • Location: Deer Park, IL
  • Property Size: 1.5 acres
  • Budget: 100k
  • Clients: Family with teens
  • Landscape firm: Milieu Design

Client Requests:

This family wanted outdoor living space where they could spend time with friends and family. They also wanted to be able to host large gatherings.

I first learned the word milieu in a history class. My teacher explained that it refers to a social environment in which certain events or developments occur. So why would an Illinois landscaping company be called Milieu Design? Because they create outdoor environments in which their clients can celebrate life. A recent project they designed and installed is just that - a place for a family to gather, host parties and enjoy each other's company.

For this backyard, Milieu Design built a multi-level deck, resurfaced an existing patio, constructed a large fire pit and built stone walls and steps. "We always try to gather clues from the architecture," says Milieu Design President Peter Wodarz, "In this case, the traditional colonial style of the home guided our design choices." The goal was to make the new outdoor elements look like an extension of the home that had always been there.

"Our biggest challenge on this project was working within the constraints of the septic field," says Peter Wodarz. With only about 30 feet between the rear of the home and the underground location of the septic system, it was a challenge to include all the desired elements without making them feel as if they were tightly tucked against the house. "Also, there was very little flat ground," says Wodarz. The backyard slopes away from the home and down towards a lake.

DeckWhen Milieu Design first came to this property, the home had an existing small, rectangular deck. Wodarz wanted the family to have something more interesting. He also wanted the deck to feel like it was opening up onto the lawn and lake below. To achieve this feeling he opted for radius curves on the outer edge of the deck. The rounded shape makes you feel like you are on the bow of a boat overlooking the ocean, only here it is a sea of grass and fresh water. The multi-level design of the deck creates distinct outdoor rooms. One level is specifically for dining, while the other is for relaxing and socializing. The levels visually break up the design and create a path that leads down to the fire pit.

To match the home's trim, white was used for the deck under skirting and railings. Custom wrought iron work finishes off the railings. Fond du Lac stone columns give the deck a sense of permanence and offer excellent stability. Additionally, the underside of the deck is waterproofed so that the space below the top level can be used as a covered patio. There was an existing concrete patio here that Wodarz chose to resurface with bluestone pavers, steppers were added that transition out into the lawn.

Fire PitThere is nothing better for bringing friends and family together than a fire pit. After getting to know his clients, Wodarz knew that a fire pit was the perfect gathering spot for their backyard. Three hundred yards of fill dirt were brought in to create a level spot for the fire pit. Then large granite boulders were placed to retain the fill dirt in a naturalistic fashion. Each boulder measures between 3 and 5 feet across and weighs over a ton. The owners really wanted a casual bonfire atmosphere, so plenty of space was left around the fire pit to allow for people to stand, sit or mingle.

Plant List:

  • Climbing hydrangeas
  • Dogwoods for screening
  • Perennials
  • Ornamental grasses

"We actually built this fire pit twice," explains Wodarz, "the stone we used first exploded when the owner burned a fire for nearly eight hours." Armed with this knowledge, a new stone was selected that would perform better under extreme heat over long periods of time. Now the fire pit has radius cut stone that juts out at different points, giving it a casual, yet planned appearance.

Stone StepsStone plays a prominent role in this backyard. The stone used for the steps leading from the fire pit to the lawn was Fond du Lac stone, which is quarried in Wisconsin. Each piece is six inches thick and weighs approximately a ¼ ton. The flat stones were placed on a compacted gravel base that will keep them from shifting or becoming un-level. Fond du Lac stone was also used to build seat walls elsewhere on the property. These low walls were capped with bluestone to match the patio below the deck.

This Illinois family is very happy with their backyard. In fact they are already putting it to good use. They recently had a wedding on the lawn with 80 guests. This is exactly what Milieu Design wants when they design and install a project. They want the outdoor space to get used and for families to create memories in them.

Milieu Design
Wheeling, IL

Contributing Author:

Sarah Hutchinson, contributing writer for Landscaping Network

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