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Up & Out

A gorgeous penthouse rooftop with natural elements, eclectic global accents and tons of greenery fosters a sense of serenity for a couple repatriating to the States.

Several outdoor rooms make the most of this expansive rooftop space. The living area features a custom fire table by Ore with a propane tank concealed within, and furniture by Barlow Tyrie.

The only thing better than living in the heart of a major metropolis is having a peaceful place to escape from it all. The owners of this 28th-floor penthouse terrace dreamed up by Mariani Landscape designer Colleen Barkley fancied the best of both worlds when they relocated to Chicago from Asia. “The clients wanted to extend their living area out onto the terrace and also capture the views of the city,” Barkley explains. “Comfort was also very important.”

Although the sprawling patio is surrounded by skyscrapers, stepping out onto it feels like being transported to a faraway land—one that has ample space for lounging, dining or entertaining and a lush explosion of color. Natural cleft bluestone pavers, installed by Douglas & Company masonry contractors, establish an organic and neutral backdrop for a series of rooms distinguished by foliage-filled planters wrapped in ipe, a dense and very durable species of wood that has also been used to wrap the planters that line the perimeter of almost the entire space. “The planters make the living area feel so cozy,” says Barkley. “You don’t feel like you’re in the city when you’re sitting in that nook.”

An outdoor kitchen with a Fisher & Paykel grill, integrated refrigeration and a counter-height island anchors one corner—a spectacular spot for casual dinner and cocktail parties. Pops of orange in the pillows and accessories take the palette to another level and act as a lively balance to the hydrangeas, junipers and ornamental grasses that cascade down the sides of the planters. Custom blackened steel planters that contain birch trees create a sense of privacy, screening the views of the neighboring buildings and even muffling sound. “Up that high, your palette is really limited by climate,” notes Barkley. “The wind is also a challenge.”

To deal with the latter, Barkley anchored the pillows to the modern teak furniture frames and customized the contemporary fire pit with a modern glass enclosure to protect against unpredictable gusts of wind. Weather, however, was just one of many challenges the designer encountered in the high-rise building. “All of the planters were built on-site because they were too large to bring up in the elevators,” Barkley explains. “There were so many extra details to consider.”

A long dining table and chairs from Brown Jordan are frequently used for alfresco dinnner parties.  

But the result appears effortless, and the owners love their new space, frequently hosting alfresco dinner parties or just chilling on the chaise lounges in the semiprivate area outside their master suite. They are particularly enjoying the viewing bars—slim, built-in counters with stools—that Barkley created on the narrow sides of the balcony facing the lake and skyline. “The wife loves to go up there and sit with her morning coffee,” says Barkley. “This patio is a great place to go and kind of take it all in.”