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Anyone who sets out to reproduce a Japanese garden in frost-prone northern Illinois might, at some point, ask, “Is this really going to work?” Hire master landscaper Scott Byron and partner him with esteemed interior designer Suzanne Lovell and, yes, it will. Rather than try to clone a traditional garden, Byron captured the soul of one, a perfect setting to be gazed upon from the ethereal living room Lovell created. The result is two spaces—one indoor, one outdoor—expertly intertwined.
“This house tells the story the client wanted to tell,” Lovell says. “He wanted it to reflect his love of Japanese art and artifacts.” For her part, she chose wide-planked maple for the floors and cedar for the ceilings to suggest the handcrafted interiors of the antique lacquer boxes the homeowner collects. “Scott presented the client’s story so beautifully outside, we wanted to push it further on the inside.”
The living room’s large wall of glass overlooks a vignette complete with a serpentine river of dark Mexican pebbles standing in for the traditional water element. For vegetation, Byron selected hardy native trees—oaks, sycamores, weeping larches—that would deliver the textures and structural definition of their Japanese counterparts.
1) In the area around the pool, close-clipped boxwood makes a neat border. 2) A secluded seating area is the perfect spot for contemplating nature. 3) The putting green is “like a terrace surrounded by perennials,” Scott Byron says.
4) Wildflowers draw the eye to a bronze sculpture.
“It’s a clash of cultures, a Japanese garden in the Midwest prairie,” says Byron. And it’s just one of several gardens he masterminded for this contemporary house on a one-acre North Shore property. “We wanted the gardens to add richness to the architecture,” he says.
His outdoor rooms complement Lovell’s intriguing interiors. Formal beds, with their espaliered pear trees and boxwood borders, provide year-round visual interest by the pool. There’s an unexpected hillside wildflower meadow, a private contemplation garden, and even a hidden putting green.
To smooth the transition from garden to house, Lovell chose leather wing chairs that reference the white stucco walls; dark antique Chinese trunks used for cocktail tables echo the river of dark pebbles. “We thought very hard about what was outside here,” she says. “The late architect Tony Grunsfeld built this house, and Tony’s work was always about being connected to nature.”
Lovell thinks a house should be about “constant discovery,” while Byron says he tries to create “wonderful little ‘aha’ moments.” Where the two meet is pure Zen.