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Nature, Nurtured

A distinctive mid-century house teaches its owners how to garden

(page 1 of 2)

The vertical lines of the house, topped with thick horizontal roof beams, clearly evoke the many trees nearby. The coolly modern style of the house, its almost-flat envelope barely separating indoors from outdoors, is at the heart of the Kecks’ original design for the structure-and of the Gands’ present-day approach to gardening.

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In 1986, before mid-century modern houses caught on as hipsters’ dream homes, Joan and Gary Gand bought a nice, comfortable place in Chicago’s northern suburbs. Low-slung and somewhat boxy, the house had rows of large windows that gave it an appealingly open feel.

Pretty soon, the couple realized what it meant to be living in a Keck and Keck home. Brothers George Fred Keck and William Keck, who were among Chicago’s leading residential architects during the heyday of modernism from the 1940s through the 1960s, used simple rectilinear layouts and great expanses of window glass, along with narrow louvered panels for natural ventilation, as part of their vision of a modest and well-ordered postwar residence. Catching on, the Gands started collecting period-appropriate furniture, glassware, and art, until the inside of the house looked as if it hadn’t changed since 1955, when the first owners lived there.

When the Gands moved in, the serene two-acre yard that surrounded the house sported a basic carpet of grass, punctuated here and there by tall trees and planter boxes. The manicured lawn didn’t fit with the home’s woodsy surroundings-and the big, broad windows showcased the incongruity. “This house had been designed to bring nature in,” says Gary, president of the Gand Music & Sound store in Northfield, “but there wasn’t really any nature out there.”

But since they made the decision to rip out the front lawn and start a shade garden, the Gands have been able to surround their home with garden spaces that smartly complement the Keck architecture.

Like the house itself, the gardens are tidily arranged. The front yard holds an inviting array of shade-flowering perennials; walkways wind through and around them. The large side yard features a charming patio broken up by exuberant plantings that are encouraged to grow between the paving stones; the mellow space is fenced to keep deer out. And in the back yard, with its lush lawn in areas prone to spring flooding, strong shrubs and ornamental grasses outside the oversized windows emphasize the interface between indoors and out.


Photography: Alan Shortall


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