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This Rooftop Respite Brings the Inside Outdoors

A local landscape architect crafts a relaxing outdoor space, keeping Chicago’s seasons in mind.

The custom rooftop
Landscape architect Donald Maldonado created a modular flooring setup that allows for easy rooftop maintenance. “We can take it off at any time for roof repairs, or to run extra wires, gas and water lines,” he says. Photos: Brett Bulthuis; Styling: Katrina Hoernig

Designers are often asked to bring the outside in—to incorporate elements of the outdoors into living spaces. But as lead designer for Chicago Green Design, a firm focused on rooftop engineering and landscaping, Donald Maldonado is tasked with the opposite: bringing the inside out by incorporating indoor elements into outdoor urban areas.

Take the Roscoe Village rooftop of Christopher Wallner and Kimberly Troxell. “We wanted to create a resort-like feel, with the ability to relax on our own or entertain friends,” Troxell says. “We wanted [the space] to be multifunctional.” Those functions included a high-end kitchen and bar, a dining area, and a lounge. To mimic the interior of a house, Maldonado divided the large rooftop into “rooms,” creating delineations by using different flooring—including sustainable ipe wood from Iron Woods, realistic-looking turf designed in conjunction with Perfect Turf, and lightweight porcelain tiles produced in collaboration with Mirage. Such product innovations are the norm for the firm; rooftop architecture comes with specific weight and safety restrictions, so the firm is constantly researching variations on materials and engineering.

The rooftop's custom coffee table
The lounge’s custom coffee table conceals a sophisticated heating system.

In terms of greenery, custom lightweight planters, combined with quick-draining soil and the right plants, allow for ample foliage. “Succulents, which you would normally find in California or Arizona, have been adapted to our environment,” Maldonado says. “They’ll go through the winters and come back.”

When it comes to rooftop design, Chicago’s notoriously fickle weather is, of course, a large factor. To protect against the elements, Maldonado installed a powder-coated aluminum pergola with an automated roof over the dining area and lounge. And to maximize usability, he worked with his in-house furniture company, Kimera, to create a large coffee table with a heat feature. “We put [the heater] under the table so it will get your legs warm, and the heat will rise up,” says Maldonado. “It really extends the seasons.” To complete the setup, he fashioned a one-of-a-kind privacy wall by tracing the veins of a leaf, added chairs from RH, outfitted the kitchen with a Fire Magic grill, and put in several Sonos-­connected speakers.

The rooftop's fountains
Rooftop fountains need to be lightweight, so Maldonado chose one with a small replenishing reservoir that refills and shuts off automatically.

For the clients, the rooftop is perfect for both solitude and entertaining. “We love all the areas you can go that have a different feel,” Troxell says. “We have the right balance between relaxation by ourselves and the versatility to host dinner parties with friends.”


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