A dry-laid bluestone path leads under a custom iron archway to the front door.
A manicured lawn and native grasses blend seamlessly in the backyard, separated from Lake Michigan
by a wooded bluff. See more photos in the gallery below.

Every memorable garden has a defining element, something visitors hold on to long after they’ve left. For a Glencoe landscape, the critical element isn’t a potager, an expansive rose garden, or a collection of exotic ferns—it’s water. Lake Michigan blue, to be exact.

When the homeowners, a young couple with two children, bought the property in 2000, it was with a singular mission: to build a family home with unrivaled views of the inland ocean at their back doorstep. “Their goal was to have open views and plenty of room for their kids to run around,” says Sara Furlan, the design director of Lake Bluff–based Mariani Landscape, who helped create the garden. “There was an emphasis on taking advantage of every possible view of the lake.”

The first step: tearing down the modest three-bedroom ranch house on the property and designing a new home that would optimize the lakefront site. The couple hired Charles Page, a Glencoe-based architect whose work the two admired. He envisioned a French Regency–style house. Working with restrictions imposed by a local historic preservation commission, Page gave the new 8,700-square-foot house a Cape Cod, story-and-a-half look in front, to play down the mass of the house from the street; the lake side has a full two-story façade. The exterior is clad with cut limestone and has a cedar shake roof. Every room on the main floor, save for the living room and the dining room, has a lake view, as do the three bedrooms upstairs.

Page and the Mariani team had worked together on several other projects before this one; their collaboration on the hardscaping and landscape design here made for harmonious effects in all directions. One example is the sunken swimming pool on the south side of the house—it’s all but invisible from indoors, but swimmers can still see the lake from the pool.

For her part, Furlan let the lake take the lead, never overpowering the property’s main attraction with her plant selection or palette. The soft peaches, wispy pinks, downy yellows, and fresh greens of the gardens complement the water’s ever-changing hues. Peonies, roses, yarrow, and sedums in understated colors work well here, as do plantings of blue spruce and bluestone-paved terraces, which echo the house’s azure shutters and provide another nod to Lake Michigan.

Wander the garden paths and you’ll find hollyhocks, foxglove, roses, and boxwood—classic plants favored by the wife to lend a nostalgic, old-fashioned feel to this stately property. Her husband put his own stamp on the landscape with a sand trap and a putting green, partially hidden from view, on the south side of the property. An accomplished golfer, he also adores his grand sweep of lawn, which is kept weed-free with minimal herbicides. The family favors using leaf mulch and other natural plant materials and methods, including digging out weeds by hand when possible.

But gardening with strictly natural methods and products can be difficult, especially on such a extensive site. “The owners  try to use as many organic products as possible, but sometimes the products need to be juiced up to fight insects or a new fungus,” says Vito Mariani, client representative for the project.

The only trouble in paradise is the occasional uninvited guest who mistakes the garden for public property and shows up in the backyard, picnic basket in hand. The family once awoke to find a tent pitched outside their windows. Furlan has helped discourage future interloping with strategic plantings, some fences, and a few thorny plants around the side of the house near the street, leaving the backyard view unobstructed. It’s a small price to pay for a private slice of heaven.

“The Winnetka sailing club is nearby, and there are almost always little white sailboats dotting the lake,” Furlan says. “It’s an idyllic, almost fairy-tale view.”

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Photograph: Linda Oyama Bryan


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Landscape design: Sara Furlan, Mariani Landscape, Lake Bluff, 847-234-2172, marianilandscape.com. Architect: Charles L. Page, Glencoe, 847-441-7860, charlespagearchitect.com