deck with ornamental grasses in a Chicago home

The deck’s centerpiece is a fountain with a striking copper sculpture and a shallow firepit vessel that sits on a pedestal. At night, metal, water, and flame create a dramatic effect.

It’s tough to compete with a sprawling view of Chicago’s magical, multi-layered skyline. For Jennifer Glaspie and Michael Osanloo, whose Bucktown house offered a captivating view but little more than a bland expanse of rooftop deck from which to appreciate it, the answer was not to compete but to complement. The couple called on interior designer Afiya Adams of Aha Designs, who, along with her mother and partner, Johnene Adams, whipped up a welcoming rooftop sanctuary that manages to feel remote from the city even while embracing it.

deck with ornamental grasses at a Chicago home

The rooftop deck is laid out like the rooms of a house. The living room is made up of two chaise longues and an orange umbrella, while the dining area is defined by its own blue umbrella.

Putting a deck and garden on top of the house was a natural choice because, like so many new city abodes, the house nearly fills its lot. The little space that’s left at ground level is more a nook than a yard.

Glaspie and Adams came up with the idea of laying the space out like the rooms of a house-to each area its own function. "You have the foyer, the entry area where you first walk out, and you see the fountain and realize you’re somewhere really great," Adams says. The centerpiece fountain, an intriguing copper sculpture, provides more than simply the soothing sound of water; at night, flames reaching up from a vessel positioned atop the water are a dramatic sight.

The effect is a pleasing tension between the two views: you can gaze outward, over the city, or inward, at a soulful composition of water, fire, and metal.

bamboo planters

Bamboo planters and ornamental grasses soften the rectilinear space.

Adams’s curvaceous, bamboo-edged planters soften the rectilinear feel of the rooftop; arranged in tiers, they provide an extra layer of visual interest. Adams and Glaspie filled the planters with ornamental grasses chosen for their billowy, exuberant ways. As they bend and shimmy in a breeze, they bring an untamed element to an orderly place.

There’s also a functional cheat going on: the lower grasses in the planters complement the giant ravenna grass, whose eight-foot stalks rocket up from the roof’s southeast corner. These were selected for strategic reasons-the tall grass blocks the least attractive section of the close-in view.

In the living area, an inviting pair of chaises loll beneath a bright orange umbrella. An equally welcoming dining area features its own blue umbrella, while a textural array of plants, planters, and other details enhances the feeling of remove from the crowds and noise of the city below.

ornamental grasses at Chicago home

The rooftop, then, has done its job as a balance against the powerful pull of the city. And for the homeowners, that balance is essential. "We both get a little claustrophobic," Glaspie says. "We love being in the city, but you crave some retreat space and some nature."

Or as her husband puts it: "We like the peacefulness of going away somewhere, but we don’t want to have to leave the city to get there."

Mission accomplished.

RESOURCES Design: AHA Designs, 3127 S. Michigan Ave., 312-225-9294; Fountain: Blue Water Fountains, 866-984-9902; Construction of fountain, platforms, kitchen, flooring, and planters: Voytek Construction, Oak Park, 847-710-3323. Fire pit in fountain: Smith & Hawken, 800-940-1170; Sofa, dining table, chairs, and umbrella: Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176; Chaises: Frontgate, 888-263-9850;


Photography: Alan Shortall