Cedar lattice fencing and a pergola create shade and privacy on this West Town garage rooftop deck.
The marine-varnished dining table (sold as a worktable by Design Within Reach), café chairs, and sheer cotton curtains provide a south-of-France feel.
When inspiration arrives, you don’t question it, except maybe when it comes in the form of . . . artificial grass? That was the dilemma for West Towner John Vazquez, who realized that designing his dream outdoor space was also an exercise in trusting his instincts.
The space in question was his garage roof deck, the final frontier in a ten-year-long redo of his single-family home. He had already accomplished the goal of filling his house with meaningful possessions and eclectic art to create a modern and luxurious yet relaxed interior. A lush ground-level space outside his back door was complete with dramatic landscaping, lighting, and a koi pond. But the roof deck remained a conundrum.
About a year after he had moved in, Vazquez and his father put up fencing and built utilitarian plywood benches that were, by his own admission, poorly thought-out and lackluster. “On hot summer days, that southwest exposure would burn a hole right through you,” he recalls. “It was dry and parched and uninviting and, obviously, hardly ever used.”
It wasn’t until eight years later that he found his muse. At the “Garden in a City” special exhibit in Grant Park’s Butler Field in 2006, he saw a display that involved artificial grass. His thoughts went immediately to childhood memories.
“I just kept thinking how it felt to lie in the grass and look up at the sky. I knew intuitively I wanted that again,” he says. He also knew he wanted something completely maintenance free; his increasingly busy life (he is an anesthesiologist) demanded it. But when he shopped his daring ideas around for feedback, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative.
“Everyone thought [artificial] grass would be tacky. They couldn’t see the possibilities I was seeing in my head,” Vazquez says. “I’d relied for so long on input from others about the house, whether it was friends or designers, and this time I was ready to take the risk to get exactly what I wanted.”
Photography: Andreas Larsson
Styling: Diane Ewing
John Vazquez and Sadie relax under hawthorn trees planted in lightweight resin pots from Sprout Home. The garden stool is from Bungalow 5, the solid wood chandelier from Jayson Home & Garden.
He began to scour the Web and magazines for inspiration. It turned out that artificial grass had come a long way since its invention in the sixties. The kind he chose, made by Albuquerque-based Forever Lawn, was environmentally friendly and created, in part, from recycled materials. It was everything he was looking for: soft to the touch, easy to clean, durable, and fade-proof, with its own built-in drainage system. Most important, it is specifically designed for dogs, with a short, dense blade structure and flow-through backing.
A year later, with an overstuffed folder of ideas and information about sources, he called Carol Heffernan of Heffernan Landscape Design and together they put his plan into action. Fortunately, the roof had been designed with a floating deck, with the weight supported by side beams and not by the rooftop itself, so weight-bearing issues were not a concernVazquez says he appreciated Heffernan’s ability to roll with his faux-grass vision even though she had never used this particular product before. “Working with Carol was great,” he says. “It was a real collaboration. She went ahead and figured out dimensions for all kinds of uses for the space, which expanded its potential even more.”
River rock and bluestone pavers form a geometric border around the edge of the lawn.
His original idea for the deck included a “pebble beach” border of bluestone and river rock around the grass. Because the artificial grass came on a roll and he didn’t want a seam, Heffernan accommodated the size of the grassy swath to the width of the roll and created the border accordingly. She also built and installed cedar fencing and a pergola, for shade. “She executed exactly what I created in my mind,” Vazquez says.
Furnishings were kept simple, playful, and lightweight so as not to overwhelm the small space. Vazquez chose chic, colorful mix-and-match pieces that weren’t necessarily made for the outdoors, coating a clean-lined table with marine varnish to protect it from the elements. He can now boast that the deck is truly the most low-maintenance space on his property—save for the occasional tree watering.
Vazquez often hosts picnic dinners with blankets and throw pillows on the grassy rooftop. And he loves that his dog, Sadie, seems to have taken to the feel of it, just as she would with real grass. “She loves to roll around and scratch her back,” he says.
But mostly, the space is Vazquez’s escape hatch. On many summer nights he finds himself quietly lying in the grass, looking up at the sky, completely relaxed and unfettered. “The deck has this wonderful quality of slowing my life down,” he says. “It enhances my sense of well-being and that’s invaluable to me.”
For resource information, see Buyer’s Guide.
Photography: Andreas Larsson
Styling: Diane Ewing