Kolacz's garage rooftop overlooking the pool-for lounging, cooking, and dining.
The garage rooftop overlooking the pool was transformed into an
entertaining area with zones for lounging, cooking, and dining.

SIZE 2,000 square feet
TYPE Rooftop decks, courtyards

Chicago designer Erik Kolacz and his partner, David Kroeger, had just finished a luxurious build-out on their apartment in The Montgomery and were not in the market for a new home when they showed up at an open house for a handsome Bucktown abode a few years ago. “Our friend needed live bodies to fill her broker’s open house,” says Kolacz.

But when they saw the three-year-old single-family home’s 25-by-131-foot corner lot, regal limestone façade, gleaming glass curtain walls, and shimmering mosaic tile pool, “we knew we were going to buy it,” Kolacz says.

It conjured up all sorts of ideas, especially since parts of the interior and the grounds were still unfinished. “We knew we could do so much with it,” he recalls. “And we’d really missed having outside space, especially for entertaining.”


A small waterfall in the pool area adds soothing noise; a narrow koi pond, complete with gas-fed fire cubes, runs along the wall of the garage.
A small waterfall in the pool area adds soothing noise; a narrow koi pond,
complete with gas-fed fire cubes, runs along the wall of the garage.

The designer had an immediate and vivid vision of what the home’s empty rooftops and ground-level courtyards could be. He pictured a verdant deck over the garage with a well-dressed alfresco kitchen and dining area; a poolside patio with a rushing waterfall for visual and audio tranquillity; a sweet little retreat in the stark front courtyard; and, the pièce de résistance, a miniature golf course on the roof. “Every home should have something unexpected and different about it,” he says.

But despite appearances, the house was also “badly built and in terrible shape because it had sat empty and neglected for a year,” Kolacz says. “I wanted to confirm the structure of the house to make sure it could support the program we had in mind, and the pool was problematic. Mosaic tiles are the wrong material for this harsh climate.”


Photography: Andreas Larsson



Kolacz (seated, with his partner, David Kroeger) at the five-hole miniature golf course on the roof of their building
Kolacz (seated, with his partner, David Kroeger) designed and built
a five-hole miniature golf course on the roof of their building.

Fortunately, execution is a strong suit for Kolacz, who heads Contrast Design Group, a design firm in Chicago. The men closed on the house in March 2007, and by the time they moved in that summer, renovation and landscaping were already well under way.

Crews re-tuckpointed the limestone block walls and added more stone at the top for structural strength and privacy; reinforced the roofs to handle the weight of the soon-to-come outdoor features; upgraded windows with higher quality, double-insulated thermal versions; and refurbished the six-foot-deep pool by adding a complementary waterfall and replacing the mosaic tile with a sparkle-infused concrete refinisher that won’t crack in Chicago’s frigid winters.


Outdoor kitchen island clad in cleft slate and topped with Black Galaxy granite.
The outdoor great room includes a kitchen island clad in cleft slate and topped with Black Galaxy granite.
A glass-and-steel partition system provides protection from wind.

Before Kolacz could build the garage-top outdoor great room, he also had to add plumbing and electrical systems for the appliances; sprinkler, irrigation, and drainage systems for the vegetation; and railings for safety’s sake. A productive collaboration with Kemora Landscape Designs, the project’s contractor, took care of all that and also led to a striking frosted-glass-and-steel partition system that provides protection from the wind (and echoes the garage’s mineral-glass-and-aluminum windows).

Kolacz’s father, a tool and die maker and farmer, helped design and build cedar-slat scrims to warm up the limestone walls in the new alfresco rooms and also with a waterfall in the front courtyard. Kolacz constructed the golf course himself, with help from the turf installer, packing five tricked-out holes into a trim 20-by-25-foot space and landscaping them with plants chosen to withstand strong sunlight.


A cedar-slat scrim and a waterfall in the ground-level front courtyard
A cedar-slat scrim and a waterfall gave the ground-level front courtyard a new lease on life.

He is halfway through finishing the interior of the home, but in the meantime the maxed-out grounds have added 2,000 square feet of living space and seen plenty of use over the past two summers.

“It’s been more successful than we ever imagined—especially the miniature golf course,” Kolacz says. “We started our own annual tournament that’s so popular we have a waiting list.”

To see the designer of this space talking to Bring It Home TV‘s Rochelle Vayo Adkinson, click here.

NEXT: Buy Guide »

Photography: Andreas Larsson



Buy Guide

ABOUT OUR SOURCES We attempt to provide as much information as possible about the products and professionals involved in designing the homes we show in our pages. Items not sourced here are probably not available for sale; they might be antiques or part of an owner’s personal collection. When an item or product line is widely available, we may not list a specific store for it. If you have a question about our sources, please write to us at chicagohome@chicagomag.com.

Architecture and design: Erik Kolacz, Contrast Design Group, 400 N. Wells St., 312-222-0772, contrastdesigngroup.com. General contracting and garden design: Kemora Landscape Designs, 5811 N. Fairfield Ave., 773-910-1800, kemoralandscapes.com. Curtain wall windows: YKK AP, ykkap.com. Foliage: Gethsemane Garden Center, 5739 N. Clark St., 773-878-5915, gethsemanegardens.com. Pool courtyard: Concrete refinishing material, Diamond Brite Exposed Aggregate Pool Finishes, Southern Grout and Mortar, sgm.cc. Pool refinishing, Dolphins Pool, Huntley, 866-389-2207. Fire cubes, designed by Kolacz. Chaise longues, Gloster, Merchandise Mart, 312-321-1093, gloster.com. Miniature golf course: Turf, Turf Evolutions, turfevolutions.com. Faux rocks, Artificial Rocks Factory, artificialrocksfactory.com. Cedar bridge, Improvements, improvementscatalog.com. Rooftop deck: Black Galaxy granite countertop and cleft slate cladding, Tile Outlet, 2434 W. Fullerton Ave., 773-276-2662, tileoutletchicago.com. Planters, partitions, banquettes, railing system, and deck system, Kemora Landscape Designs. Table and stools, Gloster. Cedar planks, K-Wood Products Co., South Bend, Ind., 574-287-4262. Front courtyard: Table and chairs, Gloster. Waterfall, Bluworld, bluworldusa.com. Cedar planks, K-Wood Products Co.