Photography: Bob Coscarelli; Styling, Diane Ewing

Containers and window boxes make all levels of his house part of the garden, says Tom Stringer.

If you suspect the inside of designer Tom Stringer’s turn-of-the-century house on Barry Avenue in Lake View is as handsome as its exterior, you would be correct. What’s not so easily guessed by passersby is that hidden away behind the three-story graystone is an unusually peaceful garden, where eight-foot-tall brick walls and the splish-splash of a fountain make the maddening crowd seem far away indeed. Which is the point.

“We wanted it to be instensely private,” says Stringer, who renovated the house top to bottom with his partner, Scott Waller, five years ago. “And we wanted it evocative of both Mediterranean and New Orleans-style gardens. For us there’s a certain romantic notion that high walls usually contain a secret. It’s personal—that’s what we were aiming for.” Architect Steve Rugo (of Rugo/Raff) and Douglas Hoerr (of Hoerr-Schaudt Landscape Architects) helped them pull the project off.

Stringer and his partner, Scott Waller, are self-proclaimed orchid nuts who display their plants on a wall of the garage.

The lush greenery in the front of the stately turn-of-the-century house continues in the back yard.

The yard, like others on the alley-less block, is deeper than the ususal city parcel and wide enough to accommodate separate areas for lounging, dining, and convivial gathering. There are planted beds and some good-sized trees, including a locust, a redbud, a Chinese lilac, and a few arborvitae cedars.

An irrigation system eliminates much of the labor the garden would otherwise require. “We wanted everything to be easy care,” Stringer says, “And we wanted hot color up where the eye could see it.” Using a wall of the garage to display orchids, (which winter in a basement orchidarium) helps; a thick layer of grape ivy on the side of the house and luxuriant window boxes extend the lushness higher.

Lounging, dining, and gathering areas are defined by brickwork “rugs” edged with limestone.

The real secret of this garden, however, is how it sounds. “It’s amazing what one little fountain can do to create a sense of place,” says Stringer. “With that water music, the city melts away.”

A fountain supplies water music all summer.