Rocco Fiore & Sons Creates Multi-Leveled Outdoor Masterpiece in Glencoe

November 27, 2009

roccofioreRocco Fiore & Sons is known for tackling remarkably complex and topographically challenging landscaping jobs throughout Chicagoland. But the Libertyville-based landscape architecture, site development and management firm stepped up—literally—to a whole new level of sophistication and creativity in their approach to a distinctive residential project in Glencoe.

Enlisted by a homeowner residing in an elegant castle-like stone home with several steep grade changes, Fiore landscape architect Drew Johnson, design manager Rick Lamble and their crew were faced with a daunting task: create esthetically pleasing transitions between each of the home’s four exterior levels via imaginative landscaping, hardscaping and planting. An avid gardener and lover of the outdoors, the resident’s goal was to take advantage of her home’s naturally diverse elevations and incorporate more functional and decorative outdoor living areas on her property.

“The client hired us to grade and shape four different existing levels,” said Johnson. “The first was a fitness terrace on the lowest rear level—where she could practice yoga and exercise. The second was a swimming pool area on the next level up, which required the installation of an in-ground pool and surrounding deck, hardscaping and plantings. The third was the rear yard, accessible by a series of extra-wide lawn steps and custom stone risers we would need to put in. And the fourth and highest grade was the front yard.”

The property, added Johnson, “was quite unique in that it was built on a ravine and had several large grade changes. “It was approximately a 13-foot dropoff from the front to the rear yard, and about an eight-foot difference between the front yard and the planned swimming pool level. And down below them all was the ravine, at a 25-foot dropoff.”

Adding to the challenge was the fact that the property is a corner lot location set on a relatively busy street. Hence, Johnson’s team had to create privacy with carefully selected plantings that would block the highly visible view to the pool and other areas. Their solution was to plant mature evergreens at staggered heights: 25 spruces and 45 arborvitaes, which were picked to provide dense coverage and visually interesting textures.

The pool equipment would also prove tricky to conceal. The answer was to build the devices right into a hillside on the property within a buried vault with a vented top.

“Deciding on which hardscaping materials to use took time, as well,” said Johnson. “After working closely with the homeowner and the architects involved, we determined that one wise approach was to pull architectural elements from the home’s magnificent stone exterior. So we employed armor stone, for example, as well as Lannon stone in the two staircases and the pool we crafted.”

Blue stone was the material of choice for the stoops and front steps to the house. To add details on the driveway, Johnson and the client opted for salvaged granite pavers.

“We also used three-foot by three-foot granite boulders for the retaining walls needed,” he said.

When attempting a project of this scope, “the key is to attain proper drainage,” Johnson said. “So we made sure to put in a drainage system at the top of the stone walls and retaining walls. Additionally, we installed a series of French drains around the lawn areas and used perforated pipe and gravel to collect the groundwater to prevent wet areas when you move from higher to lower elevations.”

Johnson said the homeowners were integrally involved in the project from start to finish, offering regular input and providing a carefully selected color palette and species preference for Johnson to follow.

“The client wanted to use a lot of perennials, so we planted drought-tolerate varieties like sedums, purple cone flowers, creeping phlox and dianthus between and around many of the boulders and rocks. Overall, a variety of plants were used, including peonies, ornamental grasses and flowering shrub roses,” Johnson noted. “The bountiful planting creates balance with the use of natural stone.”

To achieve the flourishing lawn steps on the extra-wide staircase built, a hardy bluegrass mixture was chosen. The result is a lush, green ascendant pathway that is pleasantly soft underfoot and colorfully eye-catching to the distant observer.

Just above the lawn steps and outside the kitchen, Johnson and crew also fashioned a vegetable garden zone that nurtures tomatoes, kohlrabi, cabbages, chives and an assortment of herbs.

In addition to the evergreens strategically placed on the pool side, 10 large shade trees and 15 ornamental trees were planted around the property—including a Willow (which adds instant shade to the yoga terrace), River Birches, Crimson King Maples, Hawthornes, Magnolias and Japanese Maples.

“Ultimately, the homeowners wanted us to make a unique, artistic statement about their home and their lifestyle through exquisite landscaping architecture,” said Johnson, who noted that the lady of the house had admired the scenic beauty of the lot as a child growing up a block away. She eventually fulfilled her fantasy by buying the property as an adult, tearing down the existing home and having her dream home built. She recruited Rocco Fiore & Sons for its landscaping expertise prior to the home’s construction to ensure a seamless integration between the residence and its exterior.

“It’s not every day that you get the chance to work on a multi-tiered site like hers,” Johnson said, “where each level provided an opportunity for expanded use and inventive outdoor expressions of the owner’s tastes and personalities. The project took a year-and-a-half, from planning to completion, and we still visit the home regularly to plant new foliage, transplant flowers and maintain the landscaping. But, needless to say, the finished product is one of our proudest achievements.”

Founded in 1947, Rocco Fiore & Sons is a proud family-owned-and-operated firm based in Libertyville, Ill. that spans three generations and specializes in landscape architecture and site development/management. Headed today by Rocco Fiore Jr., the company continues to stress quality, service and value—the core guidelines that have helped Rocco Fiore & Sons achieve tremendous success throughout Chicagoland and earn a stellar reputation among hundreds of satisfied clients over the past six decades. For more information, call (847) 680-1207 or visit

Categories: Single Family Homes

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Lynn Walsh is the President at Walsh Communications, LLC. Walsh Communications is a full-service public relations, marketing and advertising agency for home builders and real estate-related industries.

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