IN THE NEWS: Garden Rooms Fall 2006

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Garden Rooms
Fall 2006


An urban couple calls on a landscaper’s interior design skills to create a peaceful, plant-filled sanctuary in the frenzied heart of Chicago.

By Steve Slack

Photography by Kritsada | field editory: Shirley Remes

Deadheading daisies often follows dessert at alfresco dinner parties hosted by Chicagoans Tom and Pat Kapsalis. Guests can’t help but get into the gardening mood when surrounded by lush greenery, enveloped in the heady aromas of heliotrope and sweet-scented gardenias, and sealed away from the sounds of the city behind thick, vine-covered walls.

A former commissioner of planning and aviation for the City of Chicago, Tom put his plotting skills to work in designing the layout of the garden room. “The terrace is really just an extension of our home,” he says. “Inside is outside and outside is inside.”

Spanning almost 1,500 squares feet, the terrace runs the 60-foot length of the couple’s condo, and is visible from the kitchen, dining room, living room, and master bedroom. “Only the bedroom has any draperies at all,” Pat says. “We are surrounded by a 30-foot wall, so privacy is not a problem.”

Working with landscape designer Leslie Cervantes, the Kapsalises replant their garden room at least four times a year, keeping it filled with seasonal blooms. “I always though I knew a lot about plants,” Pat says. “But this is a whole different story, what with the sunlight issues and all the containers. Leslie really understands what works here.”


A former interior designer with a master’s degree in psychology, Cervantes says she pays close attention to a client’s home environment. “I try to match my work to their personalities, how they like to live, what they surround themselves with,” she says.

In Tom and Pat’s case, Cervantes picked up on their ethnicity (Tom is Greek; Pat is Italian) and their love of European provincial life. “Their style is eclectic certainly, but there’s a kind of French/Italian them in it, and I know they particularly love the small, intimite courtyards and gardens of Italy.” Consequently, Cervantes concentrated on oversize Mediterranean terra-cotta pots overflowing with cascading flora, a small fountain, and French-style espaliers clamberingn up faux-stone walls.

“Tom is just a riot,” Cervantes says. “He has these salvaged items that he has incorporated into the design, and these objects tone down anything too formal and make the space cheerful and very comfortable.”

Comfort and restraint are hallmarks of Pat’s design aesthetic, too. “I kept the interior colors calm and cool and neutral,” she says. “This is so that the garden would be where all the color is. It’s where the visual interest is focused. When you walk into our condo off of the elevator, that’s the first thing you see.”

Other than an occasional intimate evening with friends, the couple spend their time in the terrace garden puttering, relaxing with newspapers, or enjoying the contemplative solitude that is rare in the middle of the city.

“I have a Zen-like philosophy of life,” Pat says. “I believe in living in the moment and enjoying every minute just for what it is. Even though this is work – and it’s a lot of work – it’s work that rewarding because the result is something exceptionally beautiful.


“I have to know what kind of sun I have to work with,” landscape designer Leslie Cervantes says. “That’s before I can even begin to think of how to create a design theme.”

Once she has a feeling for what plant material will survive, Cervantes chooses plants that fit into a garden room the way furnishings are arranged in an interior. “There is a science to these things, the scale of the plant when it’s grown, the texture of the foliage,” the avid plant collector says.

“You don’t just stick things anyplace,” Cervantes says. “Every shrub has a front and a back, a face, and a side. If you don’t understand that, then it’s like an interior designer installing a dresser backward.”

Cervantes creates rhythm and movement with plants that “weep” or have contorted branch structures. “I love evergreens – dwarf junipers, white pines, and Japanese pines especially – and ‘Dragon Lady’ holly for their winter textures and color,” she says.

For the Kapsalises, she used some formal design with a European feel – gardenia standards, jasmine topiary, and espalier.


This photo With the city beyond it, this well planted terrace features an outdoor dining area at one end. Opposite Begonias, verbena, geraniums, Lantana, Abutilon, and Calibrachos spill from a pair of containers.

“Almost every room faces the garden, and with the wall just glass and French doors, there’s really not much sparation.” – homeowner Tom Kapsalis

Clockwise from top left: Pat and Tom Kapsalis with designer Leslie Cervantes; Pat uses the marble shelf as a serving sideboard when dining outside; decking and tiered planters along the terrace wall are Spanish cedar.

A burbling fountain is topped with black marble and surrounded by caladiums, petunias, pentas, and impatiens.

Chicago Landscape Design Article - Garden Rooms

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