Chicago Green Design Creates An Urban Rooftop Oasis

With outdoor space always at a premium, Chicagoans don’t hesitate to hit the roof during the summer.

That quest for sunlight often has homeowners and apartment dwellers hauling a few lawn chairs up the stairs and maybe trying their hands at a few potted tomato plants.

But one pair of property owners recently took their rooftop level to a new level. This summer, they’re enjoying the city’s skyline from a rooftop deck like none other, a masterwork designed by Donald Maldonado, lead designer at Chicago Green Design.

Modern Midwest spoke with Maldonado about his process and inspiration working on this project.

What were the homeowners’ objectives in this project?

DM: When the homeowners contacted me, they expressed their desire to have an area with clean lines and a modern design. They wanted me to create rooms that could be used for different purposes; like lounging, dining and cooking. This was a little tricky because the space was narrow, but I had just enough room to accommodate all of the client’s needs.

What are your favorite three features for this project?

DM: My favorite three features are the porcelain walkway, the fire table/pergola and the custom Ipe dining area.

To me, there should always be something in the design that really stands out.

I accomplished this by creating a beautiful porcelain walkway. The porcelain was flown in from Italy specifically for this project and is an incredible addition to the space. The walkway serves multiple purposes. Its simplest, but most important effect, is to divide the rooms visually. As you follow the walk it draws your attention to the fire-table adding drama to the entire project. Then your eyes are drawn upwards to the pergola.

When designing the roofline of the pergola, I intended to showcase the fire-table. I accomplished this by drawing your eyes down the path, then your sightline is drawn up and you see the pergola’s shape is open to the sky, this acts as an inviting presence welcoming you into the room and also acts as an exhaust for the fire table. This way the homeowners can really crank the 75,000 BTU fire table up!

Lastly, the warm and inviting dining area. I love when I get the chance to design a custom piece of furniture with Ipe wood. I designed the table with a stainless steel base and built in seating. The flooring is also made from Ipe deck tiles, so it matches the whole area and brings out the warm earthy tones. The richness of this is felt day and night.

How do you approach each project with the client?

DM: The very first thing I do when I walk into a clients’ home is take in the surroundings. I see what their tastes are and how they chose to decorate their home. This way, before we even talk about the rooftop, I have an idea of what this space might look like.

I also ask many questions, like what are they looking to use this space for, what colors they like and are they interested in options like a fire pit, a water feature, or a kitchen. Then we talk about budget. Out of all the things I mentioned previously, this is obviously the most important. I have never had a problem designing an area, but I can only bring a client my best design by knowing what my budget constraints are.

When I visit the actual space, I take in the surroundings, I look for areas we might want to obscure and other areas we may want to focus on.  When you have the Chicago skyline as your backdrop, I ensure the seating arrangement is facing the real show.

What is the most fulfilling part about the design process?

DM: Creating something from nothing and really getting to know the client.

The project is just as much theirs as it is mine and I really enjoy working collaboratively with the client. Together we come up with a design that is a true, creative expression of their desires, while still getting the full functionality of the space. I am always committed to working closely with the client until we get it just right.