Chicago Buildings with the Best Outdoor Spaces & Amenities

Originally published in Michigan Avenue Magazine
booth
May 2015

For some of Chicago’s hottest properties, a sumptuous rooftop deck is the ultimate must-have amenity.

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Rooftop amenities are now de rigueur in Chicago as residents seek to maximize outdoor time.

Despite living in a city that has more months of cold weather than warm, a growing number of Chicagoans are putting a serious premium on outdoor living space. Rooftop decks at luxurious high-rise rentals and condos are huge draws these days, and many building managers say it’s now de rigueur to offer loads of outdoor amenities—not to mention a great view—if they want to make it onto the list of the hottest buildings in Chicago.

“In other climates, rooftop areas are a big deal [to residents] because they can use it all year-round,” observes Jennifer Saucedo, community manager of North Water Apartments (340 E. North Water St., 872-253-0060), one of the city’s newest and most deluxe rental buildings, which is positioned atop the sleek new Loews Hotel on North Water Street, close to Lake Michigan. Ironically, Saucedo notes, “It’s an even bigger deal in Chicago because [we] can’t enjoy it year-round.”

850 Lake Shore Drive uses strategically placed plantings to delineate space on its rooftop.

Aside from the lake views, there are plenty of playtime opportunities built into North Water’s 50th-floor recreational space. An indoor party room, decked out with four large flat-screen TVs and comfy lounge furniture, opens to a sprawling outdoor deck with more seating space and another large flat-screen TV. Notes Saucedo, “We’re planning to schedule some terrific events up there, including wine socials, cooking classes with big-city chefs, and brunches, too.”

As if that weren’t enough, a second, more elaborate outdoor deck, positioned 35 stories below (just above the Loews Hotel section of the building), boasts an outdoor kitchen and fire pits. Such amenities, Saucedo adds, are crucial to drawing residents. “When new [prized high-rises] are charging about $2,000 for only 550 square feet,” she says, “residents talk about [communal] outdoor space as a way of getting more value.”

When investment group 850 Investors LLC completely renovated the landmark 1920s building at 850 Lake Shore Drive (312-915-0850) last year, they placed a major emphasis on maximizing the 21st floor’s 6,700 square feet of rooftop lounging space, says Matt Phillips, the group’s principal. Featuring an outdoor kitchen with grills and dining tables as well as clusters of plush, oversized chairs and chaise lounges, the communal deck has become a top selling point for the building

The 50th-floor rooftop at North Water Apartments includes an indoor chef’s kitchen with an extensive outdoor terrace.

Landscaping on the rooftop, designed and installed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, is a large contributor to the mood of private spaces the developers desired, explains Phillips. Strategically placed plantings (including several varieties of sedum and allium) take up roughly 40 percent of the expansive grounds, and many groupings are mounded high or feature taller plants that serve as a de facto barrier between the roof’s sunning and dining areas (another soft hill shields views of a dog run). “They visually separate the space, and the separated spots feel more intimate as a result,” notes Phillips.

And just off Michigan Avenue, the Optima Chicago Center’s (200 E. Illinois St., 312-527-0800) 41st-floor Sky Garden Terrace boasts an “Arizona modern” feel, explains leasing specialist Taylor Payne, with fire pits, serene desert grasses, and a massive Jacuzzi that can fit as many as 20 people. “The east side lounge area reminds me of Pop Art—bold and colorful. It’s really fun up there,” says Payne.

Like the other two high-rises, it’s the spectacular views that wow residents and their guests. “On the roof, it feels like you could reach out and touch the Chicago Tribune building, or modern towers like the Trump building,” says Payne. “You can even see on the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel, an old landing pad used for hot-air balloon rides in the 1920s. How cool is that?”

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