Susan Kill Kegan, Registered Landscape Architect
Listening closely to clients to determine their objectives, Susan Kill Kegan designs landscapes that complement existing architecture and incorporates site conditions to produce a plan that is unique, functional and beautiful.
Susan has a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois-Urbana and over 30 years of experience in all aspects of landscape architecture and construction. She also donates time and talent in a “pro bono” capacity, serving on several neighborhood committees providing design assistance.
In the Press
From The Chicago Tribune:
The idea of a private backyard—a place apart from the noise of traffic and the eyes of strangers—is alluring, but unfortunately for homeowners working with a budget, it sometimes seems that the only affordable solution isn't a pretty one.
A high fence will close in the yard right away, but it soon becomes apparent that the reason one common type of fence is called "stockade fence" is that it can make the people inside feel as if they've been tossed in jail.
And while a broad, grand hedge would do just the trick, it demands a big investment of either time or money. Buy the plants while they're small and not yet too costly, then wait five years or more until they're big enough to provide a feeling of enclosure. Or lay out a huge sum to put in mature plants at the start.
There are, however, many creative solutions that can enhance the feeling of privacy in a backyard right away without torpedoing the budget. They range from breaking up a flat, bland fence with decorative panels to planting wide panels of midsize shrubs to create a sense of unbridged distance between neighbors.
The key is knowing how much privacy you need.
"If you're trying to screen out an ugly view of a home where somebody isn't maintaining the yard or has junk cars piled up, you're going to want to block the view completely," says Susan Kill Kegan, a landscape architect in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood.
"But most people just want a place to sit outside where they don't have to feel like the neighbors are looking right at them. They don't need a privacy fence, they just need a sense of enclosure."
A sense or suggestion of privacy is often enough if you don't feel the need to be entirely walled off from the neighbors, but want to be able to keep to yourself some of the time.
That's why Kegan and Darlene Gray, a partner with her husband in the Downers Grove firm Perennial Landscaping, both recommend an approach that could be called strategic fencing. By alternating panels of closed stockade fence with panels of lattice work or another open material, or by using closed panels near the patio and open ones farther down the lot line, Gray says, "you get the closed-in feeling where it's needed, but a more open-space feeling in other parts of the yard."
Another way to use building materials strategically is to create an outdoor room or summer house. A patio walled on two or three sides by panels of lattice work and topped with cross beams can feel like a secluded pavilion. Gray notes that a deck that would normally have waist-high side walls can be made to feel more private if one or more sides gets a higher wall.
One problem with getting privacy is that everybody tends to look for it in the same place—just outside their back door. So everybody ends up in plain view of each other's patios. Kegan recommends scouting for other potential havens.
In urban lots especially, she says, "there might be a little spot between your garage and the neighbor's that you don't use very much anyway." On other lots, it might be a little-used side yard or some other spot that could be made more inviting.
Between garages, part of the work of setting up a hide-out is already done, Kegan notes.
"You've got the garage wall, and maybe the neighbor's garage wall, too," she says. Put up some cross beams or a canopy for a roof, and the space becomes an outdoor destination that feels more remote than it really is. In a side yard or other space, building a wall on one or more sides high enough to serve as a bench can help set the space apart.
Whether it's an out-of-the-way nook or a patio that hugs the house, your little sanctuary will almost certainly feel more private surrounded with plantings. Carrie Meade, a landscape architect at Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, emphasizes that plants can enhance the feeling of privacy even if they're not tall like walls.
"Low shrubs or even perennials can create a visual barrier," she says. A wide bed of shrubs or perennials placed next to a patio can form a buffer zone against the neighbors simply by putting physical distance between you and them.
If that's not enough, dotting the bed with a few small, multi-trunked trees such as serviceberries will underscore the message that you want to be alone without walling you off from the world.
Finally, there's the garden equivalent of a white-noise machine: a water feature. The trickle or splash of a fountain or waterfall can mask a lot of outside noise. Set beside a patio, a water feature can not only block audible distractions but lend a meditative, distancing feeling to the space, making it private in both physical and spiritual ways.