Autumnal Design with Todd Schwebel



Todd Schwebel designs houses and gardens across the country for a discerning clientele. Many Schwebel Company clients reside in historic houses impeccably restored or renovated by Schwebel and often surrounded by gardens he also designs. In the words of one Schwebel Company client has said, “It’s a treat to wake up in a work of art every day!”


This beautifully restored late Victorian historic house with a new porch system designed and built by The Schwebel Company is a listed CILF property.


The Schwebel Company designed and built this new front porch for this red brick Colonial house that never had one. Looks like it’s always been there! Some people call this “Schwebel-izing.”


Dumbarton Oaks inspired this important new formal garden designed by Schwebel in Washington, DC.

Arrayed against the backdrop of these landmark properties, we asked Schwebel to celebrate the fall season with us by sharing some of his favorite autumnal images and thoughts.

Why is fall so important to you?

For me, good design, good taste, beauty—they’re all grounded in nature. During the fall season we are reminded of nature’s bounty, the harvest, and we gather together with family and friends to celebrate life’s abundance (hopefully in rich, vibrant places, with brilliant leaves everywhere, and enjoying the first fires of the season!).


Mums, pumpkins, and kale!


Todd’s in-house carpenter bench-made this Federal-style garden gate that welcomes visitors with a pair of Longshadow planters decked out for Thanksgiving in Maryland.


Fall roses and hydrangeas often last until Thanksgiving in this formal rose garden inspired by the designs of Russell Page.

 When did you start decorating and building with green or natural materials?

[laughing] Oh my! I’ve been green since before green was a fashionable movement, or there were farmer’s markets all over town. I’m that old! 


Schwebel walking the “park” at his great-grandfather’s Spring Bay Farm under the ancient oak trees. This land along the Illinois River has been cultivated for generations and has deeply influenced his connection to nature.

But seriously, I grew up in a family with deep roots in agriculture and farming here in Illinois. As a young boy I couldn’t wait to pick pumpkins and corn stalks from our fields during our weekend visits to my grandparents downstate and bring them back to decorate. My grandfather grew a small field of pumpkins on one of his farms just for his grandchildren’s joy every year. I had all the decorations I could possibly use—it was an idyllic childhood for a budding designer! 


Carved from solid limestone, Todd selected this antique Victorian garden bench to decorate an important new formal rose garden he designed.


This antique limestone Della Robbia basket once graced a David Adler designed estate in Lake Forest. It now commands a new formal garden Todd designed out East.

As for building, we do things the old-fashioned way, always using natural materials, while seamlessly building in all the mod-cons (modern conveniences). 

For those of us who follow you on Instagram, we’ve noticed one of your favorite hashtags is #livecolorfully. Tell us about that.

Fall colors are a great example! As I said, the source of all good design is nature. Sometimes I just memorize the perfect brilliant scarlet color of a maple leaf then have it created for some one’s living room or library walls. But I also mean one should live colorfully by engaging, entertaining, and using your beautiful house or garden by sharing it with others. That’s what it’s all about, color. It literally and figuratively makes the world a happier place. God knows we need it these days. 


This potager, just steps from a kitchen, is centered by an antique urn with a glorious Sugar Maple blazing behind it.


Richly colored velvets, mohairs, and dreamy silks with all the trimmings invite guests to gather around the fireplace in this living room with custom made sofas and a handmade needlepoint rug made to Schwebel’s specifications.


This hearthside furniture grouping is the heart of Schwebel’s house.


This antique Hitchcock carver has seen almost 200 Thanksgivings. It loves its spot under Schwebel’s custom made silk fringe.

Can you tell us about a current project?

It’s a tale of an old-guard Chicago family that could be it’s own PBS miniseries some day because of this family’s history and contributions to Chicago, but suffice it to say for now, we are gut-rehabbing one of their family houses for a third-generation University of Chicago doctor. In fact, it’s the house he came home from the hospital to as a baby and where he grew up.

I’ve reimagined the dark Edwardian house with four new skylights, a big new open kitchen, five bathrooms, and all with walls of new French doors and windows that open onto a large garden we’re also designing. It’s a transformation!

Let’s talk turkey. Tell us about your Thanksgiving bird.

I’m a briner. Twenty-four hours, please, in an apple cider and bourbon mix. Our turkeys come from the Yordy Turkey Farm in Morton, Illinois. The Yordys have been our country neighbors in Tazewell County for more than 150 years. They are Mennonites. Be sure to try their smoked turkey, it’s great for holiday party buffets.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!