Doorstep Destination

Lagoon-Style Pool with Custom Bridge

Doorstep Destination

This article appears in the May 2009 issue of Housetrends – Cincinnati

Luxury vacation at home

By April Hollon Gatlin

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Reclining in a comfortable lounge chair, I hear the sound of water gently cascading and birds chirping in the flower garden as my family enjoys the pool. We are looking forward to nightfall when we can enjoy the blaze of an outdoor fire. Then, I wake up.
While I dream that this tranquil setting will be the site of my next vacation, one Cincinnati homeowner enjoys this fantasy each time she walks out of her back door.
The homeowner had grown tired of the existing pool and wooden deck, so she decided to install a larger, freeform pool with a walk-in entry point and play area for her grandchildren. In addition to being more useful, the goal was to achieve a back yard that was more harmonious with the surroundings. The homeowner was inspired by her love of nature and her innate talent for landscaping. She drew on her own visions and abilities, and worked with contractors Alan Hendy of Neal’s Design Remodel and Ben Steele and Jason Steele of B & J Stone Creations to create a final design masterpiece.

When in Rome
“The back yard didn’t work for them, and she had a vision in her mind. Ideas flowed from the homeowner and we helped with the structural side of the ideas. We implemented her vision,” Hendy says. A temporary road, complete with steel plates to minimize damage to existing tree root systems, was built around the side of the house to bring in the dirt movers necessary to correct the grade for the pool site. It also allowed for the massive boulders and other supplies to be transported to the backyard.

Tennessee Quartz Site stones were arranged to form patio sitting areas and pathways around the new pool. The stones continue from the pathway into the pool to create a walk-in entry point that appears to flow naturally. A hot tub is separated by a stone wall with waterfalls integrated into the side to camouflage the overflow vents. The shallow portion of the pool continues to flow under a dry stack stone bridge created by the stonemason artisans based on the homeowner’s vision.

“This type of bridge hasn’t been built since the Roman days,” jokes Ben Steele. When asked how he created it, he simply states, “Very carefully.” Using the bridge as a good place to indicate a change of depth without obtrusive markings, the pool leads into a large flat area about waist deep. The pool then becomes deeper to allow for safe diving from a board.

Keeping with the philosophy of maintaining the most harmoniously natural appearance as possible, the pool does not have a normal straight concrete edge like typical pools. Instead the edge begins at the end of the patio stones and bumps up to the stone walls to provide a more natural appearance. Several large boulders are also incorporated into the sides of the pool.

Organized jungle
If the weather does not permit enjoyment of the outside pool, there is also a heated indoor pool and solarium. Assisting with its design, the homeowner’s sister states that they wanted an “organized jungle.” The solarium has a desert air system to control humidity but can be opened up for a nice breeze from the outdoors by way of double doors and screened windows. Several tropical plantings are integrated into the area, but the homeowner laughs that the “jungle feel” is completed by the different things she sometimes finds in her solarium. “I have had a toad and lizards that have been brought in on the plants and have made their home here.” The same natural feel created by the stones, boulders and gardens surrounding the outdoor pool apply to the indoor pool.

Most of the gardens, both inside and outside, were completed by the gifted homeowner who says she likes to “play in the garden.” But what she undertakes to make her gardens grand might seem more like work to most, considering the scale. “I use over 60 flats of annuals, plant over 100 planters, and have 20 hanging baskets,” remarks the homeowner. With regard to the plantings, the homeowner tries a little of everything. “I like to try out the newest varieties to see what happens.”

Exploring the grounds
The landscaped retreat covers approximately two acres. In addition to the pool and gardens, the backyard includes a larger entertaining area and several smaller sitting areas. A sound system, nighttime lighting, sprinklers and faucets are also incorporated throughout the landscaping for function and enjoyment. Stone steps lead down into the woods behind the pool to a fire pit.

“The fire pit was an afterthought,” the homeowner says. The pit is concreted in with stone and dirt. To add to the woodsy feel, the homeowner sprays a mixture of moss and buttermilk on the areas between the stone pathways surrounding the fire pit to facilitate the moss growth between the individual stones. She also has planted ostrich ferns. “The fire pit is a nice cozy place to sit and get away,” Ben Steele notes of the creation he helped build.

The homeowner advises that the key to creating a similar oasis in your own back yard is to make it look mature. “Plants shrink on the way home,” laughs the homeowner. Buy bigger plants and more of them than you think you will need. Also, be sure to have the proper soil prior to planting. Another tip from the homeowner is to pay attention to your pathways. “Look at people’s natural tendencies. Put pathways where animals or people walk naturally or otherwise force them around with an obstacle like a boulder or large bush so they stay on the path.”

Creating a luxurious retreat at home, such as the one created by this homeowner, has spurred the trend toward the “staycation.” The Urban Dictionary defines a staycation as “a vacation that is spent at one’s home enjoying all that home and one’s environs have to offer.” Due to the downturn in the economy, the trend toward staycations is rising. The benefits are obvious—less expense, no packing (or unpacking), no long drives, and no airport delays. A staycation is easy to look forward to if you’ve already created a spa-like haven that looks as if it is one with nature in your own back yard.

Although not every family can build as extensive of a sanctuary as this homeowner, you can be inspired by the concept and focus on one aspect such as a pool, a flower garden or a fire pit area. Invest in your own peaceful backyard paradise so that your next vacation can be a staycation.


Contractor: Alan Hendy, Neal’s Design Remodel; Pool: Klimat Master Pools; Stonework: Ben Steele and Jason Steele, B & J Stone Creations; Landscaping: Late Bloomers, Landscape Consulting and Floral Design