Building a pool is a big step that takes careful research, weeks to complete, and a lot of cash. But the rewards can be tremendous, especially if the surrounding patio, landscaping, lighting, and electrical work are professionally designed and installed.
Not only does a pool provide a therapeutic visual focus to the backyard, but, done right, it can transform your outdoors into an oasis so relaxing that you'll think twice about dealing with the travel hassles to find a tropical paradise elsewhere.
When Matt Gunther began planning a pool for his Pasadena home, he knew he wanted to create an exciting backyard environment for entertaining. He imagined an elaborate Caribbean paradise, like what one might find at a posh tropical resort.
Brackens Landscaping, a Pasadena company that specializes in resort-style pools, designed an 1,100-square-foot pool with a large swim-up Tiki bar, complete with underwater stools and a thatched roof. Like all Brackens pools, the irregular shape is unique and custom to the property, says Jason Bellman, an executive vice president with the firm.
The Gunthers—Matt, Debbie, and their four teenage children—bought the home, in the exclusive Compass Point development, in July 2005. Work on the pool started in October 2006.
"We knew we wanted something tropical, with a waterfall," says Gunther, president of Gunther Refuse Services. "We entertain a lot, we have a large family and a lot of friends, and we wanted something comfortable for everyone."
Just in terms of technology and practicality, the finished product ranked high: The bar's service counter is just 4 inches above the water, and several concrete stools with polished river-rock seats rise from the floor of the pool. The bar preparation area, accessible from the pool deck, is served by electrical and plumbing, with a sink, refrigerator, and outlets for kitchen appliances. The thatched tiki roof has lights and a ceiling fan.
A waterfall at one end of the pool is operated by wireless remote control, as are all electrical features of the pool, including the heater and underwater LED lighting.
"From inside the house, the pool can be heated to 80 degrees in 90 minutes," says Bellman. At another end of the pool, a sun deck, or "solar shelf," allows people to place their chairs in shallow water and cool off without being fully submerged, Bellman says.
Brackens pools are designed to mimic those of upscale hotels in exotic locales. "That's what we try to model these pools after," says Bellman. "We take it to the limit."
The pool deck is made of pavers while the coping and sun deck are made entirely of natural stone. The patio is made of interlocking concrete pavers arrayed in a palazzo style, says Bellman. The waterfall, which has a diving rock three feet above the surface of the pool, is constructed of natural boulders from western Maryland and Pennsylvania quarries.
After the pool was completed in spring 2007, the property was landscaped with low-maintenance ornamental grasses, gold thread cypress, and crape myrtles. In season, wave petunias and hibiscus provide brilliant color. In lieu of mulch, which is messy around pools, planting beds are filled in with Delaware Valley river jack, a multicolored gravel that is popular for landscaping, says Bellman.
When Debbie and Matt Gunther saw the landscaping, "It was absolutely beautiful," says Matt Gunther. "We were just in awe. It was way beyond our expectations."
The 1.3-acre property overlooks a golf course, which is visible from most of the backyard. Last summer, the pool was the site of countless birthday, graduation, and holiday celebrations, Gunther says. "With the stereo on and the blenders going, it's just great for entertaining," he says.
Ever since they bought their Guilford home in 1997, Lindsay and Bruce Fleming found the location of the pool unworkable. It was so close to the house, one had to take great care not to fall into it. Its edge was only one or two steps from the back door.
The couple wanted very much to expand their kitchen and add a breakfast area, but the pool was a huge obstacle in any architect's plans. Finally, several years ago, the Flemings bit the bullet and decided to move the pool farther from the house. That allowed them to remodel and expand the kitchen, laundry room, and mudroom, replace the aging garage and poolhouse, and add a basement family room underneath the new construction.
They started in 2005 by filling in the old pool and building the new pool. By early 2006, under the direction of architect Laura Thomas of Melville Thomas Architects, it was time to begin construction on the additions. The poolhouse, which had been separated from the house by the garage, was relocated so that it's connected to the kitchen. "It's a great space for entertaining," Thomas says.
"Poolhouses often become this abandoned, strange-smelling area that you need to air out once in a while." she says. "This is more than a poolhouse. It has a wet bar, a full bath with steam shower, and a game room, so you can use it all year-round."
The addition was a very complex project, Thomas says, because of the home's location in an historic neighborhood and the challenge of building over an in-filled pool. The lot itself is peninsular and graded and presents its own challenges, says Bruce Fleming.
The house dates to 1920 and was originally owned by a member of the Abell family, says Fleming. It was built in the French Renaissance Revival style, with stucco walls and a dramatic slate mansard roof. A seven-foot iron fence surrounds the .75-acre lot, which overlooks Sherwood Gardens.
The new pool, designed by Pleasure Pools, has an irregular shape and is surrounded by a bluestone patio. Freeform bluestone walls behind the pool contain small waterfalls to add interest, says Fleming.
Landscape architect Lydia Kimball of Mahan Rykiel Associates, was brought in to create a master plan for the property. Her main objective was to recommend ways to better integrate the new pool and poolhouse into their surroundings, using low walls, a pergola, pathways, and plantings to make the entire back of the property look cohesive.
Although the Flemings ended up spending about twice what they had originally expected on the project, they say they are thrilled with the results.
"We have usable space where we had none," says Lindsay Fleming. "Before, the traffic patterns threatened to plunge us into the pool at every turn. Our backyard was a place of peril. Now it's become a place for pleasure."
When a Little Italy restaurateur first moved into his custom-built, Mediterranean-style home in Lutherville in 2005, he was not planning to have a pool. He'd actually been planning to use the strip of grass on the east side of the home for a bocce court.
But other family members prevailed: "My kids lobbied me for the pool," the homeowner says. He hired Maxalea, which had executed all of the landscaping on the 1.5-acre property, to situate the pool and work with Pleasure Pools in installing it. Because the pool was an afterthought, and positioned adjacent to a steep incline, a challenging excavation was required, says Maxalea president Mike McWilliams.
In this lavish project, Timonium met Tuscany: The pool, measuring 18 feet by 44 feet, sits to the east of the grand 9,100-square-foot house, which is made of Roman brick and stucco painted Aztec gold. For a visual backdrop along the east side of the pool, there are five statues representing the fine arts: theater, painting, architecture, music, and sculpture. The sculptures, made of soft limestone from Vicenza, Italy, are a pale ivory and become slightly darker when wet.
Baltimore sculptor William Duffy was commissioned to create the bronze boars' head fountains that are mounted on plinths, or small columns, under the statues. The bronze has been treated with a chemical to accelerate the natural verdigris process.
Between the plinths sit sturdy planters that, during warm weather, contain lush pygmy date palms. "They lend a little tropical atmosphere to the pool area," say the homeowners.
The patio around the pool is made of Chinese teak and Tennessee stone set in a random rectangular pattern, says Lee Talboys, a landscape architect with Maxalea who worked on the project. The stone contains various tones suggesting Chinese teak wood. In the long loggia, which parallels the pool, the deck is made of inch-thick rose Giallo Reale stone. "It's tumbled to resemble a 2,000-year-old Roman patio," the homeowner says with pride.
The capstone along the wall and loggia is the same sandy-colored stone used in the patio, says Talboys. But it has been pitched to make a rough edge.
A 48-inch stone retaining wall surrounds the house and creates a horizontal sightline, even though the property slopes sharply to the east. The wall is composed of Oklahoma stone called Farmers Chop.
"This stone appealed to me," the homeowner says, "because it has none of the blue-gray tones commonly found in Maryland stone." A meticulous individual, he wanted every detail of the property to suggest a Tuscan landscape, with its color palette of gold, burnt sienna, wheat, and terra cotta.
To maintain this theme, the plantings consist of boxwood, Russian olive, beech, and fig trees. They are grouped across the property, because that is more authentic to the Italian countryside, says Talboys. The plantings, many of which are in large rustic-looking urns, are drip-irrigated.
Gravel is used to fill in many of the flower beds. The homeowner chose a variegated gravel that is predominantly brown to complement the overall landscape.
"Enjoying the pool during the summer months invigorates us," says the homeowner. "It feels as if we are on vacation. The Mediterranean-like setting just takes us away to another place."
When a retired T. Rowe Price executive and his wife bought their Ruxton home in 1990, there was a kidney-shaped pool in the backyard. It served the couple well for some time. But a few years ago, the wife decided the family needed a larger pool, one in which her husband could swim laps.
The couple turned to their longtime consultants, Maxalea nursery and landscape architect Jonna Lazarus, to manage the project. Since they were tearing up the lawn to replace the pool, the designers put in additional safety fencing and reinvigorated the landscaping on the 2.25-acre property. A large addition to the rear living area of the home created a need for new plantings, bluestone terraces, and walkways on the grounds—all in time for the wedding receptions their two daughters were planning to hold at the home.
"My wife loved projects," the husband says (she passed away in 2006). Though not an avid swimmer, he says, she very much enjoyed sitting by the pool.
Lazarus designed a retaining wall, terracing and lighting around the three-lane pool. To keep the pool deck dry, a drainage system was built into the stone wall to carry water away from the pool area. "That was a nice solution to a very difficult drainage problem," says Lazarus.
To address the wife's desire for a
colorful, long-blooming garden that required little maintenance, Lazarus and Maxalea added spring bulbs, perennials, and flowering shrubs—azaleas, peonies, rhododendrons, and oakleaf hydrangeas.
A row of box hedge separates the driveway from the backyard and provides privacy for the pool area.
The perennial garden contains lots of spiky nepeta and Russian sage, but no orange flowers, per the wife's instructions. The couple also added trees for privacy and additional shade.
While the husband, 66, says he does swim occasionally for exercise, the pool is even more popular with his daughters, both in their mid-30s, and his golden retriever, Grace. He adds that during one of the wedding receptions, the groom, a relentless practical joker, was tossed into the pool by some friends.
As their children began marrying and having children of their own, retired Cockeysville couple Len and Susan Strom considered moving to a house with larger open spaces, envisioning the family parties they would host. They loved their home, but the way it was configured did not lend itself to the kinds of multi-generational poolside gatherings they had in mind. The pool was somewhat remote from the main floor of the home, and it would be virtually impossible to be in the kitchen or family room and keep an eye on youngsters in the pool, which was situated down a hill and off to the side of the backyard.
Before making the jump to a bigger place, though, the Stroms consulted architect David Gleason, who suggested reconfiguring the back of the house to provide more indoor living space and better integrate the home with the kidney-shaped pool, which dated to 1990. He removed a 12-foot-deep wooden deck that ran along the entire rear of the house, which allowed for an expansion of the family room and kitchen and the addition of a mahogany patio. What had been a screened-in porch off the kitchen became a cozy breakfast nook.
The family room doubled in size, and the entire back wall consists of floor-to-ceiling windows, making it easy to watch activity around the pool. Gleason also added a brick stairway, leading directly from the patio to the pool area below.
"The end result was we got a very large activity area off the kitchen, made the pool more accessible from the patio, and added a storage area near the pool," says Gleason. "It visually unifies the back of the house to create these two outdoor areas."
"He made all of this space much more livable," says Susan Strom, a retired teacher. "It's so much easier to use the pool now. The flow is just much better than it was before."
The wooded property, in the Hickory Hill community off of Falls Road, provides a lovely, private setting for the pool. As part of the remodeling of the entire rear of the home, Gleason expanded the master bath. Below this addition, he created a storage closet for pool cleaning supplies and toys, as well as a small changing room.
An extra bonus: The master bedroom received a new balcony overlooking the pool. "My husband calls this the papal deck, like when the pope comes out for an audience and waves," says Susan Strom. "Now, this is the gathering house. Everybody comes. In the summer, the kids and grandkids are here all the time because of the pool," she adds.
"The flow is so good, nobody gets in anybody's way. There's a lot of space for everybody."