A challenging backyard becomes the perfect escape
It seemed like a simple request: add a pool and outdoor entertainment area to the backyard of a Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, home. However, one look at the site told a different story—the yard was a steeply sloped hillside with nary a flat spot in sight. Was a pool even possible?
Enter Robert and Susana LeClair of Shore Built Construction in York, Maine. Bob has nearly 40 years experience in all types of construction, including pools, and he loves a challenge.
“When I learned what they wanted to do, it initially seemed daunting,” he says. “That backyard was a ski slope! I knew it would take an extraordinary feat of engineering to make the project happen. But I’ve seen a bit of everything in my years on the job, and I believed the problem could be solved.”
After extensive surveying and engineering work, Bob’s team knew they could bring the grade up significantly enough to build the pool and create an outdoor living space that coordinated with the house. Accomplishing the task required constructing a retaining wall 30 feet in height at its highest point and approximately 500 lineal feet across, plus importing massive truckloads of fill. When they were done, the grade had been raised 25 feet.
“At its highest point, the retaining wall is four stories tall,” Bob says. “To achieve the grade we needed, it took 4,000 cubic yards of fill, or 12 million pounds. We had two tri-axle dump trucks making five trips a day for over a month in order to bring in the amount of fill needed.”
“To give you a visual, think of a football field covered with 27 inches of fill,” Susana says. “That’s how much was used. I think anyone else but Bob would have walked away from tackling a job like this, but he knew he could help the customer and he did.”
Site work started in December 2012, and the goal was to have the pool open in June. Once the site was ready, Shore Built worked with the clients to create the overall design for the area, which would feature a heated, full-length saltwater swimming pool, adjacent spa pool, barbecue/dining section, and outdoor living space.
“The customers really knew what they wanted,” Bob says. “They had a complete vision. At one time they vacationed extensively on their boat, but now they had young children and such getaways were more challenging. They wanted to create their own oasis at home, a place where they could relax and entertain.”
The design of the pool area shows a classical influence. One end of the pool is rounded. Cultured travertine squares and rectangles reminiscent of ancient tiles make up the deck, and pseudo-marble columns define the living space.
“We opted to use cultured travertine as opposed to traditional travertine because the natural version requires sealing a couple of times each year,” Bob explains. “Going maintenance-free usually means choosing stones in the man-made category. They are great for pool decks because they are smooth and soft underfoot.”
Of course the pool is the star attraction, and it, too, has special qualities, including a water feature that produces endless bubbles in the shallow end and three spillways that continuously feed a gentle fall of water from the spa pool into the main pool. The 8-by-8-foot spa pool is fully functional even in winter, and the main pool, which has a high-efficiency heater, can also be heated to 80 degrees in the colder months.
The customers did not want the pool level to change, so Bob’s design had to accommodate that. At the deep end, the pool—its curve set off by a low wall—is raised above the deck. But as the pool transitions to the shallow end and the barbecue/dining area, there is a three-step transition that takes you to a slightly higher grade and makes the pool flush with the patio deck in that section.
The grilling/dining area features a built-in gas grill, refrigerator, sink with seasonal hot and cold running water, raised fire pit, and comfortable groupings of tables and chairs. “The grill, sink, and refrigerator are all set into poured concrete, which is tinted a sandstone hue to match the fire pit and the raised beam of the pool,” Bob says. “We installed the appliances, hookups, and drains first, then poured the concrete around them.”
The raised fire pit coping is made from cultured travertine, and the base is poured concrete tinted the same sandstone color. The gas-fired fire pit is a popular gathering spot on cool summer nights and fall evenings.
At the other end of the pool, tall pillars outline the living area, which features comfortable sofas, lounge chairs, and a large-screen television. The 60-inch TV is an all-weather Sunbrite, designed to show beautiful color and sharp imagery even in bright sunlight; it is also waterproof and can even be submerged. The columns are fabricated from fiberglass, then marbleized and tinted the signature sandstone color to coordinate with the other elements.
Encircling and connecting the entire pool area is the striking retaining wall with its rugged stone facade and planters overflowing with colorful blooms. At key points in the wall, sturdy square piers emerge, some topped with post lights, others with planters holding additional cascades of flowers. In the kitchen area, freestanding stone columns fitted with post lights add both drama and illumination for nighttime entertaining.
“The stone in the retaining walls and columns is actually cobbled poured concrete,” Bob says. “It is amazing what you can do with concrete today. As the wall wraps around to the front of the house, it turns into natural stone, but what you see surrounding the pool is concrete. The clients did not want fencing around the pool, so we brought the retaining wall up more than four feet in height and put planters on top for a more natural look. There are only two gates to get into the area, so between that and the wall, safety has been provided.”
Fencing does appear near the dining area in the form of a flowing line of oil-rubbed bronzed wrought iron, which Shore Built custom designed and had fabricated.
Landscaper Denise Cote-Harding, based in Amesbury, Massachusetts, softened the massive walls with plantings and infused the area with vivid colors. Using a color palette of pink and white—the clients’ favorite combination—she filled huge wall planters and other large pots with Vista Bubblegum petunias and smaller million bells (Calibrachoa) in white, along with Egyptian star flower (Pentas lanceolata), blue plumbago, ‘Silver Falls’ licorice vine (Dichondra), and mandevilla vine, which she trained to cascade down the wall by having it wrap along a wire. The mandevilla is an immediate eye-catcher with its large blooms in hot pink.
Next to the spa pool, Cote-Harding planted white mandevilla with pink New Guinea impatiens. In the barbecue/dining area she opted for angel’s trumpet with its showy creamy white blooms, hot pink New Guinea impatiens, and white Wave petunias, while along the wrought iron fence are in-ground plantings of New Guinea impatiens and Knock Out roses, which are known for high-capacity blooms, disease resistance, and compact growth. “Bringing in different textures and shades, it is possible to stay within a color scheme and still create a variety of different looks,” she says.
Cote-Harding took into account when making plant choices that the pool area is in full sun and that the owners wanted a low-maintenance landscape. Plantings change with the seasons, and the ‘Green Velvet’ boxwoods along the walls give winter color.
Today, the pool area provides everything the family could want in terms of vacationing at home. Not only did they get the pool of their dreams, but it was also open and ready for swimming by June 2013. They christened it with a pool party and look forward to many more.