Design & the Deep End
by Sophie Nelson | Photography Scott Dorrance
Pools that merge with Maine landscapes
Gliding through the clear water of a pool, we shed our winter ills. We become weightless, joyful, new. When we break through the surface and hear that familiar trickling sound in our ears, we remember what our senses are for. Place this experience in a lush garden on the midcoast or before a breathtaking view of Casco Bay, and you’ve situated an oasis within an oasis. Showcasing everything from a natural swim pond dotted with water lilies to a panoramic infinity edge, these pages are well worth dipping into.
The Seamless Swim
The homeowners wanted to build a pool that would enhance their already stunning view of Casco Bay. What resulted is a pool with a double-negative edge offering a seemingly infinite view of the bay. “At times it looks as though the sailing regattas in Casco Bay are actually taking place in the pool,” says the wife.
Kevin Doree from Christman Pool Service maintains and cares for the pool. He highlights the veneer stone on the fall side of the vanishing edge, which adds a note of drama to the pool and surrounding landscape. The homeowners also enjoy a submerged spa, an automatic pool cover with a thermal lock system, and the ability to remotely control the pool from inside their home. Fiber-optic lighting illuminates the falling water on the vanishing sides of the pool. The sunken hot tub is one of the homeowners’ favorite features for the way it “creates a congregation point within the pool.” This is a place where the family comes together, and one of the reasons they love spending time in Maine.
The couple worked with landscape architect Sarah Witte of Terrence J. DeWan & Associates to fuse the pool with the surrounding landscape: blooming annuals and perennials planted both inside and outside of the fence and rock wall marry the hardscapes to the yard, which hosts raspberry and blueberry bushes and apple and pear trees. On the smooth stone deck that wraps around two sides of the pool, the homeowners and their guests can enjoy the salty breeze off the bay under the shade of an umbrella.
The Rock Quarry Reverie
Gail Catharine Leavitt fondly remembers her childhood summers spent in Maine. August afternoons drove her to the cool water of the rock quarry at the head of the Sheepscot River, where she and her brothers and cousins dove into the swimming hole and pulled themselves up onto toasted rocks to take in the sun. When Leavitt and her husband decided to build a pool at their home on Penobscot Bay, they hoped to work with a designer who could model a pool after the Head Tide swimming hole. George S. Workman of Landworks Design was that designer. He listened closely while Leavitt shared her memories of Head Tide, where he had also spent time as a boy, and returned to that beloved site with a pad of paper and a pencil.
To design a pool that interpreted one found in nature, Workman adopted a very rigid and mathematical approach. He relied heavily on his knowledge of regional geologic trends: the long axis of the pool runs north to south, and each stone is chosen and placed to pay homage to that trend. Workman worked very closely with Dan Eaton, the general contractor on the project, to construct the rock wall that, in places, reaches up to 12 feet high due to the naturally sloping site. Workman recalls how intimately he and Eaton came to know each stone. “When I close my eyes I see the individual stones in my mind. It’s like a chess game,” he says. “You have to think 12 moves ahead.”
Swimmers can enjoy the warmth of the shallows on the rocks partly submerged in water or sun themselves on the rock ledges that frame the pool, as Leavitt once did at Head Tide. Other features include the long axis of the pool, which is exactly one-third the length of an Olympic-sized pool, an outdoor shower, and a vault containing the mechanicals.
The Backyard Water Park
Don Buteau wanted to build a pool that tempted every member of his family to get a little wet. “That’s how we came up with the waterfall,” Buteau explains, and he didn’t stop there. In addition to a pool with shallows, deep ends, and a waterfall, the Buteaus built a pool house, a raised stone spa, and a hot tub. Next to the grotto waterfall lies a lower basin, or “kiddie” pool, for the younger set to play in while parents and grandparents sun on the deck. This is a haven for all ages, a backyard filled with nooks and crannies that provides endless enjoyment.
Kevin Doree of Christman Pool Service oversaw the construction of the pool to ensure that Buteau’s vision was executed. “I think this pool brings a beautiful water park into the backyard without being tasteless,” says Doree. “It was built with family entertainment and fun in mind.” The Buteaus live on a golf course and wanted their pool to fit in with the surrounding greenery. They incorporated a grotto and stone into the design and chose to pave the interior of the pool with a finish that would give it a more natural appearance. Rather than a diving board, the Buteaus chose to install a diving rock with divots like footprints running along the top of it. The pool sits in what was once a wooded area and can’t be seen from the driveway. Buteau appreciates this discreet placement.
As always, the landscapes and hardscapes are critical to the success of the project. “The choice of elevations, stone, trees, and plantings brought the backyard oasis to fruition,” says Doree, referring to the work of Pine Knoll Lawn Care & Landscaping.
The Garden Pond
Avery Pierce and Tom Lanucha’s backyard was already teeming with life when, several years ago, an online search put the couple in touch with Christopher Paquette of Robin’s Nest Aquatics. Keywords: natural swim pond. The enthusiastic gardeners wanted a pool that incorporated native plant life and fit the aesthetic of their rural New England garden rather than adding a sterile, aquatic contrast to it. By that time, Paquette had designed and built a number of garden ponds but had not yet attempted a natural swim pond of this size. He welcomed the opportunity to work with such knowledgeable and involved homeowners, and says these characteristics are typical of those he works with: “That’s what my customers look like—they are avid gardeners who love landscapes.”
They also have great respect for Paquette’s design, which utilizes naturally occurring biological processes to keep gardens lush and ponds clean. Natural methods of circulation and filtration through plant roots and gravel maintain a healthy eco-system for surrounding plants and wildlife; Pierce and Lanucha happily share their pool with birds, salamanders, frogs, and dragonflies. Two small waterfalls and a stream ensure constant water circulation to prevent heating along the pool’s edge and unwanted algae growth. Occasional doses of beneficial enzymes and bacteria maintain high water quality.
The natural slope of Pierce and Lanucha’s yard presented some challenges. Paquette leveled part of the yard to dig the pool out of the hillside, and afterward Pierce and Lanucha selected plants of various colors and textures to soften the look of the gradient between the ground and the water’s edge. The couple’s shared artistic sensibility came into play over and over throughout the design process. As passionate gardeners, they enjoyed learning about the aquatic plants Paquette introduced to the environment, and in the years following construction, they cultivated the garden to realize its full potential. Pierce is quick to acknowledge how helpful Paquette and his wife, Terri, have been over the past several years: “Chris and Terri at Robin’s Nest Aquatics are not a ‘build ’em and move on’ business. They go above and beyond just designing and building.” Paquette arrives when the last of the snow melts to open the pool and shuts it down every fall. In the meantime, Pierce and Lanucha can be found in the gardens or floating in the pool in the evenings with a glass of wine in hand.
The Perfect Find
A Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired home with a natural swim pond and luscious garden—this midcoast property was more than a couple from the West Coast could resist. They loved the idea of having a pool for their grandchildren to swim in, a pool for Marco Polo and cannon balls that was safe, chemical-free, and also beautiful. These days, they take a few steps out of their screened-in porch and are immersed in clean, cool water.
The previous homeowners decided to build a natural swim pond after meeting Christopher Paquette of Robin’s Nest Aquatics and viewing his work at the Portland Flower Show several years ago. They appreciated the look and design of his product, which incorporates plants and materials that serve functional as well as aesthetic purposes. What resulted is a swim pond framed first by water hyacinths, marsh marigolds, and water lilies, followed by a layer of perennials—lilacs, beauty bushes, canna lilies—and a grove of pines. River birches offer much-needed shade on sunny afternoons and reflect beautifully on the wavering surface of the pool at night. The wooden swim wall picks up the arts and crafts details of the home, and although Paquette’s new swim-pond design forgoes the wooden marker, it’s his favorite feature of this particular pool.
The current homeowners appreciate how dynamic their backyard is: as one plant fades, another begins to bloom. “There’s never a dull moment,” says the wife, who enjoys maintaining the gardens. “There is something beautiful to look at all the time.” And when they’re not watching their loved ones splash and jump, “It is very pleasing to sit on the porch at night and simply listen to the moving water and enjoy the light.”