The Big Dig Part 2: Designing a Pool Around a Home is Fodder For Feuding, Says Cooper Smith Koch

Choosing the stone and tile for a large-scale project from only pictures and chips can be an anxiety-inducing task, says Cooper Smith Koch.

Choosing the stone and tile for a large-scale project from only pictures and chips can be an anxiety-inducing task, says Cooper Smith Koch.

By Cooper Smith Koch
Special Contributor

This is the second pool we’ve built and, at the halfway point of this one, I still think the hardest part of the process is choosing the right materials. Even though, after 16 years together, Todd and I generally share the same taste and gravitate towards similar design styles, there’s nothing that can get us into a full-on argument than picking out the materials to finish a home improvement project.

You’re expected to make this massive commitment, based on small samples and color chips. You have no idea how it will look when there’s hundreds of square feet of a particular stone climbing the walls or an expanse of stained concrete underfoot.

It’s also where the dollars really start to add up and cost-value benefits start to come into play. Do we splurge on the fancy tile or the super-quiet pool pump? Do we really want an oversized fireplace with stone mantel if it means we have to postpone the outdoor kitchen? And, perhaps most importantly, where can we add the most value to the house?

Sure, it's a cesspool now, says Koch, but this summer it will be the perfect spot for his family and friends to cool off.

Sure, it’s a cesspool now, says Koch, but this summer it will be the perfect spot for his family and friends to cool off.

Overall, we were in complete agreement in principle over the design direction. We wanted it to generally reflect and respect the style of the house. It doesn’t have to look like it’s always been there (who are we trying to fool?!), but it does have to carry the same design “spirit.” Our house was built in a classic, traditional style, and so would be the pool. We also wanted more outdoor living space where we can hang out with family and friends.

It also needs to be fairly neutral and as “soft” as possible. With 6-foot retaining walls lining two sides, we could very easily end up with a polar bear exhibit in the backyard. (Maybe we could charge the neighbors admission for observing the Koches in captivity?) Plus, jazzing it up with ever-changing assortments of colorful furniture, pillows and potted plants really sounds fun and keeps things from being stuck in a singular look summer after summer.

Ultimately, we chose a very light, natural stacked stone veneer for the retaining walls, capped by cast stone. We added trenches at the bottom of the walls so that we can plant creeping fig ivy that will climb and soften the hardscapes. It’s a plant that already grows in many places on our property, and it also reminds us of Charleston, one of our favorite cities.

The original retaining walls, built in the 1930s, will be incorporated into the pool and garden's design.

The original retaining walls, built in the 1930s, will be incorporated into the pool and garden’s design.

For the pool itself, we really thought about the how we used our last one, how our friends use theirs and how we expected to use ours now that we have kids. The conclusions were that the kids will like splashing around in anything we build and that we really just wanted someplace to sit with our friends and a glass of wine to cool off … with enough space between the two to let the kids be loud and splashy on one end and the grownups chilling at the other.

In the end, we chose a classic rectangular shape with a shallow depth (only 5 feet at its deepest), a wide sun/splash deck and a submerged bench that runs the entire length.

For the living area, we’re keeping it simple and focused on a large outdoor fireplace that’s centered opposite our library door. There will be a large hearth where the kids can sit to warm up after a swim on a chilly night and a wide mantel for plants and other outdoor objects.

Now we wait as the mudpit formerly known as our backyard transforms into an amazing outdoor oasis under the towering canopy of Kessler Park. It can’t come soon enough. We already have a garage bay full of outdoor furniture (a wedding gift from my in-laws) and an outdoor rug that I got from one of my PR firm’s home decor clients, as well as an assortment of colorful outdoor pillows and oversized pots. Let the decorating begin … in six to eight weeks.

Cooper HeadshotCooper Smith Koch, principal of public relations firm Cooper Smith Agency and publisher of “HeSaid” magazine, is known for his sharp sense of humor and that one time his family was featured in a JCPenney ad campaign. Cooper lives in Kessler Park with his husband, Todd, and their two children, Claire and Mason. Follow him on twitter @cooperkoch

2 Comment

  • Hang in there, Cooper, all will be well and quite beautiful. My husband and I almost divorced when we built our home! It’s all a part of the process! I still have the For Sale sign I popped in front of the house when I told him I did NOT want a pizza oven on the back patio because I did not want to be making pizzas forever…now I kind of wish we had it!

  • Ditto…going through the exact situation right now. My partner and I had an easier time picking out baby names than pool tile…plus most of them are hideous…pool tiles, not baby names 🙂