Dive In: How to Create a Stunning Outdoor Living Space

Find out how this Northeast Ohio couple's grandchildren helped inspire a magnificent backyard oasis and the perfect staycation destination.




He loved the property, but he hated the pool.

It was the first thing Patrick Cloonan’s client said after he announced he’d bought a massive Tudor on 29 acres in Cleveland’s far-eastern suburbs. When Cloonan saw it, he understood why.

“The tile was falling off,” recalls the owner of Cloonan Design Services Inc., a Willoughby, Ohio-based landscape architectural design-build firm. “It was just old.”

Moreover, the client and his wife didn’t like its location down a flight of steps from the back of the residence. They envisioned a deck-to-water-level pool with an infinity edge right off the house — one that would make their five young granddaughters pester their parents to visit every sunny day the temperature rose to bathing-suit degrees.

Cloonan’s answer: a spectacular pool with two infinity edges and two deck-to-water-level counterparts that looks entirely appropriate for the stately home yet incorporates water-park elements in and around two lower pools cleverly concealed from view of the house and most of the patio and pool deck. He notes that the client-requested black bottom is integral to the design’s appeal.

“It just basically gives you a more elegant look and also the reflection values,” he explains. “If there are clouds in the sky and trees, and the pool is still, you see all of that reflecting.”

The first challenge was raising the pool elevation to that of the house, a job accomplished with over 1,000 tons of gravel trucked in after the existing pool and staircase were demolished. That grade change became invaluable in adding the water slide the client suggested. Cloonan admits he struggled with incorporating a feature so clearly at odds with the house’s architecture and pool’s design. He eventually came up with the idea of hiding the entrance to the slide behind an arched stone wall with wine cellar-like doors and discreetly routing the slide around the side of the elevated pool into a lower 5-foot-deep round pool.

“Since we had that grade change, I was just like, ‘Why don’t we add a climbing wall?’” Cloonan says.

The recommendation added a 9½-foot-deep pool between the primary and lower counterparts to accommodate it. A fountain wets a black high-gloss ceramic-tile wall behind the 6-foot-high fiberglass climbing wall. A plexiglass panel above the wall prevents swimmers from climbing to and from the primary pool. Water cascades over three curved steps into the lower pool, providing a way to get to the wall by water as well as by limestone steps on land.

Cloonan included a 3-foot-deep path along the sides of the 6-foot-deep primary pool for water-walking, as well as two adjacent wading platforms. The 6-inch-deep platform boasts three bubblers; the 12-inch-deep platform is used for lounging, perhaps on chairs and chaises placed on it.

“Most people don’t swim in a pool,” he observes. “They just like to walk in it, get their feet wet.”

Coonan married the pool’s design to the Tudor’s stone-, stucco-and-timber exterior by using limestone for the coping and a stone veneer for finishing the elevated pools’ exterior walls and limestone-capped columns. The exterior of the client-requested 8-foot-square spa, finished with a black bottom and black high-gloss ceramic tile, boasts four infinity edges.

The multiple heaters and pumps needed to recirculate water for infinity edges and send water down the slide and waterfall are located in the basement of a pool-house addition designed by Gates Mills, Ohio, architect Charles Fazio and finished in a light, bright transitional style by his interior-designer wife Holly Fazio. It houses an open-concept kitchen/dining area/fireplace-warmed great room — features that allow the homeowners to entertain without using the main home — as well as a full bath, changing area and laundry room. A length of kitchen windows opens, accordion-style, to a bar on a pavilion with one of the property’s two barbecues.

Cloonan remembers finishing the task of filling the primary pool 15 minutes before the client and his wife hosted their first pool party.

“People were pretty blown away,” he says of guests’ reaction. The client reports that it has been used as a venue for nonprofit fundraisers. And it continues to satisfy its most important function: a magnet that attracts grandchildren to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.