Fire & Water
An outdoor entertainment area harnesses the elements in a single, serendipitous design
As the sun sets over Michelle and Tom King’s backyard patio, the orange glow reflects off the crystal pool water and washes over the bubbling spa, bending with the ripples almost like a flame dancing on water. Around the patio, soft blazes from stainless steel fire pits mirror the phantom flames twirling across the pool. Artist Yves Klein once said of his “Fire Fountain” exhibit, posthumously created and placed on permanent display outside of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, “I imagined replacing, on the surface of the calm water in these pools, the elegant jets of water of these pools with brilliant jets of fire. Sculptures of fire above the water . . . Why not?” Looking at the Kings’ pool, the way it marries traditionally warring elements like fire and water, it’s easy to see Klein’s genius come to life thousands of miles away from Spain, in the backyard of a Cape Cod home.
A talented interior designer and a southerner at heart, Michelle King has decorated her Osterville home in bright colors and eye-catching fabrics—the perfect vacation space to inspire adventurous days on the beach or relaxing moments by the pool. “I’m from New Orleans originally, and I grew up on the Gulf Coast. I’ve always been drawn to hot, tropical colors. We’re beach people, not mountain people,” King says with a laugh. “Every time I walk in the house, it’s just happy and bright. I love being here.” Outside is no different, awash with vibrantly colored patio furniture that extends the colorful personality of King’s home beyond the doors. In fact, when these floor-to-ceiling glass doors open up, the transition from indoors to out is practically unnoticeable.
Because of setback restrictions, the pool was built close to the house, explains landscape designer Mary LeBlanc, owner of Mary LeBlanc Landscape Design. The patio practically melts—a fitting nod to the interplay between fire and water that permeates the design—into the large steps of the pool, which function almost as sun decks for lounging thanks to their size. The spa spills over into the pool, further dissolving away the lines between the various design elements. “Sometimes things are serendipitous,” says LeBlanc. “We may have put the pool out further on this large property if it weren’t for setbacks. But by doing that you lose the connection. The fact that the pool is up close to the house creates this great synergy.”
“The inspiration started with the owners’ desire to swim laps,” says LeBlanc. The goals of LeBlanc’s design focused on the challenging task of marrying this desire for a lengthy pool with a large entertainment space and outdoor dining area within the confines of the backyard, making sure there was room for those not swimming to still enjoy themselves. “Our goals were to develop a beautiful space that Mary had put on paper,” says Sean Reardon, Cape Cod construction manager for Schumacher Companies and project manager for the hardscape of the property. “We turned it into a really neat backyard with a lot of interesting architectural aspects and hardscape features, taking the space from a piece of paper and turning it into what it is now.”
“It’s a real tight area, and Mary was able to create a pool long enough to swim in and enjoy but still fit within the restraints we had,” says John Viola of Viola Associates, who handled the installation. “And the way she worked in the multi-level patio and spa is just awesome.” The unique shape of the pool creates a shallow gathering area around the large steps, and this coupled with dining and lounging areas, mesmerizing fire pits and a relaxing spa ensures that there’s something for everyone enjoying the backyard. “It’s like going to a resort,” Viola remarks.
Details like stone veneer and sumptuous lighting make the pool design cohesive, and on the deck, bluestone accents make the brick pop—almost like brick carpets, as LeBlanc puts it. The rest of the backyard features a woodland garden and beautifully crafted landscaping, all cared for by King’s green thumb. “I love gardening, and I don’t have a garden at our home in Texas because we live in a very urban environment,” says King, who is grateful for the opportunity this space provides her to exercise her passion for the outdoors.
The pool is truly the focal point that ties all these different projects together. “It is the space,” says LeBlanc. “The color, the water—it just transforms the backyard.” Part of what makes this pool so special is the way that LeBlanc has married form and function, creating an accessible space with the patio and pool so beautifully interwoven. “The hardscape and pool has just totally changed the way we use the house,” adds King, who credits LeBlanc and her team for their dedication to the project.
For those inspired to transform their own backyard, “There are always surprises in a project, so be prepared for that,” says LeBlanc. “My advice would be to make sure that all your costs are estimated before you start and that there’s room for contingencies in your budget. Add 10 percent! It’s always important to make sure everything’s planned out ahead of time and to put a good team together.”
It is abundantly clear that LeBlanc took her own advice with this project. Viola Associates flawlessly handled the installation, and Schumacher Companies artistically executed LeBlanc’s vision for the landscape. “It was a complicated project, and I needed a company with excellent masons as well as a talented pool company. Those two are two of the best in the area,” says LeBlanc. AV Lighting finished off the project with a gorgeous lighting design and installation, and Walpole Woodworkers installed the fences. Together, all of these elements yield a transformative design that is a large step—a leap, even—from the kidney pool that originally sat on the property.
For King, the outdoor space is always a work in progress. She certainly is not shy about changing things up. The orange patio furniture has recently been replaced by soft teal cushions accented with pillows covered in a hot pink fabric that King discovered and fell in love with. In her home, design is always evolving, and she’s constantly discovering a new fabric or fun plant to keep her busy throughout the summer months. “In the winter we lose a lot of things, but then we also get great surprises,” she says. “Things evolve and develop—like this year my crop of peonies is unbelievable.”
Even with the ever-changing accents in the space, and the callouts to King’s southern roots—like nautical light fixtures made in New Orleans and the pelican weather vane that sits atop the cupola as a nod to Louisiana—this home maintains some key elements of Cape Cod. Large rhododendrons from the original front yard have been transplanted into the woodland garden, and a lot of the existing vegetation, from lilacs to grand spruce trees for privacy in the backyard, was maintained.
“Sometimes it’s easier to start with a clean slate, but we tried very hard to reincorporate some of the plantings from the old property,” says LeBlanc. “The owners were great and were willing to put in the extra effort to save things—to dig up, store and move many trees and shrubs.”
Long before the “Fire Fountain” was installed outside the Guggenheim, Klein declared, “Fire for me is the future without forgetting the past.” As the vibrant orange sun sets behind the spruce trees in the Kings’ backyard, lighting the modern pool and deck area with a burnt siena orange color, and the flames dance across the stainless steel fire pits, Klein’s vision of a romantic interplay between past and present, between fire and water, comes to life.
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