Most people, especially during the hot summer months, long for a pool that elevates their back yard into a personal oasis. But for recreational and competitive swimmers like the Sullivan family, the decision to build a pool at their Xenia home was a practical decision as much as it was a fun one.
A family passion
Mary Sullivan has instilled a deep love of the water across her family of seven. She is a nationally ranked swimmer with the YMCA and U.S. Masters Swimming, winning five events in her age group as a distance freestyle swimmer at the YMCA Nationals in April of this year.
Her children are swimmers too, all incredibly successful in their own right—the oldest two participating at the collegiate level. One swam at the University of Illinois at Chicago and another recently committed to swim for the University of Alabama.
Between their busy schedules, Mary and her husband Colin wanted to make their home a central gathering place for their family. “We always dreamed of having a pool and wanted to make sure our kids had time to enjoy it,” says Mary. “It’s really nice to know they’re safe at home and are still having a ton of fun.”
To build the perfect pool, the Sullivans partnered with Ben Bayer of The Site Group with the hopes of combining functional training opportunities and fun summer memories right in their own back yard.
The perfect plan
Before they could break ground, Bayer sat down with the Sullivans to map out every possibility. Working with a small backyard space, they needed to establish a clear plan that maximized features without feeling cluttered.
“A new pool addition can only be as good as its design,” Bayer explains. “Most homes aren’t designed with a pool in mind, so the design needs to be a top priority in order to make the entire space feel cohesive.”
With cohesivity in mind, Bayer and the Sullivans had to be very intentional about what went where. Measuring 40 feet long and 20 feet across at its widest point, the unique shape of the pool paved the way for beautiful landscaping to surround and soften the space, something Mary and Colin designed themselves.
Fun for the whole family
With five children ranging from age 9 to 22, the Sullivans had a growing wish list for their pool’s must-haves. “We wanted to have everyone’s input on the pool design,” Mary says with a laugh. “My husband and I weren’t sold on having a slide initially, but it’s something my kids were really excited about.” The slide was carefully placed to the side to not disturb lap swimming and has proved to be a hit for the children and their friends.
And, when afternoon parties melt into relaxing evenings, the beautiful firepit is the perfect place to wind down. The firepit sits by the edge of the pool, with at least four seats around outside the pool and several more on the pool’s inner sun shelf. Colorful LED lights installed inside the pool also ensure proper lighting for every mood.
An additional plus: the fire bowls around the pool’s perimeter that double as miniature waterfalls. “We were really excited about the fire and water features,” Bayer says. “They provide really soothing background noise that makes the whole space feel elegant.”
Time to train
To accommodate their rigorous training schedules, one of the most important and unique aspects of the pool is the target line across the bottom, ending in a ‘T’ shape on either side. The ‘T’ is built to regulation, meaning it can be used to measure distance from the pool wall to execute flip turns safely while swimming laps.
“Having the line in our pool makes a big difference because we can stay oriented and track what we’re doing,” Mary explains. “Being able to tackle some of my training at home is such a nice perk.”
The Sullivans keep their pool open from March to November, giving them ample time to enjoy it. Since Ohio’s weather can be unpredictable, particularly in the transition to and from winter, the pool can be heated to optimize use.
And when the pool isn’t open, it’s left uncovered, so it continues to serve as a stunning backdrop with the promise of warmer weather. “You can see the pool from nearly every room on the first level,” says Mary. “We don’t cover it so we can enjoy the view year-round.”
A piece of paradise
Transforming a small back yard into an intimate oasis is no simple task, but it leads to stunning results when done with intention. Between the Sullivans’ initial vision and Bayer’s expertise, their finished pool provides the perfect blend of fun, function, and relaxation that can be enjoyed for years to come.
“My family definitely thinks of the pool as fun and exciting,” Mary says, “But to me, it’s serene over anything else. When we’re in the water, all our troubles float away.”
RESOURCES Design Ben Bayer; Project management Josh Hicks, both with The Site Group
Article by Sydne Santo
Article originally appeared in September 2023