By Keysha Drexel
When Betty and Jody Saia built their Mountain Brook home in 1995, adding a pool and outdoor living area was a must. The couple knew their three children, who were young at that time, would get countless hours of enjoyment swimming, diving and hanging out by the pool in the backyard of the Brooke Mountain Lane home.
But what they didn’t count on was how quickly their outdoor oasis would lose its shine.
“We had a pool at our last house, so we knew it would be used and enjoyed, and so when we built this house in 1995, we knew we wanted one here, too,” Betty Saia said. “What we didn’t realize was that 18 years later, we’d end up with a shattered pool deck that was completely unacceptable.”
After almost two decades of family get-togethers, birthday and anniversary parties and Scout meetings, the pressed concrete blocks in the Saias’ pool area started to crumble.
“When they initially installed the pressed concrete blocks, they didn’t install them with expansion joints, so over the years they buckled and contracted and the whole outdoor area was a mess,” Betty said.
And while the couple’s children are now grown and have homes of their own, Betty said improving the pool area was still a priority.
“I’m a sun worshipper, and one of my favorite things in the world is to sun myself by the pool. What used to be my backyard sanctuary had turned into a situation that just left me stressed out,” she said.
Over the years, Betty said, the pool has required a lot of upkeep, but the family was always committed to preserving the pool area because it represented happy memories already made and happy times in the future.
“You get really tired of taking care of the pool, but it’s worth it when you see people enjoying it,” she said.
The couple even went to great lengths few years ago to make sure they could keep the cool water flowing in their pool despite pricey water bills.
“We were getting these horrendous water bills of $500 a month in the summer, so we had a well dug. The well produced a lot of water, but what we didn’t count on was that a few months later, the pool started turning red. The well water had a really high iron content, and the water stained the pool and we had to have it acid washed twice,” she said. “Now, we’re back to using city water.”
And while the pool has required a lot of upkeep over the years, Jody said he has advice for anyone looking to build a pool at home.
“If the husband wants a pool, then he has to get his wife to commit to taking care of it,” he said, laughing.
But although Betty had become an expert on maintaining the pool over the years, the couple knew they would need professional help replacing the broken concrete blocks around it.
“We knew it was going to be a major renovation and something that we wanted done the right way,” Jody said.
When it came time to give the pool area and outdoor living area a revamp, the couple said they didn’t have to look very far for design inspiration.
“We had a small courtyard with bluestone, and we liked the look of it so much that we decided to do the whole pool area in bluestone,” Betty said. “Instead of just replacing the pressed concrete blocks by the pool, we installed bluestone over an area that goes from the pool to the house and wraps around the house.”
Jody said the couple chose bluestone because its neutral shades complemented the traditional style of their two-story, French Normandy-style house.
“The bluestone has different shades in it and looks really natural, and I think it goes along with the traditional look of the house. It also fits the landscape,” he said.
The couple said it was important to them to use quality, locally-sourced materials, and they wanted to stay away from synthetic materials like composite decking.
“We wanted something that was going to last, that was going to blend well with the house a lot better than those concrete blocks did,” Betty said.
Once they had decided out what materials to use for their outdoor renovation, Jody said he knew just who to contact to make their ideas for their outdoor living area a reality.
“I knew some of the owners of Garner Stone, and they’d done work for a number of our friends. I always knew them to do a good job, so between personal and other referrals, I knew they were right for the job,” Jody said.
Garner Stone worked with the couple to design the layout of the bluestone around the pool.
“The bluestone that they wanted was a natural fit for the architecture of the house. It wasn’t easy to install, but it was easy on the eyes,” said Joey Dobbs, chairman of Garner Stone.
Jody said Garner Stone suggested the couple use limestone on the steps in the pool area to break up the massive amount of bluestone involved in the project.
“That turned out so well. The limestone looks really nice and breaks up the bluestone a little bit but still looks very natural,” he said.
Dobbs said the solid, bull-nosed limestone steps in the Saia’s pool area were hand-carved.
“It takes a long time to create a custom element like that. After the measurements are done, you have to build a template and then do the hand carving. You also have to prep the site and make sure it’s ready for the stonework,” he said.
Dobbs said that by choosing natural stone for their pool area renovation, the Saias made a smart investment that adds value to their home.
“It doesn’t take a trained eye to see the difference between a piece of dyed concrete that will surely fade in the sun and a piece of hand-cut limestone,” he said.
The Saias said the renovation project turned out even better than they imagined and has inspired them to take on other renovation projects in their home.
“To walk out and see this beautiful space is really inspiring,” Jody said. “We’re redoing the kitchen now.”
But before they tackle a kitchen renovation, Betty said she plans to take full advantage of her backyard retreat during the last few weeks of the summer.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do–grab my shades, a stack of magazines and the beverage of my choice and just lounge by the pool,” she said. “It’s calming and relaxing and all the better because I’m literally just a few beautiful bluestone and limestone steps away from home.”