Life at the lake means year-round water views and the perennial attractions of boating, fishing, swimming and other water sports. Why then, you’d be forgiven for asking, would people living around 32 square miles of water choose to install a pool? According to Austin Vaughan, vice president of sales, design, and construction with National Pools in Roanoke, there are several excellent reasons that this is a popular choice. “It’s a question we get often,” he admits. “First of all, backyard pools are beautiful, they’re more convenient for entertaining, and they are often both easier and safer for families with small children.” There are many people, Vaughan points out, who love the water, but for one reason or another are intimidated by the size and depth of the lake, not to mention the fact that they cannot see the bottom. For these people, the clean, clear environment of a pool is attractive, especially when they can still enjoy the sights and sounds of life on the water. A pool makes it easier to keep an eye on small children, and the proximity to the house offers convenience and an ideal space for entertaining. For two local families, these considerations led them to enhance their waterfront lifestyle by installing stunning pools overlooking Smith Mountain Lake.
Vickie and Brian Runk spent 13 years living at Beechwood Shores before purchasing their home on Merriman Way. The Runks fell in love with the stunning views of the Peaks of Otter from the waterfront home on a quiet cove. It was a dream-come-true location, but it lacked a pool. “We’d had a pool at Beechwood Shores and knew that as a family, we loved having one and spent a lot of time in it,” explains Vickie. “We feel like it brought us together. The pool also gave us more opportunities to be outdoors and appreciate the lake and the views.” When they first contacted Vaughan, the Runks explained their vision for a pool that felt like a natural extension of the lake. “We were looking for an ‘out of the earth’ feeling that blended naturally with the surroundings,” says Vickie. “National Pools was able to make that vision a reality.”
It was a challenging job, Vaughan says. The Runks envisioned a pool with an infinity edge (a popular feature for pools at the lake) to allow for a seamless view across the open water, but the lot had a pretty steep slope. “I’d estimate that the site was 10 feet out of grade when we got there,” he recalls. “Because of that slope, we needed 140 tons of stone to give us the right grade. Add to that the geometric shape, the six-foot waterfall drop to from the infinity edge to the catch basin, the fire bowls with flowing water—it was definitely a complex job, but worth it because the Runks have one of the best views and the way their pool sits is unique.” The only way to build a pool out of the ground with these types of features is to use gunite (a sprayed mixture of cement, sand, and water). Gunite pools are custom built ‘allconcrete’ pools with a plaster interior allowing you to build to any shape and on difficult sites. To enhance the natural feel of this pool, National Pools used a dark color plaster to make the pool water blend with the color of the lake. It is designed so that swimmers in the pool find it almost impossible to tell where the pool ends and the lake begins, and this is exactly how Vickie and Brian had pictured it. “We love the way the pool feels like a natural extension of the lake itself,” explains Vickie, “It was exactly what we wanted.”
The Runks’ pool gets a lot of use all summer long, and even their grown children come home frequently to enjoy it. “When we are at the lake, we’re in the pool,” Vickie laughs. “There’s just nothing like being in the heated pool or hot tub and looking out across the lake at the view.”
The family frequently entertains poolside as well, and the area is built for enjoyment. Shade can be found under large umbrellas, and ample seating is arranged artfully around the pool’s edges to enjoy the water and view. Landscaping and hardscaping was completed by Creative Outdoors, of Forest, and features ornamental grasses and easy-care shrubs, and a pool deck made of pavers that match the path to the family’s dock beyond. Another show-stopping feature the Runks incorporated are the fire bowls that sit on either side of the vanishing edge. They illuminate the pool after dark and have their own mini-waterfalls, creating a dramatic view both from the property and from the lake. “We often have boaters cruise by to look at the pool and waterfall, they always wave and say how beautiful everything is,” Vickie shares. “It just makes me so proud and pleased with the whole project.”
Not far away, in the Park Place neighborhood, lies the lakeside home of Meg and David Head. Originally from Lynchburg, the Heads purchased their home in 2015, with an eye to eventually retiring in a place that would be enjoyable for them and their four college-aged children to return to as they launched into their adult lives. “We were hoping to find a location where we could spend spring, summer, and fall,” Meg explains, “and also one where our kids will want to come to, and eventually bring their own families.” The idea for a pool became part of that vision. “We are all swimmers,” says Meg, “and in the summer we pretty much live in the water.” The idea of a pool appealed to the Heads because the pool’s heater would add almost a month on either end of the normal swimming season. For Meg, who finds that exercising in the pool eases the discomfort of early arthritis, the extended season was a real bonus. “I get a lot of relief from exercise,” she explains. “I love to get in and exercise in the pool. It feels great and is much easier on my body.”
Not long after they purchased their lake house, the Heads contacted Chris Templeton, president of CLC, Incorporated, a design and build landscape firm out of Forest, to help them with landscaping plans for the driveway and front of the home, as well as some long-term plans that included the backyard and a pool designed by National Pools. According to Templeton, “The Heads’ goals were simple: to create an area where they could entertain the entire family—spaces where everyone could sit comfortably. To complement the pool, we created a covered area for cooking and entertaining, and a hot tub for those cool evenings.” His landscape plans incorporated the entire pool deck, plus the stunning cabana, which has become the one thing the Heads didn’t know they couldn’t live without. Though they’d planned to do the landscaping in stages, starting with the front of the house, the Heads loved the ideas so much they opted to do the whole project—pool and all. “Once we saw those amazing plans ” says Meg, “we just decided to go ahead and do everything at so we could start enjoying it.”
Of teaming with CLC, Vaughan says, “Because our company is focused on building the pool itself, it’s great when we have a terrific relationship with the landscapers. It gives the homeowners that turnkey feel they expect. CLC was great to work with and we enjoy teaming up with them.” He says that the project had “a lot going on”—the hot tub flows to the pool, which has a vanishing edge that in turn flows into the catch basin. There is also a tanning ledge, or sun shelf. “That’s another feature we are seeing a lot of requests for—it gives people an area of the pool for lounging, but they’re also excellent for very young children.” It was a big project and Vaughan admits, “I’m very proud of how it turned out.”
The Heads agree. In addition to the infinity pool and sun shelf, there’s also plenty of patio seating, waterfall fire pots, and that aforementioned cabana, a popular gathering spot for the Heads and their family and friends. Complete with outdoor kitchen and bar, stacked stone fireplace (with a large-screen television for watching sports), and ample seating, it’s a piece of the poolside environment that has enhanced the family’s use of their outdoor space. “Pool cabana projects around the lake can be an absolutely gorgeous addition to an already spectacular home like the Heads’,” Templeton says, noting, “It takes careful planning to ensure that the outdoor areas flow with the house and property.”
“The cabana wasn’t even something we’d initially thought of,” Meg admits. “Chris designed it, and I have to say, it has been something we have all loved. It’s a place to get out of the sun, watch football, and best of all, we can use it all but a few months of the year.”
The pool and cabana have indeed brought the grown kids home. Last summer was the family’s first with the pool project completed. Sure enough, the kids came to enjoy it, and they even brought friends. “Early last fall, when my son’s college was evacuated due to the hurricanes, where do you think they came?” says Meg. “We ended up hosting 15 boys for that long weekend. They swam and hung out at the pool all day, having a great time. I was so glad that they chose to come here!”
Tips + trends
Both the Runk and the Head pools are heated saltwater systems, which, as Vaughan explains, are still chlorinated pools. Today’s saltwater systems simply make chlorine out of salt through a process of electrolysis. A lot of people think that salt water pools are like ocean water without the need of chlorine, however, the salt level in a pool is much lower and hardly noticeable. Traditional chlorine systems are subject to chlorine spikes and low pH which can cause skin and eye irritation. Salt pools naturally have a higher pH and tend to be softer on the skin. The major advantage with the salt system, is that you can maintain a consistent chlorine level automatically without having to manually add chlorine. This is a huge benefit for those who may not be available to monitor water chemistry on a frequent basis. Families who are not able to care for their pool regularly, particularly those who might only use their lake house periodically, should consider hiring a professional pool service, most of whom have several service plans to choose from.
Besides the popular fire feature trends, both Templeton and Vaughan are seeing a profusion of advanced systems that tie a home’s outdoor electronics (pool, lighting, sound systems) together on cell phone apps. Two other important trends that will increase use and longevity of a backyard pool are heating and automatic covers. As Vaughan points out, a heated pool can extend your swimming season to six to seven months in most years. The other popular pool investment that Vaughan sees a lot of at the lake is an automatic pool cover, which extends and retracts with the turn of a key. Automatic pool covers satisfy the barrier requirement around pools eliminating the need for view-disrupting perimeter fencing to meet code.
Any SML homeowner considering a pool should do their research and engage the help of a professional pool designer/ installer and landscaper with experience building pools in a lakeside environment. Know where your underground utilities are located (and your septic tank, if you have one) and identify where your property’s setbacks are. As Vaughan points out, there are special regulations in place to protect the fragile waterfront environment, and local code inspectors can be understandably strict about these. “If you want to build a pool at Smith Mountain Lake, it would be a good idea to have your property surveyed to locate the 800 foot contour line,” he suggests. “We must stay above that 800 foot mark for construction, and this will help dictate design constraints and feasibility.” The slope of many lakeside lots can be a challenge as well. “A little rain can cause erosion, but a professional pool design/install company should be able to engineer an erosioncontrol system, minimizing the area that needs to be excavated and controlling any run-off during construction to protect water cleanliness.”
Both the Heads and the Runks are thrilled with the enhancement to their lakeside lifestyles, and encourage other lake residents to consider the perks of a pool. “I think having a pool at the lake is the most relaxing thing,” says Vickie. “It’s a water feature that everyone can enjoy, especially if you aren’t a lake swimmer. It’s also a great platform for entertaining and time together as a family. I’d say, ‘Go for it!’” ✦