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Multi-Level Poolscape Provides Distinct Outdoor Living Zones
By Christi Simoneaux, contributing writer for Belgard


The family that purchased this Atlanta area home began designing their dream backyard before escrow had closed, allowing Clint Tucker of Sugar Hill Outdoors to begin construction immediately after the closing. The multi-level design includes an in-ground gunite pool on the main level, a firepit terrace, a sunken outdoor kitchen, and a recreational playground. The remainder of the yard slopes down to a large wooded community pond. Landscaping includes native plants and colorful perennials. The tiered garden wall uses a multi-piece, false-jointed ashlar pattern to mimic the look of the pavers. The retaining walls and paving throughout the backyard are Belgard products.


The vanishing edge waterfall creates a backdrop for the fire pit terrace that overlooks the wooded landscape and pond. Wooden posts and handrails for the cable fencing were embedded inside the structure of the retaining walls. Over 1,800 sq. ft. of Mega-Tandem mass segmental retaining wall was used to construct the terrace walls as well as coordinating planter boxes, which were adorned with azalea bushes. Transitions to each level were constructed with natural stone slab step treads. Low voltage hardscape lighting from Unique Lighting lines all walls to improve evening aesthetics and safety.

Prior to purchasing this home, an Atlanta family of four saw the potential to create their dream backyard and consulted with Clint Tucker of Sugar Hill Outdoors to begin visualizing the possibilities. Licensed general contractors specializing in design and construction of outdoor living spaces, the Sugar Hill team had the design in place before escrow closed on the home, and construction began immediately after the closing.

The existing backyard included a terraced section held in place by 6' x 6' timber walls, with the remainder of the yard sloping down to a large wooded pond. Tucker's renovation design included four terraced levels: a pool level, sunken outdoor kitchen pavilion, secluded fire pit terrace, and a recreational play level for the family's two children. Beginning in the fall, the extensive project had an ambitious deadline to be completed in time for the swimming season.

"One of the biggest challenges was scheduling all of the different tradesmen--gas guys, plumbers, paver installation--it was almost like building a house," said Tucker. "We had to keep everything flowing and connected. Dusty Roper, my operations manager, did a great job of making that happen."


The two-sided bar is capped with a granite countertop and offers dry seating under an 18' x 30' outdoor kitchen pavilion, or swim-up seating from inside the pool. The pool deck uses a three-piece ashlar pattern of Lafitt pavers, trimmed with a soldier course of the medium-sized pieces. Over 2,130 sq. ft. of Lafitt pavers were used.


The outdoor kitchen offers multiple cooking spaces, including a Big Green Egg grill and smoker, and a wood-burning Chicago Brick Oven. The design includes an open cabinet under the oven for storing wood. The texture of the Tandem Grid veneer on the walls and the Lafitt paver flooring complement the natural stone elements to create a cohesive design.

Building in Phases
Since the design included a pool, the first step of construction was to demolish the timber walls, which weren't capable of supporting the weight, remove a few trees to enlarge the main terraced level, and construct new walls capable of supporting the pool. Tucker specified Belgard Mega-Tandem mass segmental retaining wall, both for the aesthetic quality of its natural stone appearance and for the product's ability to support walls up to 10 feet in height without geogrid reinforcement.

"The strength of the product allowed us to design the walls using geogrid on the bottom level only," said John Gehrlich, Jr., structural engineer for the project. "We were able to build the upper wall as a gravity wall, without geogrid, which was much more economical and saved space. The product also installs very quickly, which was another plus."

The two terraced levels of retaining walls and coordinating built-in planter boxes spanned a total of 1,500 square feet altogether. Before the walls were capped, wiring was run for low-voltage hardscape lighting, which would be installed during the final phase.

The second phase of construction was to dig and form the pool and shoot the gunite pool walls. The design of the kidney-shaped pool includes wedding cake steps, a submerged tanning ledge, swim-up bar stools, a raised eight-person spa, and a vanishing waterfall that overlooks the fire pit terrace below.

Next came the installation of the paver pool deck, tiered garden walls, and rectangular fire pit. The pool deck extends to walkways that continue around both sides of the home. For these projects, Tucker specified 2,500 square feet of Lafitt pavers from the same manufacturer and 400 square feet of Tandem wall, which both offer a modular ashlar pattern and have a natural stone look that coordinates with the Mega-Tandem retaining walls.

The next phase of construction was to build the 18' x 30' outdoor kitchen pavilion, which includes an open gabled metal roof, exposed cedar-wrapped beams, and staggered cedar shake siding. The base of each outdoor kitchen counter is constructed with Tandem modular grid and capped with a granite countertop. This incorporates the same face texture and color palette as the Tandem Wall and the Mega-Tandem retaining walls, which gave all of the walls throughout the outdoor living design a cohesive look and feel.

The kitchen has a double sink, double-door refrigerator, kegerator beer dispenser, and multiple cooking surfaces--including a gas grill, Big Green Egg ceramic grill, and a wood-burning Chicago Brick Oven. There is ample seating, with a countertop bar that overlooks the pool and faces the swim-up bar, for ultimate poolside entertaining. A total of 30 natural stone slab step treads were used to transition to each level--from the house to the pool, down into the outdoor kitchen, to the fire pit terrace, and down to the play structure.

"Getting all of the elevations right for the pavilion, the pool, and all of the transitions was definitely a major challenge," said Tucker, who credits the talents of hardscape installer Roberto Rodriguez for the successful installation.

Final Touches
The next phase of the project was to install the landscaping and trim out the pool with natural stone coping and pebbled tiling, including the 20-foot-wide vanishing waterfall edge, which serves as a dramatic backdrop for the cozy fire pit area and overlooks the picturesque pond. Each of the terraced levels were finished with protective cable fencing, outlined with wooden posts and handrails painted to match the color of the pavilion roof.

Next came the playground installation, which required a fourth level to be terraced. Tucker chose to do so using a timber wall, to coordinate with the wooden play structure, as well as the surrounding natural wooded landscape.

The final task was to install all of the lighting, including low-voltage hardscape lighting that had been pre-wired for all of the retaining walls during earlier phases. The hardscape lighting was incorporated into the design to add an aesthetic element as well as improve the safety of the multi-level structure. All electrical elements of the entire design--including the hardscape lighting, spa, waterfall, and pavilion lighting and sound system--can be controlled by an app on the homeowner's phone.

Construction on the entire project began in September of 2015 and, despite extensive rain during the winter months that resulted in several weeks of delays, was completed in time for the spring swimming season.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, October 2016.

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