Residential pool and spa combo in New Orleans rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina

Scott Webb Headshot

photo of rock-walled pool and spaLike many flood and restoration stories, this one begins, "Once this was all under water . . . "

Eight feet of water, to be exact, after a hellacious rain fell in late August 2005, burst levees around the city of New Orleans and let the sea come rushing in.

Katrina was the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history, and in the course of laying waste to much of The Big Easy, she took out a small tropical-style backyard pool in Lakeview, an enclave just outside the city limits.

After the waters subsided and the sun came out, residents began the long slow process of rebuilding an iconic southern city. Part of that effort includes this compact custom spa and pool project built of stone and travertine.

Builder Mike Stanton, owner of Oasis Pools and Spas, Mandeville, La., took on the job with a directive to preserve the same general concept as the original design.

"The customers came to me looking for the most hands-on builder they could find," he says. "After Hurricane Katrina, people in New Orleans were very cautious when hiring contractors. They had a pool with a tropical look prior to Hurricane Katrina, and they wanted the same type of pool now.

"Initially, they met with me and another good builder here in New Orleans, and they listened to what we both had to say about our vision for the pool. As opposed to the other builder, I pushed extremely hard for the travertine - coming from the homebuilding industry, we used it quite a bit there. I brought some samples over and the homeowner decided to go with it."

Design And Materials

The first word that comes to mind when viewing the lines of this project is "radius." Except for the extreme end of the pool, the layout is an integrated series of arcs bound together by stone, coping and water. It could have been drafted without a straightedge.

All that sweeping curvature, along with water moving from a high point of 2 feet, down a trickling stream into the spa at 1½ feet, and then spilling over into the pool, combine to project a sense of flow and movement.

The main vessel is a 505-square-foot freeform pool measuring 40 by 15, but taking into account the pond and river the project stretches to a full 50 feet in length. The depth goes from zero at the beach entry to 5 feet in the middle alongside the spa.

The choice of materials was crucial to unify so many intersecting arcs, and Stanton picked Colorado Moss Stone for the job. They blend well with the travertine coping and deck, particularly at the water line and joints between wall and path.

Stanton says he was lucky to find one of the stones naturally formed into a perfect bench for the spa. Indeed, its ideal shape forms a focal point for the project.

"When I saw it, it was almost like an altar," says Stanton. "It was about 3 feet long and 2 feet wide, naturally formed in that way. It was an awesome stone, and we placed it on top of the spa to serve as a bench. We were fortunate to find that one. It was made for that spot."

Down In The Coffee Grounds

Excavation and solid support for a project like this one is a tricky matter in the sandy soil of Lakeview, notes Stanton. "It's like digging in coffee grounds."

With granular soil underfoot, a big worry was settlement, particularly because the raised pond is well outside the pool's bond beam and its weight could develop a significant moment if not well supported, leading it to crack and settle away from the pool.

"It's the weakest point in the pool, because it sticks out like a neck and creates quite a bit of leverage on the spa," Stanton says, so giving it a solid base became a focus in design.

"We didn't want to do pilings because they create uneven pressure points," he says, "so we put a double steel floor built out of half-inch steel. We did a double-curtain around the entire raised area, and then where it hits the spa, that whole wall is half-inch steel as well, and then I've got support rods running all along it."

The foundation has held up well, he says, and the clients have been pleased with the overall result. It gives him a good feeling watching parts of the city being restored to their old charm and character.

"When you walk this backyard you get a feel of old New Orleans wrapped around this new house, cabana and pool. When looking from the house to the pool, you can see Canal Boulevard through the faux-wrought-iron fence. This setting makes you feel that New Orleans is on its way back."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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