Challenge Accepted

Michael Popke Headshot
All photos by Adam Pass Photography
All photos by Adam Pass Photography

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The owners of a home built on a sprawling wooded property in rural Morristown, N.J., were ready to give up on building the backyard of their dreams. Too many landscape designers and pool builders had told them the 15-foot grade change from the back of their home to the end of their lot was too steep to make their vision a reality.

Enter Thomas Flint Landscape Design & Development in Waldwick, N.J.

“This was an engineering challenge, a site challenge, an entry-of-materials-and-equipment challenge — it was a challenge all across the board,” Thomas Flint, the firm’s owner and president, says of the Morristown project. “Other contractors had looked at this job and told the homeowners it wasn’t going to happen in a way that would make the pool the focal point of the backyard, which is what the client wanted. The owners were ready to bail and find a new home more conducive to what they had in mind.”

 The company — which was founded in 2004 as a landscape construction firm specializing in outdoor living spaces and added pool design and construction to its portfolio three years later — was referred to the homeowner as a “last-ditch effort,” Flint says. “We get into a lot of challenging projects, because we take on ones that other people don’t think are feasible or aren’t interested in doing, for one reason or another.”

Pentair Build2

Photo by Adam Pass Photography

The result is a stunning $750,000 backyard living space, including a pool with 1,100 square feet of water surface and not a single right angle. (A spacious 12-by-14-foot spa with custom lounge seats occupies one corner of the pool.) Stretching 48 feet from end to end — with sections as wide as 30 feet and as narrow as 16 feet — the pool won Gold in AQUA’s 2019 Pool & Hot Tub Alliance Awards of Excellence in the Concrete Vanishing Edge category.

Flint’s crews removed 3,500 cubic yards of soil — “We had a pile of dirt that was twice as high as the house,” Flint says — to eliminate the need for a large flight of stairs leading from the home to the pool. They also built an enormous retaining wall that cuts the property in half and scales the project. That wall became what Flint calls the “backbone” of the project. At its tallest, the wall stands about five feet, and it transitions into a shorter raised beam wall after it cuts away from the pool and continues up the perimeter of the backyard.

The majority of the veneer stone on the wall was fabricated from the foundation of a nearby burned-down barn, and it reflects the property’s rustic nature. Additionally, the mirror-like water surfaces (thanks to low-velocity pumps) are illuminated with 2,000 fiber-optic twinkling lights.

The backyard living space also includes multiple deck and lounge areas, a large lawn space, an outdoor kitchen, a fireplace and a pizza oven. The entire project, completed in August 2017, took 10 months.

Pentair Build3

Photo by Adam Pass Photography

Pentair: ‘Part of Our Team’

The pool required reliable equipment to reinforce the confidence Flint and his team had in their vision for this unusual project. That’s why they opted for a large suite of Pentair products that includes an ETi® 400 high-efficiency 400,000-BTU heater, three IntelliFloXF® variable speed pumps and one two-horsepower WhisperFlo® pump, Clean & Clear® Plus cartridge filters for the main pool and the vanishing-edge catch pool, an IntelliChem® chemical controller, six GloBrite® LED lights, an IntelliTouch® i9+3 system with an expansion board, and a SpaCommand® spa-side remote control.

“Pentair is our go-to brand,” Flint says. “We consider them part of our team. If we run into any type of issue, we pick the phone up, reach out, and if someone can’t troubleshoot by phone, they’ll be on the job site within a day.”

Pentair Build4

Photo by Adam Pass Photography

Although local Pentair reps have accompanied Flint’s crews on several job sites in the past, they were particular interested in this project — as it was among the first to feature Pentair’s ETi 400 heater. Working together, builder and manufacturer were able to ensure the unit ran at the highest efficiency level possible from Day One.

“We feel that we’re on the cutting edge, and we keep ourselves sharp by participating in continuing education programs,” Flint says. “But we’re smart enough to know we don’t know everything. We're not cocky or egotistical, and when we have the opportunity to learn something new, we take advantage of that. On the flip side, by visiting contractors like us, Pentair can better understand what clients are looking for, which helps them tailor their products to fit those needs.”


Pentair Build5

Photo by Adam Pass Photography

‘Pushing the Envelope a Little Bit Further’

This project involved a high degree of technical difficulty, even though the large-scale outdoor environment blends seamlessly into the backyard. Since its completion, Flint’s design and construction teams have applied elements of this pool to other projects.

“Finishing a project like this gives our designers more freedom to create and come up with ideas that may have not even been thought about in the past,” he says. “It opened the door for new challenges, new ideas — and it allows us to push the envelope a little bit further.”

The homeowners, once on the verge of giving up and finding a new home in which to make their backyard-living dreams come true, were so pleased with the outcome that they invite Flint and members of his firm back to the property when they host pool parties.

“This is a big part of our portfolio,” Flint concludes. “The most challenging backyards often produce the best results.”

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