Welcome to the Neighborhood

Michael Popke Headshot
All photos by Kevin McGrath
All photos by Kevin McGrath

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Within a five-block radius in a North Caldwell, N.J., neighborhood, Jeff Stolarik has built eight residential pools. “It’s like everybody is trying to outdo everybody else,” says the owner of Blu•Sol Pools in Bloomingdale, N.J. “And I’m the guy they call to make that happen. I’m always trying to do something unique and never build the same pool twice.”

As a shining example of Stolarik’s work — which is all completed using an in-house crew of masons, plumbers, excavationists and landscapers — this inviting backyard oasis includes an 850-square-foot freeform pool with a vanishing edge, an eight-foot spa, multiple lounging areas strategically positioned for optimal sunbathing, and an expansive fire feature on the backside of the stone-veneered vanishing edge wall. The entire project, completed in mid-2019, is surrounded by about 30 12- to 14-foot arborvitae trees, transplanted to the site to enhance privacy.

The veneer on the spa uses a “Plinko” effect, in which stones of differing depths poke out of the spa to create a more customized look than standard spillover spas. Taken collectively, the veneered spa and pool walls, the natural bluestone coping and the wet-edge finishing blend beautifully with the natural landscape. No wonder this project won Bronze in AQUA’s 2019 Pool & Hot Tub Alliance Awards of Excellence in the Concrete Vanishing Edge category.

Blu Sol Wall

The project was not without its challenges, though. The sprawling backyard, situated on a massive slope, required Blu•Sol crews to dig down 36 feet in order to find foundation-worthy soil. About 30 truckloads of faulty soil were removed from the property during the course of a week, after which many loads of clean stone were delivered to properly elevate the grade.

“This was one of those cases where the original homebuilder didn’t spend a lot of money landscaping the backyard,” Stolarik says. “There were some pavers and a tiny retaining wall, which was just enough to hold up the deck. Beyond that was just raw land and a steep drop-off.”

Not only did Stolarik level the backyard but he also utilized part of the yard’s slope to create a dramatic eight-foot negative edge backdrop for a CMU block wall featuring a gas-operated fire pit and four open-air fire windows — a feature he has wanted to include in a project for years. As a result, the fire feature has become a popular destination for the homeowners and their guests.

“They have quite a few parties,” Stolarik says. “If you go over there any time on a Friday, there’ll be 20 or 30 people at that place.”

Blu Sol Vanishing

‘Whatever Pentair Makes, I Put Into the Pool’

Such a busy space needs to operate at a high efficiency all the time, which is why Stolarik opted to equip this project with as many Pentair products as possible.

The equipment suite includes IntelliFlo® VSF pumps, Clean and Clear® Plus cartridge filters, a MasterTemp® heater, underwater GloBrite® LED lights, an EasyTouch® control system and a ScreenLogic® automation system. The homeowner sought a “green solution” to disinfecting the pool, rather than using additional chemicals, so Stolarik also recommended and installed a BioShield® UV sterilizer — one of Pentair’s showcase products.

“I only use Pentair,” the pool builder says. “I refuse to use anything else. So whatever Pentair makes, I put into the pool.”

The ease of doing business with the company’s sales representatives and service specialists makes him feel like “I have partner in Pentair,” he adds. “I’m very comfortable selling their products, knowing they have my back at any point in time when I might have an issue.”

Blu•Sol Pools has used Pentair exclusively for the past five years.

Stolarik also notes that he needed to call the manufacturer for assistance while working on this particular project. “It’s a complicated pool and there are a lot of hydraulics,” he says. “The equipment is below grade and everything had to be programmed correctly for the automation. I’m a pool builder, not an IT guy. So I made a phone call to Pentair, and they had a rep — who came from Pennsylvania — on site with me the next day. Nothing is over the phone, like it is with other companies.”

Blu Sol Overhead

Not Done Yet

As things turned out, Blu•Sol Pools wasn’t quite done with this project. In early 2020, the company — which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year — installed an elaborate entertainment suite under the upper-level deck of the home using old barn wood and complete with heated floors and ceilings, a fireplace, a television, a pizza oven and low-voltage lighting. The addition brought the entire project’s price tag to more than $300,000.

“This is the type of client who wants to fit something into every square inch of the backyard,” Stolarik says. “Right now, I don’t think there’s any space left.”

In June, he was in discussions with a neighbor two doors down from this home to design and build a backyard pool with a 30-foot slide (and plenty of Pentair equipment). The home in between already has a Blu•Sol pool, and the prospect of shooting drone video of three stunning outdoor-living spaces in a row excites Stolarik.

“That’s rare in our area,” he says. “This is New Jersey, not Arizona or Florida. So to do projects at three houses in a row would be unprecedented for me.”

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