J. Kelly Sullivan put his first pool in the ground just six years ago.

But he’ll likely find all the business he can handle in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a fast-emerging, high-end playground in the British West Indies.

This pool is at once an artistic achievement and a remarkable feat of engineering — a fiberglass vessel dropped into solid limestone, and looking as if it belongs there.

“The design intent was to create a tropical Caribbean oasis, so that if you were traveling in the middle of nowhere, you’d come up to a hillside and see a lagoon,” says Sullivan, managing director of this building firm.

“I had a 3-D palette to work with and was able to create something special.”

Rock steady

His first challenge was the environment itself. Instead of excavating lush earth or soft sand, Sullivan had to dig into solid limestone.

The excavator spent three days carving out a spot for the custom-made, free-form San Juan fiberglass shell — 30 feet long and 8 feet at the deep end, with a custom black gel finish.

But digging a perfect hole out of rock is no easy task. So when the opening was nearly finished, Sullivan’s crew added sand and water to form a cradle that would hug the shell once it was carefully lowered into place.

Next, sand was slowly added up to the coping edge of the pool. The edges were strengthened by pouring a concrete ring beam around the pool’s perimeter and reinforcing it with hand-bent steel. This technique allowed several boulders to lean over the water.

A daring haul

The rocks were found by workers in wild areas of the island and hauled to the job site. But the property’s tight quarters meant there was only one way to bring them into the backyard: over the top.

Sullivan’s crew used a crane to lift 20 tons of boulders over the house and next to the pool. One was so heavy it bent the arm of the crane. A new machine ultimately had to be brought in. But the massive stones, and effort, were essential to his natural design.

The coping, however, is not natural rock. Instead, Sullivan opted for poured concrete, which he matched to the natural stones around the pool by etching the coping and surrounding rock with an acid stain.

Playboy playground

When the project was complete, visitors likened the rocky pool design to the Playboy mansion’s famed Grotto.

“It can certainly give that feel in the nighttime,” Sullivan says. “The pool is done in black to create the illusion of not knowing how deep it is. That only adds to the mystique.”

All lighting in and around the pool was done with fiberoptics. With nary a straight line to be found, Sullivan created tiny footpaths between the limestone boulders out of polished yellow river rock from China.

Kelly Sullivan