THE CANVAS: A tight lot, neighbors in full view, treasured trees that must remain

THE PALETTE: Rich crimson brick, moss rock to lighten the look, a blanket of plum-colored deck tile

THE MASTERPIECE: Towering fireplace to warm the body, soothing spa to warm the soul

To swim or to soak? That was the question. The owners of this Oklahoma property briefly entertained the question when they approached Irven McGoohan, a retailer/builder. They were torn between getting a pool or a spa. But it quickly became clear that this cozy 300-square-foot backyard needed a spa.

As a builder of gunite and vinyl-liner pools, McGoohan’s firm is equipped to install inground spas. However, he encouraged an acrylic shell for this project. “We don’t do gunite spas because we just feel that you get more hydrotherapy value out of using a portable spa,” says the owner of Splash Pools & Spas in Lawton, Okla.

More than anything, the homeowners wanted to achieve a comforting environment for family and guests. The yard had an existing concrete patio and some perimeter trees, but it was in full view of the neighbors. To create more privacy, McGoohan, along with partner Robert Baca and the homeowners, decided to add a fireplace.

All fired up

Standing 10 feet tall, the fireplace sits on the property’s edge. Masonry subcontractor Sam White helped enhance the feeling of shelter by extending its lines with an 18-inch-high planter wall on each side. The walls progressively step up, providing an added sense of dimension and shielding power.

The fireplace was constructed with a brick border to integrate it with the house. “Fortunately, the house was only 3 years old,” McGoohan says. “So matching the brick was easy.”

The body of the fireplace was filled in with a native material — cream-colored Texas moss rock. This aired out the sizable structure.

Putting it together

Of course, the spa is the heart of the project. Sitting approximately 7 feet away from the dining room, it snuggles in the crook of the home’s “L” shape.

Plum-colored porcelain deck tiles surround the 7-foot-7-inch-square spa. “The homeowners didn’t want a stamped or designed concrete deck,” McGoohan says. “They wanted a rich look, with real tile.”

While fairly straightforward, construction on this project sometimes was tedious because of narrow access to the yard. Crews had to carry or wheelbarrow all materials and equipment down a long driveway and into the backyard. They excavated the hole for the spa shell by hand, as well as footings for the wall and fireplace.

To secure the spa, McGoohan and his crews dug a hole and lined it with cinder-block walls and a concrete floor. “That way, we won’t have dirt collapsing all around it,” he says. “If they ever need to, they can take out the spa and reinstall or replace it easily.”

McGoohan and Baca tried an unusual strategy to help the clients envision the project before construction began. Rather than paint the layout on the ground, they used strings to outline each element, indicating where it would sit and how high it would be. For every corner, they put a stake in the ground and ran the string in another direction.

“We virtually made a model on the ground of what the spa and wall were going to look like and exactly how wide everything was going to be,” McGoohan says. “We wanted to make sure we had enough room to walk all the way around the spa, and put some tables and chairs out there.

“It was the easiest way to help the customer visualize what it was going to look like,” he adds.

Robert Baca, partner (left), and Irven McGoohan, owner, Splash Pools And Spas, Lawton, Okla.
Robert Baca, partner (left), and Irven McGoohan, owner, Splash Pools And Spas, Lawton, Okla.