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Midlothian Landscape Design Challenge: Innovative Custom Pool

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Great designers are also great problem solvers. At Water and Earth, we believe that almost anything is possible with some creativity and determination. In this Midlothian, VA landscape design challenge, we visit an Old Gun Rd. backyard. The homeowners already had an existing outdoor living space off of the main home that they were happy with, however, what they did not have was a pool.

When building a custom pool, there are always challenges that are unique to the space. This particular project presented a few unique obstacles that we were excited to problem solve.

A Sloped Backyard

Normally, we try to build pools close to the home to maximize accessibility and use. In this space, the elevation changes of the lot made installing a pool as an extension of the original living space nearly impossible, as the home was built on an aggressive slope.

To contend with this, we decided to move the pool further toward the edge of the property where the angle of the slope lessened and became easier to work with. Contrary to popular belief, your yard does not need to be completely flat for a pool to be constructed. Typically, pools constructed on slopes utilize some kind of a retaining wall.

The exposed and finished far side of the swimming pool, supported by piers. Homeowners were able to avoid the more costly construction of a retaining wall.

In this Richmond, VA landscape design, we did something a little bit different. Instead of utilizing a retaining wall, we constructed the pool using something called piers. What is a pier? In a construction context, swimming pool piers are earth-anchoring devices that are designed to provide deep foundational support. Using piers on sloped pools such as this one means you can avoid the costly expense of a retaining wall.

Above, you can see the home-facing edge of the swimming pool is flush to the deck. As you move around toward the edge of the property, you see the exposed side of the swimming pool, finished and held up by piers.

Space to Train

Each client wants something different from a pool build. Some are looking to maximize entertainment for kids and are interested in custom water slides. Other families are more concerned with accessibility for pets, and need large tanning shelves built in to create shallow space. In this instance, one of the homeowners was a dedicated triathlete. As a result, the challenge in this project was to build a pool that could both accommodate a family, but also be used as a training space.

Traditional lap pools are not especially multipurpose, and the design concept behind them is often impractical or not aesthetically aligned with outdoor living spaces. In this Old Gun backyard, both the sloping and the space of the property made a linear swimming lane pool an unrealistic design choice. Thus, we needed to get creative.

In some pool designs, this can be a challenge. Many clients prefer to opt for more geometric, linear style pools so that an automatic cover can be installed. However, we had more leeway in this space, as the homeowner’s already had the entire area enclosed with a safety fence. This gave us room to manipulate the size and style of the pool as needed.

We installed a swim-in-place system in one corner of the pool as a designated space for the homeowner to train.

In the end, we decided the best solution was to install a Swim-In-Place system, seated into a smaller, rectangular corner of the pool. This system consists of a powerful jet that acts as a sort of water treadmill. Here, the homeowner can swim in place against a powerful current, allowing for a designated training space that does not impact the overall design of the swimming pool.

Tanning and Lounge Area

In addition to the space to train, the homeowners wanted this pool to have space for the kids and family to relax when they weren’t splashing around. The best answer to this is typically to create a tanning shelf. Also called a sun shelf or a baja shelf, a tanning shelf is a raised platform in a pool that creates a shallow wading area.

The tanning shelf.

Tanning shelves are popular because they are great multi use spaces. Not only does the shallow water provide safe space for small children and pets to splash around, but they are also great for their namesake–tanning.

Another look at the large tanning shelf, accessible from three pool edges.

In this pool, we utilized the straight edge closest to the home, and broke it up, using half of the space for a stair entry, and the other half for a sizable tanning shelf. In this pool, the tanning shelf is accessible from three different points of entry, making it a functional access point to the stairs in the remainder of the pool.


To finish this custom pool, we chose modern materials that created a beautiful, seamless finish in keeping with the homeowner’s personal style. Around the perimeter of the pool we used bluestone coping. This provides a dynamic contrast to the Eagle Bay (recently acquired by Belgard) pavers that make up the pool deck.

After talking with the clients, we collectively decided against more involved landscaping. It was important for the immediate space to feel open, clean, and navigable. As you can see from the finished project photos, this Old Gun property is surrounded by a dense treeline, which makes the back side of the yard feel enclosed, and adds all of the green that this custom pool needs.

The finished pool space, complete with bluestone coping and concrete pavers. A lush treeline adds just the right amount of green space, while providing privacy.

In the end, the space was finished with ample lounge chairs, some classic planters, and colorful pool umbrellas.

A Fun, Functional Family Space

No two pools we build are exactly the same, because no two clients are the same. At Water and Earth, we create for our clients, taking into account their personal needs, lifestyle, and design aesthetics. From funky to functional, the best part of our job is creating a swimming pool that fits the homeowner to a tee.

In this Richmond landscape design challenge, we faced a sloped backyard, and the need for a pool that served multiple purposes. Using ingenuity and feedback from our clients, we were able to deliver a pool that could do it all. The result is a space that is clean, beautiful, and functional for the entire family. From training to tanning, our clients have a pool that can do it all, and looks great while doing it.

For more deep dives on past designs, visit our blog! Explore finished projects across the Richmond area and get your biggest landscape design questions answered. For daily inspiration and to see what we’re working on right now, follow us on Instagram!

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