A family is happy staying at home in their backyard retreat.

When Michael and Judy Martz purchased their midcentury home in Upper Arlington in 2016, they were drawn to its stylish architecture, its lush backyard adjacent to a neighborhood park and the backyard swimming pool. After renovating the house inside and out, the outdoor poolscape has become the most popular space for their family of four, especially during this year’s pandemic.

“We use it almost everyday now,” says Judy. “We even have to schedule adult time, since our kids have taken over the pool.” She explains their daughter and son, ages 18 and 19 respectively, were both home for the summer before heading to college and frequently invited friends to gather around the pool after working or studying.

“It’s a nice, quiet haven for the kids and their friends to come and decompress,” Judy adds. “The other day, I had to put the kids on alert that mom is having friends over for the evening.”

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Michael faces similar challenges: “I schedule lap swimming two nights a week, since the gyms have been closed.”

When Judy and her daughter first toured the home, the pool was a big selling point. In fact, their daughter, age 14 at the time, put together a PowerPoint presentation to persuade her parents to purchase it.

“Throughout the presentation, she kept flashing up pictures of the pool and saying ‘And, there’s a pool,’” says Judy, smiling.

Initially, Michael was reluctant to purchase the house because it meant undertaking another full renovation after already living through one at their previous home just blocks away.

“We always liked the midcentury modern style, and Judy initially saw more potential in the home than I did,” says Michael. In the end, he agreed with the move and even instigated an update of the pool area.

“He pushed for the backyard renovation,” says Judy. “When we bought the house, the backyard renovation was not part of the plan especially with all the work being done inside. I wondered, ‘Why are we putting more money in here?’ But it was worth it.”

According to their contractor Hidden Creek Landscaping, more homeowners than ever have been investing in the land surrounding their homes. Owner Jason Cromley reports the company’s spring sales doubled this year.

“Forty-five days ago, things were not looking good,” says Cromley, who founded the firm in 1998 and now has 100 associates. “It took about a month to settle, then, as people sat at home all day, they envisioned what they wanted their backyard to be. And, when travel was taken away, the long-term investment became more realistic.”

Back when the project was starting, Cromley and his team first met the Martzes at their home to access their wants and needs. The wish list included more spaces for the kids to entertain friends and for the couple to host social and business gatherings. They wanted to expand the fence-enclosed pool deck to accommodate larger groups and rework level changes from the backdoor and existing screen porch.

Hidden Creek returned with a plan featuring an outdoor kitchen and bar area for entertaining, an expanded sun deck around the pool and modern style landscaping to match the home’s midcentury architecture.

From design to completion, the landscape project took six months. The home’s interior was being updated at the same time by Eagle Remodeling, so the family moved into an apartment during all of the work.

For the patio, Hidden Creek Landscaping removed the fence that was around the pool. They added a layer of concrete to the pool deck and applied a travertine overlay. Dark brown clay pavers were used as accents in a border around the patio and in bands stretching across it to mimic the angles of the home’s architecture. For the outdoor kitchen, a bar was constructed from stone to match the home and the space was outfitted with a granite countertop, grill, refrigerator, dishwasher, electric hook-up for an outdoor TV and a modern pergola.

The pergola features automated roof louvers controlled by a phone app or wall dial. Hidden Creek also reworked the stairs from the home’s back door to make more room for the outdoor kitchen. They finished both these steps and the screened porch steps in travertine and trimmed the pool’s edge with travertine coping.

The home’s modern aesthetic is echoed in the surrounding landscape where plants are organized in geometric fashion. For example, multiple ‘Karl Forester’ grasses are equally spaced in a straight line along one side of the property. Three upright hornbeams add sculptural interest along a stucco wall, and Boston ivy is planted along its base to add more green to the large wall surface. More masses of liriope are underplanted beneath a Japanese maple. The property already featured a dominant oak tree and a screen of trees along its far edge, which borders a neighborhood pocket park.

“The previous owners told us it was the best backyard in Upper Arlington,” says Michael as he points to the lush tree screen near the park.

Hidden Creek further filled gaps along the property lines with additional hornbeams and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae. Special care was also taken to protect the backyard’s mature oak tree during construction and then to highlight its base with a low stone wall.

Finally, lighting was added to uplight trees, accent the outdoor kitchen, and light paths and walls.

“It’s one of our favorite features,” says Cromley. “It extends the life of the outdoor space and the time it’s utilized.”

At night, the lighted pool becomes a key focal point as viewed from the pool deck as well as indoors from the dining room. “We love the view,” says Judy, explaining that the family gathers for evening dinners around the end of a large dining table because it has the best pool views.

Because the pool is L-shaped, Cromley says it isn’t conducive to a traditional pool cover. Instead, the Martzes embrace the uncovered, lighted pool as a water feature. “Most pools today have an auto cover to keep the pool clean and safe, and conserve heat,” says Cromley, adding that such covers can obscure a pool’s aesthetic qualities.

“The pool is a 24-hour-a-day water feature,” he says. “When they’re covered all the time, they’re missing out.”

“If you can look at water—especially being in Central Ohio, why wouldn’t you?” he adds.

Today, the Martz family enjoys entertaining poolside for both formal and informal gatherings. In the past, it has even been used for office gatherings. “We like the flexibility of the space,” says Judy. “We can set up differently depending on the event.”

And she envisions the pool to be a center of family activity for years to come.

“I like the idea of the kids returning one day with their own kids to learn to swim,” she adds.

Reprinted from Columbus Monthly Home & Garden Fall/Winter 2020-21.