Fall 2021

Naturally Cool

Written by Megan Felling | Photos by Bob Greenspan

A Kansas City couple moved beyond the typical blue-water pool model for one that needs less maintenance and is more in tune with nature.


fter remodeling and updating their Kansas City, Missouri, home, located just east of State Line Road, Elaine and Aaron Clemons set their sights on creating a backyard space for their family to relax and enjoy life at home. First up was adding a swimming pool. One of Aaron’s former employees told him about Total Habitat, a company that builds natural pools. Also called a swimming pond, it invites nature in and looks like part of the landscape for an all-natural, chlorine-free swimming experience that’s a low-maintenance alternative to a traditional pool.

Aaron and Elaine worked with Total Habitat’s owner, Mick Hilleary, to design the pool using concrete so that it can be converted to a traditional swimming pool in the future if desired. It features an underwater wooden wall, step-in pebble beach, and a central swimming area.

Filtered naturally using a built-in biological filtration system, natural swimming pools are self-cleaning pools that combine swimming areas and water gardens, including lily pads, rocks and plants—even fish. Ten to 12 goldfish are part of Aaron and Elaine’s eco-friendly pool.

“Fish are essential to the ecosystem. When
we swim, the fish are one with us,” Elaine says with a smile.

“We’ve even had ducks land in the pond, and frogs are pretty common,” Aaron adds.

Natural pools typically look more like ponds than traditional pools and are usually constructed of natural materials like boulders, decorative gravel and water plants. Though they may look natural, they feature extensive built-in plumbing systems that are constantly circulating water down through the biological filter then back up to the surface to collect oxygen.

“There are 17 jets to keep the water moving, plus a UV sterilizer to take care of any germs and control the algae. It really only requires a good cleaning in the spring and then it’s much less maintenance than a traditional pool,” Aaron explains.

When we swim, the fish are one with us.” ~ Homeowner Elaine Clemons

There is a rainwater collection tank in the side yard that feeds the pool and sprinkler systems.

“We enjoy the pool during all four seasons. It will freeze over in the winter. It’s beautiful year-round. We never have to close it up like a conventional pool,” Aaron says.

They enlisted architect Chris Fein of Forward Design | Architecture, who had helped them with the interior remodel, to tie the pool in with the house. The goal was to create an extension of the house for indoor/outdoor living and also serve as a focal point from the house.

“This was a fun and interesting project,” Chris says. “I jumped at the opportunity to work with Mick, the pool designer, and the Clemonses were wonderful, so I was excited to work with them again.

The project scope included a covered pavilion with a shower and dressing room, outdoor kitchen, shaded living area and mechanical systems.

But the structure could not exceed 200 square feet, per city regulations, so Chris developed the project as a pergola with small enclosed areas that would meet the city’s square footage limit.

The pool deck wraps around the pool and is integrated with the main house itself, connecting the two spaces. This also allowed for the creation of separate outdoor lounge areas.

“I was worried we would not be able to make it as modern in style as what they envisioned, but we ended up with a hybrid of modern and traditional,” Chris says. “My methodology is to celebrate the negatives and solve complex issues with design. I try to listen to what the client wants, take the constraints, and turn them into a design accent. It’s a relatively small backyard but we were able to fit everything in.”

Considering the unconventional nature of the pool aspect, the project progressed smoothly on all fronts and gave the Clemonses the refreshing outlet they wanted.

“We are so pleased with the results; I love it,” Elaine says. “It’s been great to have while staying home more this past year. We have hosted lots of friends, family gatherings and birthday parties.”


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