Retreat like the Joneses – Create Your Own Backyard Oasis

Modern design backyard retreat with lounging areas, pool and spa

Get serenity now with these backyard escapes. From spas, hot tubs and pools, adulting has never felt so good.

It’s common knowledge that, short of booking a trip to a tropical island, soaking in a spa can be one of the best ways to relax and unwind physically and mentally. Studies show that even a brief dip in the spa can lower your blood pressure, give relief to physical aches and pains, reduce inflammation in your joints, and increase muscle flexibility. These Atlanta designers demonstrate how to take advantage of all those benefits by creating a beautiful space for a spa in your home or yard.

Contemporary Suburban Hideaway

To achieve a glamorous, modern look in this Virginia-Highland backyard, all the design elements of the pool, spa and patio are laid out horizontally and are broken up by bold geometric shapes, like the square Bluestone paver walkway. Simple, clean plant materials, like the Emerald Arborvitae shrubs along the fence, were chosen not only to please the eye, but also to lend privacy to the yard.

Designer:Douglas Bork, owner and registered landscape architect, Elements Landscape, LLC |
Pool Design and Installation: Jared Crawford, design associate and landscape architect, Artistic Pools, Inc. |


  • Larger hot tubs are making a splash. These tubs are two to three times the size of traditional tubs and can enable lap swimming using water jets and tether poles.
  • Aroma, fiber-optic light and color therapies can add to the ambience of your spa.
  • Think outside the spa: features that enhance the spa experience include built-in waterfalls, iPod/MP3 docks, TVs, stereo speakers, and swim-up bars.
  • Technology, like built-in chlorine generators,saves you money and time. You can check your spa’s water-quality status from anywhere using your smartphone, tablet or laptop

Mountaintop Serenity in the City

Joe Gayle Jr., the designer of this spa/pool combo, describes it as “a fountain that you can swim in.” His goal was to create a water feature that’s appealing not just to people who use it, but also those who view the pool from afar. The boulders for the waterfalls were stacked to create pockets for plants to give the space a natural look. And the waterfalls weren’t just visually pleasing—they drown out noise from a nearby street.

Designers: Joe Gayle Jr. and Mike Parmlee, co-presidents and designers, Joe A. Gayle & Associates |
Pool Construction: Dennis Matthews, owner and designer, Natural Pools by Dacor, Inc. (Atlanta Swimming Pools) |


Even though this backyard isn’t located in Atlanta, we were inspired by the creative solution that worked within the homeowners’ budget constraints. The use of flora to enhance the surroundings of this eco-friendly retreat only added to its uniqueness.

Let the allure of the environment encompassing your pool or spa influence the overall design. Foliage surrounding a pool or spa can serve several purposes:

  • Privacy: check the location of your future spa. Consider taller plants to create “walls” to block others’ views.
  • Beauty: invite Mother Nature in and enhance the look of your spa. But select plants that don’t flower, lose their leaves in winter or attract bugs or birds.
  • Safety: the stroll from the house to your spa can be slippery—use ground cover to provide traction on your walk.

Rustic Spa Tucked Into the Landscape

Margie Grace, the designer of this beautiful backyard, says her favorite part of this landscape is, “the way the stone steps embrace the tub. It’s as though the spa grew out of the earth.” Due to budget constraints, the homeowners weren’t able to install a full swimming pool in the yard. Grace’s solution? She used wooden staves, like those found in wine barrels, to create a cedar “spool,” a spa large enough to be used like a pool, but easier on the budget.

Designer and Installer: Margie Grace, founder and lead designer, Grace Design Associates, Inc. |

Set the Mood

It doesn’t take much to turn an everyday soak into a spa-like experience. Here are a few ways to take alone time to the next level.

  • Turn down the lights and turn up the ambience with candles. For ones that are made with all-natural ingredients, try local brand, Lindbergh Candle Co.
  • Amplify the appeal of the space with flowers. Travis Ann Bull, owner of the Buckhead-based Travis Ann Botanicals, suggests orchids, which will thrive in the added steam and moisture.
  • Add relaxing aromas. The Rosewater Balancing Mist by Jurlique will hydrate your skin and bring floral notes to the air

Inspired Nighttime Drama

The deck and stairs hugging this freestanding tub from MTI Bath’s Designer Collection demonstrate the design flexibility inherent in its unique shape. Textured porcelain tiles on the walls, combined with stone floor tiles, create a dramatic opportunity to light the space. The designers advise starting with tranquil colors and then choosing water therapies for the tub—like an air bath to provide a light, full-body massage or whirlpools for deep-tissue massage for aching muscles and joints.

Designers: Audrey Newsome, Audrey G. Newsome Designs, and Russell Adams, chief of design, MTI |
Installer: MTI

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