Burton Gray’s love of the water began at age five and he swam competitively at Virginia Tech until he was 20. By a stroke of fortune, he grew up next to the founder of Town & Country Pools, and found his first job with the company after college – first in construction and later in sales. By 1997, he was a partner, and he purchased the whole company in January of 2000. Six years ago, he started a service company focused on taking care of all the service and maintenance his pool owners will ever need.
Over the last 20 years, he’s helped some 500 families experience the kind of backyard lifestyle he’s come to enjoy, along with his many very tenured employees and contractors. Says Michele Ament, his chief designer and sales partner, “I’m probably the most recent employee here and I’ve been here 12 years!”
She hastens to point out that 500 pools may sound like a lot to some people, but that only averages out to around 25 pools a year – “We consider ourselves a boutique pool designer and builder. You would call us when you want to build something unique that serves as an extension of your home.” Adds Burton (and they routinely finish each other’s sentences), “We like to say you should think of your pool as the nicest room in your house.”
All that comes out of 34 years of experience for Burton, and a degree in landscape architecture from Penn State for Michele. Their goal is to create the dream backyard for each client that matches their own personal style, lending personality to their motto of “One Vision. One Design. One Builder.” That doesn’t mean everything happens at once, though increasingly higher-end builders call Town & Country when their own clients want to include a backyard pool.
Whether they are brought in as a building subcontractor or they work with a cadre of elite subcontractors who may not be the least expensive, but are the best at their field of expertise. Regardless of which subcontractor is involved to achieve the client’s desired effect, Town & Country provides start-to-finish quality control supervision and guarantees the pool’s integrity for a lifetime. (Pool equipment carries a 5-year guarantee.)
Such isn’t the case with many pool builders who operate on higher volume and win projects on price alone. Both Burton and Michele have served as president of the area’s American Pool and Spa Professional association, the largest such organization in the world, which exists to create a strict code of ethics and standards for pool builders. “Other companies may want to ‘dig the hole,’ whereas we want to create the space,” says Michele. “For us every pool project creatively answers the questions how are you going to use your pool, and how will you use the space around it. We see ourselves as helping you enrich your lifestyle.”
We like to say you should think of your pool as the nicest room in your house.
Burton laughs, “I tell people, ‘This will change your life,’ and they usually roll their eyes, then they come back and say, ‘You were sure right about that!’” Burton has built the second, third and even one fourth-time pool for different generations of families who want their house to be the one where their kids can hang out and bring their friends, not to mention families who don’t want to spend five hours in a car each way to spend two days at the beach.
Asked to give an example of a particularly unique project, Michele explains, “That applies to almost every project we build. You’re coming to us because you want something different.” Burton later notes that they’ve been tapped for projects as diverse as building a Disney-like “Lazy River” to a pool atop a townhouse in Georgetown.
Many things can add to the diversity of projects such as the contours and relative elevations in your backyard, easements, and of course the kinds of amenities and materials you want to include. Says Burton, “Our clients aren’t building a pool with three feet of concrete deck around it and the pool equipment sitting right out in the open.”
In photographs of their work, which both Burton and Michele have on a handy iPad for consultations, you’ll see a lot of masonry, outdoor kitchens, pool houses, contoured landscaping, even environments that could be used variously for outdoor man caves or even stay-at-home offices with pool-side outlets and cabanas.
A completed project can take from three to nine months, depending on the complexity and inclusion of outside structures, but communication throughout the project is key to its successful completion. Michele: “They get to know us very well.” Burton: “The communication is intense.” He adds, “We like [our clients] to understand what’s going on from start to finish throughout the process.”
“We’re not building pools for the masses and we’re not building everyone’s pools, but for those who want the high-end, residential backyard – a true extension of the living space of their home – that’s what we do," Burton says.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Planning Your Pool:
• How many children do you have, and what are their ages? (Needing a retractable pool cover tends to dictate a rectangular design.)
• Do you entertain large groups or a few families at a time?
• What’s your plan for how you use your pool: exercise or lounging alongside?
• Will the kids want to dive?
• Is it more for kids or adults to enjoy?
• Would you prefer boulders and waterfalls or more contemporary design? (Often this is dictated by the home’s design and materials. They should match or be at least complimentary.)
• Would you prefer a travertine or flagstone deck? (Here’s where the iPad comes in to help explain, using examples.)
• Not just the size of the lot, but the size of the home may dictate the size and/or proportions of the pool, so keep this in mind when planning.
• Everything doesn’t need to be completed at once, but should follow one cohesive design from start to finish.