ixteen years ago, boat builder Chris Rawlings left his dream job
at the Mystic Seaport shipyard in Mystic, Connecticut, and
moved 100 miles inland to Western Massachusetts. “The love of my
life wanted a farm with goats and rosebushes,” he says. Though he
was far from the salty air, he was determined to stay close to the water.
Eventually, he did the next best thing. “I started building ponds and
pools,” says Rawlings.
His company, Water House Pools in Ashfield, Massachusetts,
has a portfolio that includes some of the most exquisite and eclectic
“swimming holes” — as he calls them — on sites from Cape Cod to Ver-
mont’s Green Mountains. “I was trained at the Rhode Island School of
Design,” says Rawlings, “so I had an idea of how to put things together.
And my father had me riding excavators for his construction business
when I was a teenager, so I already knew how to dig up rocks and move
them around. It seemed like a natural fit.”
Not surprisingly, Rawlings’s creations commonly feature mas-
sive stonework as the supporting cast to the actual swimming pools.
“Stone is more than a statement,” he says. “It has energy, a kind of life,
particularly when incorporated into the kinds of natural pools many
of my clients want.”
The demand for natural swimming pools (NSPs), he says, is driven
by environmental concerns as well as aesthetics. With the NSP system,
a central, deeper swimming area is typically surrounded by shallower,
submerged gravel beds filled with aquatic plants and teeming with what
Rawlings calls “biodynamic” activity. The idea is to mimic nature by
creating a man-made pond surrounded by a man-made marsh. Pumps
circulate the pond water into the “marsh,” where plants and aquatic
microorganisms in the water and gravel clean and purify the system.
For a couple with two sons, ages 8 and 10, near Brattleboro, Vermont, Rawlings took a hybrid approach, incorporating fully natural
pools that surround — but are not aquatically connected to — a more
conventionally treated and heated main pool. NSPs are difficult and
expensive to keep heated in New England’s unpredictable shoulder seasons, and these clients wanted to begin the swimming season early in
spring, extend it well into the fall, plus harness the abundance of electricity generated by a formidable bank of solar panels in their adjoin-