Build To Suit

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A Missouri couple took construction into their own hands to manifest the pool of their dreams.

Story by Andrea Darr     |     Photos by Matt Kocourek

When you can’t find the right person for the job, sometimes you just have to do it yourself. That exact situation motivated Blue Springs residents Ellis and LaDonna Gorden to create for themselves the backyard poolscape they’d always envisioned.

The couple purchased their contemporary house in 2008 and made a lot of changes to the interior, including adding a home theater and large wine cellar. But when it came time to design and install an outdoor oasis, their imaginations became limited by location.

Having seen exactly what they wanted at resorts around the world, they knew the right tools and materials existed, but soon learned they would have to get creative and be patient.

“We were the dreamers, designers and general managers of the project,” Ellis explains. “We tried desperately to get people to help but kept getting ridiculously overpriced quotes.”

Gorden, the owner of multiple businesses in manufacturing and machining, is a man of resources — and research. Did he have experience in this line of work? “Never before,” he admits. “But we researched the heck out of it.”

The first issue arose when companies the couple contacted wanted to use vinyl for the pool lining, whereas the Gordens wanted gunite, which is sprayed concrete. They hired Classic Pools to do that work, but then stopped at the flatwork because they didn’t want coping around the edges.

Instead, they wanted a more seamless appearance, so they hired that detail out separately.

“The inside of our house is very contemporary so we wanted the outside to be contemporary, too,” Ellis explains.

Rain further delayed the pool’s construction, but finally, nine months after starting, it was complete and worth the wait. Its a perfect rectangle, with a 10-inch submerged sun deck, where the couple enjoy soaking in the sun while still remaining cool in the water.

Another project the couple tackled was building a concrete vault in which to insert a fiberglass hot tub, rather than building one of gunite, like the pool. The cost was significant because Ellis had to reinforce the concrete to hold the mass of weight, but, he says, the experience of jets is much more effective this way.

The pool and spa are LaDonna’s happy places. While Ellis is mesmerized by the color of the water — “It’s perfectly blue water, blue as the sky,” he says — his favorite place isn’t in the water, it’s in the pool house. The 20’ x 40’ standalone structure is equipped with a 75-inch TV, bathroom with shower, and not just one, but two 1.5 ton A/C units. “I may have overkilled it, but I wanted air conditioning on 100-degree days,” Ellis remarks.

Comfortable no matter the weather outside, Ellis kicks back with a beverage from the full fridge and watches the Royals and Chiefs play.

It’s hard to say which wall of the pool house is most interesting to look at during a commercial, because they all are. A stacked stone wall is opposite the pool. One wall is made entirely of granite. “It’s brushed instead of polished, so you see all the veins and it has a leathery feel,” Ellis says.

Another wall isn’t a wall at all — it’s an accordion-style glass door system that completely opens up the house to the outside. With the push of a button, it stacks up against the wall.

“The windows really give the space a different effect when they are closed and open,” Ellis adds.

As cool as that feature is, it still doesn’t beat Ellis’ favorite component: “The most incredible thing is the Missouri walnut ceiling,” he says. “We were going to use tiger wood from Africa, but we decided to go local.”

The decor feels like a fresh breeze under the shade of a palm, with laid-back seating and hues of blues. It is also rather whimsical. All features from the clothes hangers to the mirrors and accents are marine-themed. The shells are authentic to the Atlantic. The Gordens’ next project is to hire a woodworker to inlay ships and mermaids into the wood doors.

The couple can use the pool house all winter long. “We’ve had parties out there; it’s fun when it’s snowing and blowing outside,” Ellis says.

Obelisk-style heaters around the patio add extra warmth as well as sculptural elements. A built-in, raised, fire-and-water feature presides over one side of the pool. Two water bowls are lit from below, making them appear to glow as they pour water over. In between, a fire pit dances with flames.

Seating is spread around, as well, creating both private areas for a tete-a-tete, as well as large gathering spots for hosting groups.

No matter the season in the Midwest, the Gorden’s backyard stays tropical year-round. It reminds them of Virgin Gorda, a British Virgin Island the couple uses as a getaway. Except for the big boulders around the island that they couldn’t get home, they recreated the feel.

“Our goal was to make it look like Virgin Gorda; it’s the next-best thing to that Caribbean feeling,” Ellis smiled.

Even with its delays and frustrations, the project turned out to great effect. It’s official open date was August 6, 2017, Ellis’ 70th birthday. There couldn’t be any greater gift than a dream accomplished and a world-class place in which to enjoy it.


  • Project Designer: Ellis & LaDonna Gorden (homeowners)
  • Pool Installation: Classic Pool Construction
  • Pool House Construction / Finish Work: Dave Copple Custom Homes
  • Patio Sliding Doors: Panoramic Doors
  • Engineered Walls / Flatwork: Hunter’s Hardscape
  • Deck Finish: Dynamic Surface Solutions
  • Outdoor Furniture (white): Grandin Road
  • Pool House Furniture: Restoration Hardware
  • White Lounge Seats: Costco
  • Hot Tub: Recreation Wholesale
  • Mosquito Barrier: United Mosquito and Fly Control
  • Plants: Suburban Lawn & Garden
  • Walnut Wood Supplier: Heartland Hardwoods

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