Rough Stuff

Tough terrain stood in the way of a Montclair mansion's luxury pool project but the results prove: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Landscape architecture by Landscape Techniques Inc.
Photography by Brian J. Koribanick 

Montclair Manor’s newly landscaped entry plaza features this roundabout with a stone fountain surrounded by lush plantings and Belgium block.

It all started with a family's desire for a swimming pool— many backyards have them, and what better way for kids to have fun in the summer!

But this family with three school-aged children lives at Montclair’s Stone Eagles Manor, a state and national historic site on 2.6 acres of steeply sloped mountain overlooking New York City.

Their dream was not going to come easy.

Today, to say the family has a pool would be an understatement. Their resort-like backyard features a stone-arched cabana where, in rain, sleet or snow, they can still relax in the spa, prepare food in the full kitchen or warm up at the wood-burning fireplace. The view: six sheer falls descending from a raised beam into the 8-foot-deep tiled pool—all illuminated, of course, for maximum effect, and topped off with lush plantings and fire bowls like icing on the cake.

For design plans that beat all odds, including the arduous work of taming this rugged property to make way for an in-ground Gunite pool, cabana and spa, Landscape Techniques of Nutley won recognition from the American Society of Landscape Architects, NJ Chapter. Competition came from some 30 submissions, but the Stone Eagles redesign was a monumental landscaping feat. (Of note to history buffs is that the grounds were originally designed by the Olmsted Brothers, the geniuses behind NYC’s Central Park. So, Landscape Techniques owner Brian J. Koribanick, who has a degree in landscape architecture, had big shoes to fill!)

Even if the project had stopped with its initial focus—the pool and its accompaniments—Landscape Techniques would have been up against Goliath: the extensive excavation, the removal of 280 tons of red shale plus 1,000 cubic yards of rocky soil and sometimes, when all else failed, having to hammer away at stubborn stone, recalls Koribanick.

But the family’s vision grew to encompass the redesign of the entire grounds in the style of an outdoor plaza with tiered Turkish travertine walls matching the 1926 home’s Mediterranean coral stone façade.

“We spent time trying to find a stone that would match. Ultimately, we came to travertine,” says Koribanick.

Without question, Koribanick knew the outdoor courtyard could not be second rate. If it could not be made of Mediterranean coral, it still had to replicate the unique stone’s color, texture, size and pattern.

Some might have called the mission impossible—case closed, but Koribanick got some help from Burak Yeneroglu, president of Bayrock Natural Stone in Carlstadt, whose family owns a quarry in Turkey. This quarry helped create the pieces of travertine essential for the redesign, which extends from the wrought-iron gate and immense circular fountain in front all the way to a bluestone patio in the backyard’s woodsy section. Thanks to the quarry, Koribanick says, “We were able to have everything and anything needed made for the job.”

Keeping true to the spirit of the mansion’s design meant more than matching stone. Koribanick wanted folks to see double—as he played copycat, taking the existing covered patio’s sweeping arches and mirroring this grand effect at the new 1,400-square-foot cabana.

“We basically did 70 shop drawings of all different shapes and dimensions and sent them to Turkey. They pre-fabricated these big pieces of travertine to make the arches,” he says, adding that they survived their journey to the States in remarkable shape.

But if this was to be a true test of landscaping and engineering skill—the engineer on the job was Dewberry Engineering—the crews had to face yet another challenge.

Koribanick and his team had their test, all right, in grounds so steep they reflected a 100-foot grade change from the street to rear property line.

Yes, the terrain itself would toy with them as they sought to rebuild an extensive network of retaining walls running throughout the property. Drainage and erosion issues could not be ignored due to the steep and rocky nature of the multilevel site.

Still, they rose to the occasion with the idea that a project so big should not have to be repeated anytime soon.

This meant ensuring the longevity of the new retaining wall system by using pour-in-place concrete veneered with travertine that matched the manor to a “T.” For more lasting power, the crew added in a special mortar mix.

The result? Right from the gated entrance with its namesake stone eagles, one is captivated by the artistry of the redesigned grounds with a 24- foot stone fountain, bluestone and travertine walkways, custom fire pits and grills, and 5,800 square feet of reclaimed Belgium block in the driveway.

Of course, the resort-like pool that launched this effort is truly the showstopper. No ordinary liner for this elite built-in—the family decided to grace the pool with various neutral tiles for an effect that’s hardly routine.

Visual surprises await visitors throughout the property, where the landscape architect gave new life to an old water feature in the backyard and provided a grassy area for children to play.

All this, and Landscape Techniques was under deadline to have the grounds ready to go for a June 2017 graduation. Let the party begin!

A blend of Italian porcelain tile gives this pool a luxurious look all its own. Opposite, the new cabana, complete with a full kitchen, overlooks the pool.

Multiple layers of color and texture enhance the manor’s original portico. At left, intimate details like this water feature are found throughout the site.

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