When architect Richard Wagner asked John Kaegi which style — Craftsman, Victorian, modern — he envisioned for his new home, Kaegi replied: "I want Ashland."
The Ashland native, who returned to town in retirement, described his architectural aesthetic as "a lot of wood and rocks." Most importantly, the design had to evoke Lithia Park.
Kaegi, 63, and wife Anna, 59, waited 12 years for their real-estate agent to locate a property on the narrow street that runs parallel to the park for almost its entire length.
"We told her Granite Street and only Granite Street," says John Kaegi, who grew up exploring Lithia Park and wanted to step off his doorstep into the Ashland gem.
In 2007, a Granite Street address finally came up for sale. But the house dated to 1911 and "had become unlivable," says Kaegi.
So the couple decided to demolish it and build a new, 4,500-square-foot residence on the one-third-acre property — but not before putting in a pool. Landscaping excavation preempted the home's foundation because a massive cedar tree guards the only access between the street and the backyard.
"It looks like the house is nestled into it," says Anna Kaegi of the towering evergreen.
Similarly, the pool nestles into boulders and retaining walls that slope uphill toward the back of the lot. Landscape architect Laurie Sager set out to design a pond but concluded with the Kaegis that maintenance would be easier for a small, free-form swimming pool. Fed by a recirculating waterfall and decked in natural flagstones punctuated by strategically placed boulders, the pool measures about 15 by 25 feet.
"In the end, what they were looking for was almost a little lake," says Sager.
Pools the Kaegis had at other homes, first in Florida, then a full-sized lap pool that was featured in architectural magazines and served as their New York home's main selling point. This time, they wanted the sound of water as well as the sight, and it had to look natural. Their new pool lacks a tile border at the waterline, and its surface resembles gray pebbles, rather than smooth plaster.
"They're supposed to look like ponds, but they're pools," says John Kaegi.
On a tier above the main pool, a smaller, shallower pool originates the waterfall. The red, flat, porous rock that constitutes the spillway heats up in summer, naturally warming the water, which attained 82 degrees last year, say the Kaegis. Although newer salt-converter technology is available, the pool is sanitized with standard chlorine and has no auxiliary heating system.
"The whole football team's been in here," says Anna Kaegi, referring to their son's position on Ashland High School's squad. "We were swimming in the pool before we moved into the house."
Sided in natural cedar, the house reprises much of the native stone — including granite and river cobbles — used around the pool and to terrace the yard. But the four-bedroom abode with three and a half baths also made use of some materials reclaimed from the lot's previous structure.
The Kaegis conserved century-old, wide-plank fir flooring and laid it in their new home's entryway. They also repurposed other wooden fittings for a mantelpiece and front door. The home took two years to build while the Kaegis remained on the East Coast and visited Ashland every few months to monitor progress and make key decisions.
"We built this house from 3,000 miles away," says Anna Kaegi.
But their proximity to Lithia Park is the Kaegis' ultimate reward. From the numerous decks and patios, including one with a stone-masonry fireplace, the couple can hear free, summertime concerts in the Butler Bandshell. John Kaegi is just a stone's throw from the courts where he learned to play tennis and which he still held dear during four years of professional competition.
"We can walk directly into the Japanese gardens," says Anna Kaegi.
Tree limbs softening views from the Kaegis' backyard to the front blend seamlessly into the canopy across Granite Street. The couple even wanted to carve out their own creek running from the top of the property to the pool, but it proved too complicated and expensive, they say.
Echoing Lithia Park's beloved duck ponds, the pool was approximately the same price as any other type of in-ground pool, which starts at about $50,000, says Sager. Jerry Casad of Superior Pools built the Kaegis', and Solid Ground Landscape of Ashland sculpted the yard around it.
"I like to think that pools can be well-utilized in the winter as a naturally pleasing water feature," says Sager. "I think it's kind of the best of both worlds for them."
The Kaegis agree and hope their three grandchildren — ages 4 to 10 — who plan to visit from Arkansas think so, too.
If not, there's an entire park across the street.