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The Million-Dollar Pool 
Felicia Paik, 


These days custom pools really let homeowners splash out.  

Last summer Matthew J. Cody, a former general partner of the market maker firm Spear, Leeds & Kellogg, and his wife commissioned a 2,000-square-foot pool for their home in the Long Island town of Belle Terre. Cody, whose company was purchased last year by Goldman Sachs (nyse: GS - news - people) for $6.5 billion, wanted a pool that would conjure up images of the lost island of Atlantis. Their pool, which holds 69,000 gallons of water, has cascading waterfalls, fountains, a 14-foot-diameter island in the center, sculpted fish that spit out water, hand-painted iron gates and an 18-foot bridge over the pool. The price tag? $1.7 million.  

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While this amount may seem all wet to some people, the Codys aren't the only people who are spending the kind of money usually reserved for home purchases on elaborate swimming pools to suit their fanciful whims or entertaining needs. Those in the pool business say they are being commissioned to build pools with limestone, 24-carat gold, imported tiles, coquina and much more. As one Palo Alto, Calif., homeowner, Dieter Mees, says, "I didn't want anything that somebody else already had." 

Ex-Baywatch beauty Anderson can practice her lifeguard techniques in her custom pool.
The construction of swimming pools is big business. According to the National Spa & Pool Institute, it's a $9 billion industry, a 70% increase from 1998, which is in keeping with the steady rise of disposable income that has allowed for such extras as swimming pools. In 1998, there were 7 million residential pools across the country. Since then, the trade association estimates another 500,000 have been added. 

Swimming pool designers say their high-end clients are looking at their pools as a water element on their properties rather than just a place to take a dip. The outside environment is considered another room or an extension of the house. "People are putting in waterfalls, cook centers, koi ponds and secret gardens that will complement their pools,'' says Lee Shelbourne, a Los Angeles landscape architect whose eclectic celebrity client roster includes such names as actor Jack Lemmon, singer Lou Rawls and former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.  

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The man who built the Codys' pool, Southampton, N.Y.-based John Tortorella, says his clients are coming to him asking for thematic pools. He has designs for Roman and Greek empire pools, which feature limestone columns and aqueducts, as well as ones with Aztec, Stonehenge and Egyptian motifs. 

Certainly, some people still want to swim in their pools, not just look at them. Jonathan Deitcher commissioned landscape architect Mario Nievera to design a pool for his Palm Beach residence that would allow for swimming laps. "But he didn't want a high school gymnasium pool,'' says Nievera, whose clients have included the Lauder family, socialite Terry Allen Kramer, and Michael Ainsley, former chief executive of Sotheby's (nyse: BID - news - people).  

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At a cost of $150,000, Nievera built Deitcher a 75-foot pool where the water is deep on both ends to allow for flip turns. But it's not a typical rectangular pool--it's narrower in some sections and wider in others. Along the pool's perimeter are garden beds. "It's the perfect combination of form and function, which is what successful design is,'' says Deitcher, a director with Montreal-based RBC Dominion Securities, the investment arm of the Royal Bank of Canada, who spends his winters in Palm Beach. 

Mees, the Palo Alto homeowner who is a businessman with interests in automotive dealerships and land development, wanted "something unusual and classical.''  

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Mees, who worked with Shelbourne, the Los Angeles landscape architect, took his inspiration from the indoor pool at Hearst Castle and imported cobalt blue tiles with 24-carat gold inlays from the Italian island of Murano. The tiles alone cost $80,000, while the tab for the entire pool ran upwards of $350,000. The pool area also feature Corinthian columns and an elaborate gazebo with a built-in iron table, heaters, lighting and speakers. 

However, Mees says his pool is not just for show. "I go swimming at least three times a week,'' he says. "And I'm German, so the colder the water, the better.''  

Pamela Anderson image by Newsmakers  
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