Set Your Clock to... Island Time

These Wildwood homeowners need not travel far to reach their own outdoor oasis.

By Jamie Siebrase
Photography by Kim Dillon


Meander back to Jim and Kristie Dean’s unparalleled pool, and you’ll find it’s perpetually island time, thanks to an endless amount of resort-inspired features granting the sort of serenity you’d (usually) be hard-pressed to find this side of the Equator.

Lifestyles designer John M. Gergel of JMG Design calls it “upscale tropical” – the inspiration being “more British Colonial than Polynesian and tiki,” he says. It’s an elegance that suits the Deans' traditional Wildwood teardown resting on a plump 10 acres. “We wanted something natural because it is so natural out here,” explains Kristie Dean, who wasn’t content toting jars of seashells back from treasured family vacations in Turks and Cacaos and Barbados. When designing the backyard, the Deans incorporated smart tropical touches grounded in nature in order to really bring paradise home.

It’s the landscape that steals the show. Gergel does the whole gamut, but, he says, “specializes in unusual gardens.” It’s a specialty that came in handy when attempting a tropical garden in a Midwestern climate that sees sub-zero temperatures in winter months. “Obviously, we couldn’t use many true tropical plantings,” Gergel says. Instead of palms, he picked trees and shrubs that mirrored a lusher, jungle-like look. Wider-leafed English Sorrels, which grow well in Missouri but aren’t common, provide a sweeping, green canvas. Next, Gergel added flowering plants – hardy hibiscuses alongside lilies and other perennials – then augmented with annuals – mostly Mexican petunias and oleanders – for “a more true tropical flare,” he says. But, it’s container plants (tropical hibiscus, palms) that deliver resort chicness to River Town.

Instead of mulch, which isn’t used much in the Caribbean, Gergel purchased natural stone from local vendors like Kirkwood Material Supply: fieldstone and tumbled river rock for larger features within the landscape, flagstone for pathways. In fact, Baker Pool Construction’s Rob Warren only poured concrete where necessary. “Plants look a lot better than patio,” he says. A polished concrete slide offers another nature-inspired touch, and timeless Amini’s wrought iron is a welcome – and welcoming – addition. 

“Have you seen the waterfall?” asks Gergel. Rushing water coupled with a series of hidden fire pots create post-dusk drama meant to “echo a volcanic feel,” Gergel says. Pool lights give the Deans flexibility when creating evening ambience. “Not only does it change colors, but it also has color patterns so they can have a color show,” says Warren. 

The pool’s free-form kidney shape was driven by the need for accommodating various uses and an overarching goal of evoking nature – and also as the sun’s natural trajectory. “This shape made the most sense for optimizing light,” Gergel explains. Because this is primarily an entertainment pool, Warren recommended a larger shell to accommodate poolside lounging and childhood play. “The benefit of a concrete pool versus fiberglass or vinyl,” Warren says, “Is that we aren’t limited to any templates.”

Just beyond the pool you’ll stumble upon a covered patio cabana designed by DL Design encased with natural stone, enlivened by seashell tables and coral finishes. “There’s even one of those tropical banana fans with a little monkey on top,” Dean adds. While the Deans might not be able to spend every week of summer vacation in the tropics, they’ve succeeded in creating a personal escape that competes with the most lavish hotels and spas. 

Landscape Design: JMG Design, John M. Gergel, landscape designer, 314-503-8847
Natural Stone: Kirkwood Material Supply, 314-822-9644
Patio Furniture: Amini's, 636-537-9200
Pool: Baker Pool Construction, 636-519-POOL