Villa Collina Renewed: An Oasis Awaits

Editor’s Note: “Villa Collina Renewed” is a 15-part blog series detailing owner Dr. Eric W. Barton’s work to restore the largest home in Tennessee to its original Italianate beauty. Each week we will discuss renovation projects across the 40,250-square-foot waterfront mansion, from geothermal upgrades and energy efficiency to state-of-the-art lighting, marble renovations and fountain upgrades. We hope you enjoy this detailed research on the jewel that is Villa Collina.

Villa Collina’s pools were innovative at the time they were built but had seen better days when Dr. Eric W. Barton purchased the home. Through careful attention to equipment, embellishments and materials, the pools and spas at Villa Collina are now gleaming, energy-efficient and beautiful environments within the property.

The home features an infinity pool and hot tub outside, and pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and shower inside. All modifications and improvements for each water feature were done in keeping with the original Italianate beauty of Villa Collina.

A large marble terrace lines the back of the home, which leads down to the pool and the Tennessee River. The large, curved infinity pool was quite a marvel when installed in the 1990s. Infinity pools were largely unheard of for residences, and the engineers had a challenge creating it on the sloping river bank. The idea for the pool is that, while lounging on the terrace, the water inside the pool appears to flow into the river.

During restoration of the outdoor pool, new gunite, which is concrete that is sprayed onto a structure of rebar to create the interior surface for water features, was installed. New systems to circulate, clean, heat and cool the pool were added, as well as new tile and marble surrounds.

Many of the tiny navy tiles around the outdoor pool were broken or missing, but when Barton sought replacement tiles, he discovered that they were no longer available. So, a slightly larger navy tile was chosen to mimic the original style and match the surround in the indoor pool. The footprint was not altered, but the result after careful restoration was no less impactful.

The outdoor hot tub, covered by a tall, domed shelter that also provides extra shade near the pool, also received some care with new gunite, tile and marble. New systems, including pumps, heaters and jets were installed, including controls for the heater to make it more energy efficient. A clear silicone cover, custom cut to fit inside the hot tub, helps insulate and keep out debris, while not detracting from the aesthetics.

Inside, on the lower level of the home, is another peaceful oasis with a pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and shower. The design drew inspiration from a resort spa in Salzburg, Austria. The expansive room features a vaulted ceiling and square columns, with the area covered in materials of gold and blue. On the back wall of the pool is an imported three-tiered fountain and inlaid tile mosaics line the walls. The temperature in the spa is kept at 81 degrees with pool water temperatures at 80 degrees.

The tile surround and interior surfaces of the indoor pool was in good shape and had aged beautifully. The homeowner liked the look and sought to preserve it, so during restoration, it was acid-washed and sealed.

An entire room is dedicated to running the indoor water features, containing a large system called a Dectron unit. John H. Coleman Heating and Air installed the system some two decades ago and continues to service it today. It is in good working order, so when Barton was told walls would have to be moved to remove and replace the system, he decided to keep it as long as it could be properly maintained. Parts are a little hard to come by, and newer systems are much smaller, but the benefits of keeping it outweigh replacement at this point.

The sauna’s timer didn’t work, and that can cause quite an issue. The controls were upgraded, and it’s now safe for use. Also, after troubleshooting systems within the Jacuzzi, the hot tub was updated and now provides relaxation in an elevated area opposite the pool.

One of the most stunning features in this area is the shower. The back wall is a large mosaic of Poseidon, god of the sea, holding a trident, surrounded by horses and fish. It was created in Ravenna, Italy, an area known to produce beautiful mosaics, when the home was originally built. The piece was carefully rolled and shipped to Knoxville, and the original mosaic artist from Ravenna came to Villa Collina to reassemble the pieces.

Additionally, for every water feature in the home, including the pools and spas, new LED lighting was added, which connects to controls that can be managed from a smartphone app. Any combination of colors can be created with a touch of a button in the WiFi-104 app, creating themes for holidays or special events. The lightscapes created for the pools and spas add another layer of beauty to these environments. Timers for all features are controlled through an app by Lutron. All pool and spa systems are checked every day.

British Army officer Robert Baden-Powell said, “Swimming has its educational value – mental, moral, and physical – in giving you a sense of mastery over an element, and of power of saving life, and in the development of wind and limb.” Barton, who swims almost every day, agrees with the physical and mental benefits of swimming. These beautiful, welcoming areas provide an oasis, a break from the work pace, making the investment in restoring the pools and spas worthwhile.

Up next: Villa Collina has thousands of lights – indoors, outdoors and within the numerous water features. Check back next time when we discuss the improvements to make the lightscapes within Villa Collina more visually appealing and energy efficient.  

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