The Jollys in front of their cabana

Family’s backyard retreat is multi-use, multilevel, and multinational

OOut the back door of Mike and Dana Jolly’s home lies a happy place. The couple, their family, and friends can stroll down a graceful path to an oasis showcasing the best in outdoor living. Almost all components reflect Mike’s skill in design or construction, with additional plans for future refinements.

The pristine, free-form pool offers multiple ledges and steps, marked at intervals with names like Layney’s Blue Lagoon, Madelynn’s Reef, and Rylan’s Cliff in honor of Mike and Dana’s grandchildren. There’s a cozy hot tub, and the pool’s dark pebble bottom absorbs enough heat that it can be used much of the year. Mike designed the pool layout over a two-week period, incorporating French drains and retaining walls to prevent run-off into the pool after rains. Lush plants surround the pool, along with colorful, small-scale Adirondack chairs personalized for each grandchild. (Yep, Mike built those, too.)

Jollys' cabana

What Mike and Dana call the cabana provides the backyard’s centerpiece, soaring twenty feet up. Open and inviting, it features a complete outdoor kitchen and a large table that calls for socializing around great meals. A comfy seating area invites lazy after-dinner conversation. The cabana extends outward to an intimate spot for two facing the river, just above precisely fitted, fan-shaped stairs. Down those steps lies a concrete pad ready for a domed, Pompeii-style pizza oven that’s in the works (wood-fired up to 700 degrees!). Beyond, there’s an imaginative tree house and more seating around a fire pit (s’mores, anyone?).

A resort structure near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef prompted the Jollys’ cabana dream. Mike began studying mortise and tenon construction, the joinery technique called timber-fitting used by Amish communities. This construction uses no nails or bolts; instead, chiseled wood pegs secure the sections. Mike explains that this “dry fit” process allows wooden parts to expand and contract with humidity and temperature changes until the pieces “fit like they grew together.”

He labored for almost two years, measuring, cutting (mainly with a handsaw), and numbering all parts, laying sections out in order in the backyard. Most of the timber is red cedar from western Canada, measuring 8′ x 8′ x 14′. One major crossbeam is 100-year-old barn oak. Decking and cabinetry are Brazilian ipe wood, three times harder than oak. Mike’s son-in-law, Billy Byars, served as an able assistant as work progressed.

When they were finally ready to raise the superstructure, David, Mike and Dana’s son, came to help, along with two neighbors. David brought his rock-climbing ropes, the scaffolding was secured, and within two days, the cabana was up. Mike describes placing the roof as “interesting . . . things kinda slow down when you’re that high.”

Mike Jolly says of their backyard paradise, “I just always have to have a project.”

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