Landscape Visions: The swimming pool, reconsidered

Backyard pools are making a big splash in smaller spaces and the hottest trends include fully loaded, high-tech, environmentally conscious and fitness-savvy waterscapes. Dave Morrill, president of California Pools in West Covina, California, has been in the swimming pool industry for 45 years. He serves on National Spa Pool Institute committees and is a California industry-sponsored liaison between the swimming pool industry and governmental regulatory agencies. He says new pool design incorporates the latest technology in lighting, sound and water quality with the aesthetics of natural landscaping to give a “resort-like” feel to a backyard.

Smaller-sized backyard pool sales are booming. Do you see this trend continuing?

DM: Absolutely. Pool design follows home-building trends. As the popularity of McMansions wanes, sales of smaller (20,000 gallons or less) pools are increasing. Industry research confirms that half of all new pools built today are in the “small” category, and that will continue as lot sizes continue to shrink. New, smaller pools come fully loaded and are designed to extend from the home to the backyard “room.”

What are some of the hot amenities?

DM: Ninety percent of our clients request attached spas. Popular features include shallow lounging and play areas with sun shelf benches submerged in about eight inches of water. The “baja ledge” is perfect for a few lounge chairs and even an umbrella for shade. Trendy “deck jets” create arcs of water over the pool and can be illuminated.

How can landscaping enhance the pool area and make it seem more private?

DM: We don’t just plunk a pool in the backyard anymore; we design the whole backyard environment including blending the landscaping into the pool area to provide shade and privacy. In fact, about 60 percent of new pools are designed adjacent to landscaping. The trend is to use native plants that are hardy and pest resistant, foliage plants, grasses and climbing plants to camouflage fences. Staggered raised planters create a variety of focal points and can add color and depth to the area.

What appearances are the most popular?

DM: The natural look continues to be the most requested. This includes stone, slate, marble and other stone textures. While large stones and boulders continue to be popular, size and expense restrictions have led to some really realistic-looking artificial stones and rock. The mold staining and colors are really gorgeous and you can’t distinguish them from the real ones. Other ways to incorporate the natural look is by adding trails around the pool, as well as natural rock formations and different outcroppings, sitting areas and landscaping throughout the yard.

The “modern” look is still popular and includes deck level pools or “wet decks” where the negative edge trend is taken to the next level. The water level is even with the top of the decking and the edge of the pools seems to disappear. It’s a clean, minimalist feel.

What’s the cutting edge in water features?

DM: Water without walls, or infinity edges, are in high demand. The newest look is an infinity edge that spills toward the house instead of away from it. Waterfalls with a plane of water streaming down a decorative wall edge have surpassed the more traditional rock waterfall. Clients like to group several fountains together in a variety of shapes and sizes and incorporate lighting into these features.

What’s the best choice for deck materials?

DM: Popular deck materials include stamped, tinted concrete with texture, pebble decks and natural stones like slate and travertine. There’s not as much demand for flagstone as there once was.

Are slides and diving boards passé?

DM: There’s little demand for diving boards, especially with smaller pools, but slide manufacturers are making attractive slides built into water features like waterfalls.

Should the building materials coordinate with the style of the home?

DM: In today’s design world, a lot of effort goes into blending the backyard pool with the natural design of the home. We don’t put an Oriental/Zen pool in the back of a plantation-style home. Owners want to match the stone or colors on their homes’ exteriors with the materials around the pool.

All these features must require a lot of maintenance!

DM: Actually, technological advances such as electronic cleaners and chlorinators and built-in sanitizers make maintaining water quality easier than ever. Retractable covers keep smaller (and even some larger pools) free of debris.

What trends do you predict will continue?

DM: I predict that the demand for automation will remain strong as electronics become more capable of controlling multiple tasks. Energy efficiency efforts will continue and more pools will include multi-speed pumps that decrease power usage.

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