The Fundamentals of Pool Design

A backyard used to be thought of as a place for children to run and play but possessed minimal outdoor living features. Today, the exterior design of a home is sometimes just as intricate as the home itself. Simple green lawns have turned into outdoor oases for families to enjoy a variety of spaces including swimming pools, spas, outdoor kitchens, and thoughtfully designed landscapes. In designing today’s outdoor living spaces, there are many different factors to be considered. Studying these factors in depth will help to achieve a project that will meet your goals, both aesthetically and functionally. Swimming pool and spa design is a process of analyzing the site, function, features and the overall aesthetic which includes the decks to then harmonize with these other outdoor elements.

Site analysis and inventory is a crucial first step which includes noting existing site conditions and how they relate to your project. If your site has a lot of slope, you might have an opportunity to create interest by designing a multilevel project with steps and landing areas. Seat walls are a great feature to use when stepping down levels and can be dual purpose. They serve as a functional retaining wall, and also serve as secondary or overflow seating. Having a drop off on your site might allow you to create a more dramatic water feature, such as a waterfall and/or a vanishing edge. When designing and placing water features it is important to remember that water naturally runs downhill. It is very hard to get a water feature that runs against the natural slope of the land to look like it belongs. The placement of a waterfeature can also be determined by a particular view. If there are views we want to screen or block, we can utilize a taller water feature with a landscape backdrop. If there are views we want to enhance, we can find ways to frame them to create a focal point. During the site inventory there are often features we come across that we may want to highlight or relate back into the project. For example, there may be trees we want to work around or save, or perhaps there is a native rock outcropping that we want to enhance. During this phase we will also want to examine the sunny and shady locations, and this can help us to determine the best location for the pool. When designing the pool deck area we want to consider both having sunny areas for loungers to lie out but also shaded areas to retreat from the summer heat. In this phase, we will also want to note how the pool will relate to the architecture of the house as well as keeping the pool in scale with the residence. The size and shape of a pool are also dictated by the functions that clients are looking for.

The many ways clients want to use the pool will create the function profile. If you have a large family and plan on doing lots of entertaining, this is going to lead to a pool that is larger than average, making sure you have the ability to accommodate you and your guests. The depths of a pool will also to be determined in this phase. Most pools today are sport depths which typically are not any deeper than 5 feet in the middle. This style of pool lends itself to a more usable and kid friendly pool. As children prefer to play where they can stand up and have their heads out of the water, a pool for younger kids will need plenty of benches and swim outs. Diving pools are typically for families with older children. The function of the pool can also help us to determine the location where an entry shelf should be placed. Recreational lap swimmers prefer to have a solid wall to swim against, so we will want to keep the benches and loungers off to the side. For recreational swimming, you can still do a freeform pool as long as the ends are clean and contain larger smoother curves. Knowing how the clients plan on using their pools will also help develop a list of features they want to see in their pool design.

Pool features are another important element we want to consider when designing a pool. The first feature I always look at is a spa. The reasons I always recommend a spa/hot tub are twofold. First, they are a built-in water feature and if you include a spa, you will be creating water movement and sound. Secondly, your pool becomes more usable year round. Hot tubs are great in cooler weather. You are obviously not going to heat your pool year round, but with a spa, you have the ability to heat the pool if you would like, which is mainly done is the beginning and end of the season. In addition to the spa, our clients frequently request other features such as waterfalls, raised beam, bubblers, and vanishing edges. I try to help guide our clients in selecting water features that relate to the style of their pool and again lend to the function. For example, we may put boulder waterfalls on freeform pool s and more architectural features on rectangle pools. The bubblers shooting out of the entry shelf serves as a great interactive feature for small children and can also give nice soothing background sound. One more quick note, it is important to plumb the pool properly. This allows you to enjoy these water features at the same time, so you do not have to choose between running your waterfall or your spa.

The pool deck is the hardscape or softscape that surrounds your pool and ties the pool into your other outdoor living elements. The function of the deck is going to be the biggest factor to consider, helping to determine the size as well as the set up. There will need to be areas designated for tables and chairs, as well as sun lounging. Steps in the pool deck are going to change how the deck will function. When considering decking materials, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind including heat and safety. Darker materials will absorb more heat; therefore will be hotter on your feet as well as materials that have to be sealed are traditionally hotter on your feet. Sealer will typically also make a deck more slippery so pool decks with small children will require a more slip resistant surface. Women’s high heels and their ability to walk/stand on an even surface is often a function that gets overlooked. There are many pool deck material choices such as salt finish concrete and flagstone just to name a couple. The design possibilities for a pool deck are endless but designed well will act as the link between your other outdoor living elements with the swimming pool.

While there are many other factors to consider when designing your swimming pool, these are just a few that will get you started in the right direction. Outdoor living today has become not only a place for kids to run and play but an oasis for families which can include not only swimming pools but spas, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, entertaining areas and developed landscapes which needs to all work together to create a harmonious backyard retreat.

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