The many and varied industries serving the great American coastal home are booming in 2016, but few are making a bigger splash than the nation’s residential pool builders.
Fueled by a buoyant economy and major advances in cutting-edge technology and manufacturing, these exceptional design talents are turning ocean home pools from seasonal amenities into year-round enjoyment.
“Our builders are very busy right now, some with a 12-month backlog,” says Teri Wiltshire, special projects manager at Master Pools Guild in Richmond, Va., an international consortium of 110 outstanding pool builders.
And the demand isn’t just for pools. “Today’s coastal homeowners want integrated design rather than technologies added on as an afterthought,” she adds.
Think bacteria-killing treatments with ozone and ultraviolet light for cleaner and more sparkling pool water, built-in cleaning systems that scour the pool 24 hours a day and an array of automated features that can be accessed and controlled remotely through mobile devices.
“Water quality in pools has improved greatly and comes at a relatively low cost with systems that incorporate ozone and UV,” says Michael Schlink of Carolina Custom Pools and Landscape in Wake Forest, N.C.
“The ever-popular saltwater pools should start to disappear slowly as other ways to keep a pool clean and clear gain traction – ways that, in my opinion, are so much better.”
Owners are now able to control pool operations from anywhere – and almost intuitively. “Customers want to be out on a romantic evening; then turn on the spa so they can come home and everything is heated up for them,” says Greg Fournier, senior product manager at Hayward Pool Products in North Kingstown, R.I.
“Remote controls make having a pool that much more attractive to many people. And with automation, the backyard pool is becoming more of a destination in its own right rather than simply a hole in the ground.”
Today’s clientele not only uses the residential swimming pool more extensively but also sees it as part of a home’s total experience – one that’s woven into day-to-day life more than ever.
In many ocean homes, the kitchen is now out by the pool, where therapeutic swim jets encourage exercise in the water and fire features and outdoor fireplaces extend the length of the season.
“The pool is no longer just a place to hang out in the summertime. It’s much more of a year-round experience and plays a major part in creating a happy coastal lifestyle,” Wiltshire says.
Good design is also crucial. “The trend is towards intellectually responsible design with proportion and scale informed by the architecture of the home,” says Skip Phillips, cofounder of Genesis (which recently merged with the National Swimming Pool Foundation) and president/owner of Questar Pools and Spas in Escondido, Calif.
“If you have a traditional home, I believe the pool should reflect that style,” adds Schlink. “A pool should work in tandem with the design of the home and complement it.”
In some cases, there’s an embrace of organic architecture where the pool assimilates itself into the landscape – perhaps in the form of a tidal pool or the pond-like look inspired by California architect John Lautner, a Frank Lloyd Wright devotee known for his mid-century modernism.
One growing trend is the perimeter overflow. “Water flows over a fine edge of black granite or a stone ledge down into a very thin slot between the pool structure and the deck,” says Lily Samuels, vice president of Drakeley Pool Company in Bethlehem, Conn.
“Imagine the pool bowl and the water flowing over the top of the pool wall, spilling over a tiny waterfall and down into a trough to collect and recirculate the water.”
The results are a perfect edge and water that looks like glass. “If you didn’t know you were looking at a pool, you might think you’d stumbled upon a pond,” says Samuels. “It’s an interruption of natural space but for a cohesive landscape – a reflecting pool kind of look.”
In Phoenix, Ariz., Julie Crone, chief operating officer at Bobé Water and Fire, sees similar trends. “We have a product that runs right up to the grass edge so you don’t have to have pavers around the pool,” she says. “A lot of high-profile jobs are using this, maybe on one side of the swimming pool for a minimalist, clean look – the product sits just beneath the grass.”
Both of these examples are extensions of the infinity or vanishing-edge pools that have been riding a wave of popularity for many years. “They’re still in but not over-the-top anymore. We do this style of pool every day,” says Michael Moore, president and CEO of Louisiana-based Morehead Pools.
Vanishing edges work best when facing a dramatic landscape, especially those on the west coast of Canada, says Carla Sovernigo, president and CFO of Alka Pool in British Columbia. “Infinity-edge pools in our area are very popular because of the spectacular vistas of hills, mountains and coastline,” she says.
Carolina Custom Pools and Landscape’s Schlink agrees. “It’s important that the view across the pool edge is ‘worthy’ of the edge,” he says. “Looking at a fence or a neighbor’s backyard really doesn’t do the vanishing edge justice.”
Whatever the edge, the shape of today’s pool eschews the curves of the past in favor of a modern, minimalist rectangle. Colors may vary, but the geometry remains the same – with some interesting variables.
“Some of the trends this year are classic, geometric shapes – rectangular and simple with classic lines,” says Master Pools Guild’s Wiltshire. “Also, there’s the use of acrylic – maybe there’s a window in a lower level, so the wine cellar looks into the pool.”
Glass tile mosaics are de rigueur in markets across the country now, especially in sumptuous blends of deep purples, sage greens and black, says Drakeley Pool Company’s Samuels. “It’s where clients express their tastes, just like in their homes,” she says. “The smaller the tile, the higher the price. We get it straight from Italy.”
Massive lounging ledges or Baja shelves have continued to evolve in the past few years, some accommodating four, five or six levels and all for the pure entertainment value of relaxing in a chair while resting in a few inches of cool water.
“The vast majority of our projects have a sun shelf, and hot tubs – attached or separate – make up 60 to 70 percent of our market,” says Moore of Morehead Pools.
“You used to have wedding cake steps, but designers now see that a shelf can be a great area to socialize,” says Phillips of Questar Pools and Spas. “If it’s six inches deep and six feet wide, you can put loungers and a sun umbrella on it by day and a torch at night.”
These evening fire features have taken on a central, ritualistic role in pool design and in a number of forms.
“I love the ‘Clark Kent’ pool where by day it’s a traditional but simple rectangular pool and at night it comes alive,” says Schlink. “Fire bowls, troughs and pits can turn a quiet, mild-mannered pool into something super special at night with just the push of a button on your iPhone.”
Or consider a table lit by fire – a place to sit with guests, enjoy a drink and watch the flames. “It’s started remotely or manually and it’s made of copper and stainless and Corten steel,” says Crone at Bobé Water and Fire. “Clean lines are important to a lot of people, and a contemporary fire table lends itself to that with a fire line that’s going straight down its center.”
Brian Van Bower, president of Miami-based Aquatic Consultants Inc., agrees with industry counterparts that overflow edges, shallow lounging areas, small glass mosaic tiles and clear panels in floors and walls of pools are very much in demand.
He says fire features add dramatic visual interest to a pool and deck but advises caution. “I like the ambience and reflections they create, but we try to use restraint. It’s important not to overuse them,” he notes.
A POOL OF TALENT
Bobé Water and Fire
Carolina Custom Pools and Landscape
Drakeley Pool Company
Hayward Pool Products
Master Pools Guild
Questar Pools and Spas
For more pool design inspiration, visit Luxury Pools magazine.