EXPERT INSIGHT BY CHRIS CIPRIANO
How landscaping in pool design achieves an aesthetic balance throughout a backyard environment.
The beauty of a luxury swimming pool design lies in its ability to blend with the surrounding environment and architectural style of the home—and landscaping plays a key role in achieving that balance. The pool, even as the focal point, is only a small part of the overall design and ambiance of the backyard. It is the plants, lighting, water features, and firepits that define a space and evoke the emotions felt within those spaces. Moving water adds life and character to any outdoor space, and nothing is more exhilarating than seeing a 10-foot-high waterfall cascading into the pool below. Lighting and fire features bring the space alive at night and, when done correctly, add depth by highlighting important features within the design. All of these features working together create a relaxing environment that you’ll want to experience year round, even if you’re not swimming in the pool.
Making it appear as if the pool has been there forever, and evoking the idea that the space would be diminished if it wasn’t there, takes some serious designing. Looking at the space as a whole is an important part of the process. Incorporating factors such as the architectural character of your home and the geological features of the property will ensure that your project not only looks great, but is going to last a long time.
The Design Process
Careful planning and installation of your landscape and swimming pool design is vital in achieving the ambiance you desire. A well-designed pool should not only be aesthetically pleasing, but should fit your lifestyle as well. The interview process is one of the critical components in the early stages of planning and will help the landscape architect/pool builder understand how you plan to use the space and the look you hope to achieve. It’s important to include factors such as your lifestyle and hobbies as this will influence the amount of open space to include in the design.
Once you communicate your needs and desires for the space, your landscape architect or designer will perform a site evaluation and survey analysis, as well as obtain the municipal standards and codes that are imposed on the home. From there, they can work to develop a design that suits the rest of your property.
We had a couple of empty nesters looking to do something wonderful in their backyard, but the property would only allow us to build a 215-square-foot dipping pool—so that’s what we did. We came up with a design that gave them a lot of entertainment space and a nice dipping pool with elaborate fountains and glass tiling. It was in a flood plain, so we had to elevate the coping a foot and half out of the ground to prevent flooding.
It’s really about looking at the site conditions and what the client wants. Sometimes we have to come up with a few different options because a husband and wife will have different tastes. One may want a formal design while the other wants something more natural. Our job is to get them together to make a decision and see what works best for them. After that, we do a budget analysis to make sure that what we design will eventually be built. It’s all about giving the clients the right guidance and reaching a point where everyone’s happy in the end and they obtain exactly what they want.
The key to creating a successful swimming pool and landscape is to always be thinking about the big picture when designing each individual part. It’s not about adding a patio off the back of the house and having four feet of concrete walkway surrounding the pool; it’s about taking an acre of land and making every square foot of it functional so that people can get more usage and enjoyment out of their property.
In some instances we get to a site and the property is overdeveloped. A client will want a 1,000-square-foot pool with a waterfall and patio, but when we look at the survey, they only have 100 square feet of space left to build on because of a horseshoe driveway they previously had installed. This is what inspired us to come up with our program Luxuryscape, which focuses on evaluating a property for the long term and determining how services or products will impact a homeowner’s future ability to make improvements.
We’re working with different professionals—engineers, architects, realtors—to make sure their clients are pleased with the result. If a realtor has a client who wants to put a pool in the backyard, we’ll do a site analysis for them and let them know that it’s possible. It’s all about balanced land development.
Such was the case for a swimming pool we recently built. The clients wanted a pool with a substantial water feature to drown out highway noise. There was 26 feet of elevation change we needed to address in order to create the pool and flat patio area they desired. In addition, we were dealing with restrictive cut and fill ordinances that prevented us from cutting into the ground more than four feet. To deal with the elevation change, we came up with a three-tier design that used an 8-foot waterfall as the backdrop for the pool. Then we designed an infinity-edge pool facing the home, which absorbed another six feet of the elevation change.
Landscaping was crucial in making this elaborately layered pool design blend with the surrounding landscape. We used a combination of Karney stone and Palisades blast rock as natural rockeries to retain the hillside. This provided a natural color range of browns, rusts, and burgundies, as well as varying texture throughout the design. The same combination of stones was used to create a subtle flight of steps that linked the patio to the pool elevation and slate terrace. The different tiers were then merged together by adding another waterfall at the end of the infinity edge that ran into a catch basin located at the dining patio level. We filled the rest of the area with masses of ornamental grasses and over 20 varieties of perennials to soften the hard angles of the rocks and tie the upper and lower levels together for a very natural-looking landscape.
On another project, the clients decided last minute that they preferred a vantage point from a different window of their house, so we moved the pool. The problem was that in the new location, the soil conditions beneath the pool were horrible. There was a tremendous amount of backfill and garbage—we were pulling out tires and engines—it was a disaster. After we stabilized the bottom of the pool and the framing was completed, we started installing the in-floor cleaning system. The clients then decided that they wanted to add fiber-optic star lights on the bottom of the pool along with a Grecian key glass tile banding. At the last minute, right before we were going to install the steel, we changed many of the cleaning heads on the bottom of the pool to make sure nothing would interrupt the glass tile banding. During the tile installation and the plastering, we had to be very careful and tip-toe around the bottom of the pool because the fiber-optic lights are delicate glass stems and they don’t get cut until the day of plaster. It was a very difficult job, but the clients were wonderful to work with and it ended up being one of our best projects.
As a designer, I want to give my clients every single option available—every feature, every layout, every different way the pool can function in their backyard. I want to give them as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision, and that’s why the interview process is so critical. Making sure you know what activities the kids like and what their hobbies are, so that you include enough open space and the pool doesn’t become overwhelming in the backyard, is really important. It’s really about finding balance—and that’s something that delights everybody.
Chris Cipriano is the founder and president of Cipriano Custom Swimming Pools & Landscaping in Mahwah, N.J. Chris has more than 20 years experience in horticulture, masonry, and landscape development. With a design office headed by 15-year veteran Certified Landscape Architect William Moore and CBP Keith Steinhoff, the Cipriano team has won 50 awards of excellence since 2006.