High-end pool builders share tips on choosing the right features for a luxury pool
By David Peterson
What makes a pool luxurious? The question is not easily answered. After all, what makes good art or sculpture generally lies in the eye of the beholder. Music, the auditory art, has an incredible array of genre defined by a diverse worldwide audience through centuries of development and discovery. Yet, few people would probably appreciate my personal musical tastes in the same way that I do. We enjoy the arts not by the content of the media, but rather by the emotional charge it gives us.
There is a common phrase that says, "I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like." In other words, you don’t need to be a trained professional skilled in the field to make a determination as to your feelings about the art. You may not be able to explain exactly what you like, but you can tell if your emotional response is positive or not. Strong, positive emotions are a requirement of feeling luxurious. Often, just taking a vacation will inspire a pool design. Every time people pull out their vacation photos and say, "I want this!" they are attempting to evoke the wonderful emotions and memories they had. What separates luxurious pools from the rest is that at the end of the project, the emotions experienced are very real—as real as the vacation.
Michael Nantz, principal of Elite Concepts, Inc., Dallas, TX, explains, "Luxury is emotional to me. I manipulate nature with manmade materials to recreate a setting that evokes the feeling of luxury, and to provide the client with a space where the focus on the design is not based on one item in particular." Roger Soares II, president of HydroScapes, LLC, Fountain Hills, AZ, notes that the pool’s ability to generate excitement is a key component: "A luxury pool has to have the WOW factor to separate it from an average pool that just looks nice."
I’ve talked to several designers and builders of high-end pools. Without exception, they all believe that luxurious pools require well-conceived elements of design, congruence with the surrounding environment and architecture, proper selection of materials, colors, and texture, and a perfect execution of all the details to meet the owner’s criteria. Luxurious pools are designed and executed with a relentless attention to the elements to make the project perfect and the emotions genuine. In other words, you can’t fake the feeling. The project cannot be like a Hollywood set where the walls of the castle are only plywood and paint.
Communication Is Essential
Transforming an idea for a luxury pool into something tangible is not a simple task, and doing it well not only takes hard work and attention to detail, but also a connection with the people involved. It is imperative for a designer to interview the owner and develop a project that caters to the owner’s wants and needs. The interview should also investigate the emotional aspects of the project, and a good designer will always--in the words of Stephen R. Covey--"begin with the end in mind."
"When I discuss a project with a client, I let my enthusiasm show," says Paolo Benedetti, principal and founder of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa in Morgan Hill, CA. "This way, the client knows I am in touch with the emotion of the project, which is the only way true luxury can be achieved." Additionally, every member of the pool-building team must be on the same page. The key to complete success is maintaining clear communication among the homeowner, designer, builder, and every subcontractor on the job.
Training Plus Experience
Talent, education, and experience also play a role in planning a pool and making sure the final result is luxurious. Some professionals can design intuitively, but it takes formal training to verify conclusions and provide insights that may never be considered otherwise. Without skill and knowledge, a designer can easily err on the side of "too much." Skip Phillips, president of Questar Pools and Spas, Escondido, CA, feels that first-class educational programs in the industry must include art, architecture, and color theory. He concludes that designers should be taught to hand-draw and not depend solely on a computer to print out their designs. "This way, the pool designer can work well on design teams with architects and landscape architects," he says.
Choosing the Right Amenities
A pool alone cannot be luxurious--a pool is just one element rooted in its surrounding environment. Even a perfectly executed pool will fail to feel luxurious if the landscaping and the home spar with it. The pool and surrounding architecture cannot be designed in vacuums--they must be integrated carefully to support the other and form one cohesive setting. Chuck Baumann, founder of Creative Environments, Alamo, CA, says, "The home’s architecture and the natural setting must be in balance with each other and with the poolscape." Lou Downes, president of Downes Swimming Pool Co., Inc., in Arlington Heights, IL, agrees: "Every element of the setting must fit in perfectly with the other. Similar materials must be used, the style must be in conjunction with the home, and the landscaping must complement rather than distract."
The materials used to craft a poolscape are numerous--from exotic stone for decking and coping to manmade finishes that give shimmer and grace to a pool’s interior. A highly trained designer will know what to choose based on a backyard’s view, location, surroundings, and history, and will transform a backyard into a harmonious setting that ebbs and flows with every other piece of the puzzle. But, if every member of the design team is not careful, the project can go a step too far.
For me, luxurious pools are simple in their design. Complicated pools that are inconsistent with their surroundings or use water in unnatural ways or add unnecessary elevations and materials create tension; that uneasy feeling makes me want to leave, rather than stare in awe at a project.
The addition of popular amenities does not always add up to a luxury pool. Vanishing edges and expensive glass tile make powerful statements, but only if they are used correctly. "Luxury is not defined by gaudy features that seem to force an issue or scream a declaration to the world," says Ron Coker, Jr., president and COO of Artistic Pools, Inc., Atlanta, GA. These details are tools that should be used by skilled professionals to support the emotion and realism of a spectacular project; as isolated elements, however, they add nothing to the design. A vanishing edge works--if the view is phenomenal. Glass tile sparkles beautifully--if integrated with the home’s style and the setting’s ambiance. Grottos give a vacation feel to the backyard--if the venue and the pool are tropical in nature. The success of these details requires nothing less than a comprehensive design where all the senses are stimulated in a balanced and harmonious way.
Building Luxury Pools
Think of a first class pool builder the way you would think of a custom home builder. Because each pool is unique in design and materials, the builder only takes on a few clients at a time, providing total commitment to a project. Luxury pool builders cross every "t" and dot every 'i"--they leave nothing to chance. From equipment, plumbing, and materials to finishes, decking and accessories, a well-informed designer and builder will make the right choices for each specific job. "Before you select your pool builder, it is best to envision the type of pool that you want and to contemplate your expectations for the entire project," says Benedetti. "Remember, luxury pools designed and built by high-end custom pool builders cater to clientele who demand the best."
As the client, demanding the best means getting everything you wanted, plus the overall joyful feeling that pool builders and designers set out to achieve with every project. Designers also have the challenging task of making every piece of the puzzle work in harmony so that even those who have no pre-established connection with the pool can feel that positive rush of emotion when standing before it. As Soares concludes, "Luxury is a total vision, not just one element. Sometimes a picture cannot tell the whole story; you need to be in the environment and experience it." Nantz agrees: "Luxury is a sensation that becomes apparent upon entering an environment. It’s a combination of many, and if done correctly, it just simply feels good to be there."
Photo courtesy of © Questar Pools and Spas, Inc. and Watershape Consulting, Inc.
David Peterson is a civil engineer and president of Watershape Consulting, Inc., San Diego, CA. He consults on design, engineering, and construction in the pool industry.