Swimming pools - by design
Swimming pool design is a complex design area and requires a sound understanding of design principles, writes Shafer Design principal, Robin Shafer. As a high value item, as with all investments, it is always advisable for a client to seek high-quality advice before construction. By hiring a landscape architect to design a pool, a homeowner should expect to be working with someone who is both skilled in spatial design and also at negotiating the Building and Resource Consents that would be needed.
Every square metre of land in most suburban sections needs to be carefully used so that the space is maximized, and no corner is wasted. This is where a landscape architect/designer will make sure that the pool contributes not only to the recreational amenity of a property, but does so without losing unnecessary space that could be used for other things. No matter how simple a pool might be, if it is in the wrong place, the spaces around it could be wasted or flow around the property upset.
A swimming pool builder is a contractor, not usually a designer, and can offer practical advice and a wealth of practical construction knowledge but is not skilled in spatial arrangements. A good pool builder will understand this, and recommend a designer, rather than try to design a pool themselves.
As with any design proportion, balance, unity, rhythm and focus all play a part. A pool is particularly demanding of attention, and water can be a hard element, so the pool must be proportional to the space around it. The shape of the pool should be simple to be beautiful on the eye. For instance an L-shaped pool is more difficult on the eye than if it is seen as 2 rectangles apparently overlapping. Perhaps alter the perception of the shape by using stepping stones, or a planter as a divider. Deal with the planar shapes at the outset; these are what the eye reads first, so design the water shape before the surrounding spaces. The spaces around can benefit by being defined with clean planting where possible, to avoid potential harshness within combinations of paving and water and glass. Make sure access points are well positioned for flow and wide enough for safety. Line up view lines for the most advantageous angles over the pool.
Pre-made fibreglass swimming pools are cheaper (pools can range from $40,000 to over $500,000) but design opportunities are limited, especially if space is tight. A custom shape can fit a lot more efficiently into a small space, thus achieving more for the overall design.
Concrete pools will cost more but have a higher perceived value so may end up adding more value to a property than a fibreglass pool.
Swimming pools can be simply marble-plastered, be finished with one of the more durable, quality controlled manufactured colour mixes, or they can be fully tiled. The most common is to use the pre-mixed plaster compounds and achieve quality control, using a well-chosen splash tile for the waterline and for any shallow areas. In NZ the most common mixes at the moment are marketed as Quartzone or Hydrazzo. Both companies have excellent websites.
Most people want a blue pool but there are some surprising alternatives. Be aware that the pool colour will change colour substantially under some depth of water. A white swimming pool colour will generally be a soft baby blue and a dark blue will turn almost black.
Choose a natural base colour rather than a manufactured blue colour. The strong blues get too harsh and don’t alter with the light, so you lose opportunities for daily and seasonal change. Surprisingly, a grey plaster will give a remarkable tropical blue that changes with the light and can be a very subtle colour in every light.
Water colour changes with the different sky colours/cloud cover so a couple of visits to see colours in real life is always helpful.
Splash tile colours should generally blend rather than contrast. This makes a pool seem bigger than a flashy stand out border tile.
In the limited size spaces within the urban/suburban environment, access around the pool may need to be compromised to make the most of the space. By pushing the pool as hard as possible to a boundary, for instance, there is less likelihood of wasted space, allowing more space for poolside relaxation or more play space outside the pool enclosure, such as larger lawns.
It may be that the boundary or rear wall of the pool, becomes a feature wall or a raised planter with plants used to provide privacy. Reduced access can be good in that, having paving on only 3 sides of a swimming pool can stop children running around the pool, thus saving accidents; on the minus side it can make maintenance a little more difficult as access for cleaning or garden maintenance is restricted.
Pool fencing needs a discussion on its own as the rules and various solutions are very complex. The fencing position and style can make or break a design and every pool should be designed with pool fencing rules in mind. The pool must be designed around the pool fencing, not the other way around. This way you won’t ruin a beautiful design by having to add fencing, the fencing will be part of the design.
Every country has different rules and fencing does need to be taken very seriously, but it needn’t ruin the design if it is handled with style.
Don’t ruin a design with a badly placed utility area. Pumps, filters, furnishings and pool toys need storing close to the pool, but take care to place a shed thoughtfully, so it doesn’t ruin the outlook over the pool. If you can’t place it out of the way in a hidden corner, build a feature screen wall or grow a hedge and place the pool sheds behind that so it is entirely hidden. If there is space, make a utility shed as roomy as possible and accessible, to avoid bending or crawling to get to the switches and taps. Sometimes, where space is premium, a pool shed can be set up like shallow cupboards with good-looking louvred doors so that you don’t need to walk in but once the doors are open, all is accessible at arm’s length. Generally a minimum internal dimension would be 1.2 x1.2m square with 1.5 m height. Avoid, if you can, the lift up lid version of a pump shed. The lids are heavy and if they come down unexpectedly can cause serious head injury.
In summary, there are many points to consider in relation to swimming pools, which is why involving a landscape architect/designer will save time and money in the long term.