Freeform pools, cutting-edge and custom, are breaking all the boundaries—and all the rules.
Here are some of the favorite, over-the-top projects of top pool designers and builders.
Pirates of the Caribbean
AquaTerra Outdoors’ Pirates of the Caribbean pool turns a backyard in University Park, Texas, into a splish-splash water park designed to provide endless entertainment for children and adults.
The theme comes from the series of Hollywood films based on Disney’s attraction.
The poolscape, which has over 80 tons of rock and boulders, is filled with a variety of fun features, including an underground commercial water slide, a natural spa and tanning ledge, a rope swing that hangs from an artificial tree, a bouncy rope bridge, a 12-foot by 9-foot grotto, underwater speakers and two covered decks.
The landscaped area also includes an in-ground trampoline, a full kitchen with a covered patio that has automated screens and an HVAC system and synthetic turf.
“Over the years, we’ve had an opportunity to create a few themed backyards, and this one did not disappoint,” says Tal Thevenot, AquaTerra Outdoors president and principal designer. “Not only was this very rewarding to design and build, but the client was thrilled with the outcome, too. This pool is the attraction of the neighborhood.” aquaterraoutdoors.com
Ryan Hughes’ Reflections is an elaborate contemporary-style 5,320-square-foot poolscape that’s built under an arching, screened-in engineered enclosure. The pool, which covers 1,720 square feet of a backyard in Tampa, Florida, has custom freeform arms that embrace a custom geometric form.
The sleek and sophisticated design, whose sections are defined by walls of seamless polished concrete that look like carved marble, includes water features inspired by the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, a large waterfall, a koi pond patio, a custom glass-tile mural, an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven, an illuminated pergola-capped sofa lounge with a water wall, a linear sunken fire pit whose acrylic wall gives guests an aquarium-like underwater view, a green live wall, an in-pool lounging shelf with chaise lounges and an outdoor shower.
“The pool anchors the custom-designed collection of modern outdoor rooms, each created to make a distinct statement,” says Ryan Hughes, founder and creative director of the design-build firm based in Tampa, who added that the project, winner of a 2020 Luxury Pools + Outdoor Living Pinnacle Award, incorporates miles of glass tile. “The freeform design allows waters, spas, patios and shelves to flow from and adjacent to lounging and dining areas throughout the luxury space.” ryanhughesdesign.com
A Pool with Party ‘Rooms’
A three-level commercial pool in Lubbock, Texas, gave G.W. Oliver the opportunity to create a dynamic space that has the look and feel of a luxury residential project. The 6,678-square-foot pool and 15,700-square-foot deck, built in the Texas college town of Lubbock, is designed for students who live in a private, off-campus housing complex.
“We got to play around with a fun take on free form,” says Guy Oliver, owner/project manager of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based company that bears his name. “We combined the flowing lines with multiple true circles to add a little edge to the traditional freeform pool.”
The various areas of the raised pools are connected by concrete-coated stepping pads that feature steps that walk all the way into the water. “We veneered them with mosaic tiles to catch the eye and add a little pop,” says Katie Oliver, superintendent of the company. “It’s also a timeless look.”
That mix of freeform and modern, clean lines allowed the creation of different spaces where several groups can hang out and entertain simultaneously as if they were hosting parties in a private home.
Oliver says that the project was not only about building a pool but also about creating memories. “We get to see how people are using the pool and how much fun they are having because they post it on Instagram and tag us,” she says. gwoliver.com
A design and engineering tour-de-force, ‘The Razor’ is a complex custom pool project that was designed for architect Matthew Royce’s custom home in Venice Beach, California.
“Royce was the brainchild for the pool concept shape, and we did research to find out who could deliver the engineering detail that he wanted that would allow us to have the pool water only three inches from the home’s 20-foot glass doors,” says Richard Babcock, designer/developer/CEO of the eponymous Southern California-based firm.
He added that David Peterson of Watershape Consulting of Solana Beach, California, provided the drawing of the key detail Babcock built. Royce’s vision—a curved pool/spa combination that he had designed to hug a thin slip of yard to mesh with his cement, steel and glass house, was, says Babcock, a feat “of precision engineering and mechanical hydraulics that has, to our knowledge, never been done before.”
The idea sounds simple: The pool is transected by a submerged wall, allowing one side to become a spa. In its so-called “spa mode,” the water flows through both sections from one end to the other.
With the push of a button, a thin length-wise slot at the top of an underwater dam activates the spa, dropping the water on both sides to a predetermined level. Below the spa-dam slot, the pool-side water remains an inch lower to prevent the cooler water from comingling with that of the heated spa water.
The pool’s edge is only three inches from the home’s 20-foot sliding glass doors. “It’s nine inches closer than is typical for pools,” Babcock says, adding that his team consulted with Peterson to create a custom gutter detail made of 316 marine-grade stainless steel that’s encased in a custom pre-cast fabricated GFRC coping that was integral to the feature. The project also includes a concrete wall that drops 10 feet to the basement level of the house to create its own pond to satisfy Royce’s request to hear the sound of water upon entering the property.
So detailed was the project that “even the swimming pool equipment room was taken to the next level by artfully arranging the miles of electrical connections and pumps on the walls,” Babcock says. designmypool.com