The Elements of a Planning a Luxury Pool

A pool is a sum of its parts, and nothing defines a poolscape better than the details.

By Kevin Woodhurst

Photo courtesy of Red Rock Pools & Spas; Photography by Rick Chafey


There is something about water that evokes imagination, dreams, and passionate living. Sitting on a patio overlooking a beautiful pool, listening to the sound of a water feature, enjoying the relaxing, rejuvenating therapy of a spa, or taking a late night or early morning swim, all have the power to evoke a deep connection to the water within us. This link to the senses is what luxury is all about.

The planning stage of a watershape is an exciting time for a homeowner as it represents the transformation of a dream into reality. Designers, watershapers, architects, and contractors assume a huge responsibility when beginning a project, which is why they always start by interviewing the client to see what is desired. Everyone defines luxury differently. For some it means rare materials handcrafted or mined exclusively for the project. For others, it is a personal interpretation of a lush resort that was experienced on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Whatever is envisioned, however, it must be translated into an elegant and buildable plan. “Much intuitive thought goes into the design of these projects. There is much more to consider than just a pool shape; the goal is to make the entire environment look spectacular within a certain budget,” says Rick Chafey, owner, Red Rock Custom Pools and Spas, Phoenix, Ariz.

Pool settings are blank canvasses and can become anything the homeowner imagines—a replica of a pool found in a magnificent European estate, a tile-by-tile copy of a fountain found in an English country garden, or perhaps a natural wonderland that mimics a mountain retreat—with a towering rock waterfall and grotto. But no matter the choice, there are architectural elements that professionals use time after time to embellish a setting, giving it a panache and style that complement the main house and the surrounding environs. Landscape architects and pool designers usually suggest a total plan that may include pergolas, conservatories, decks, patios, pool houses, and other types of outdoor rooms. They will also suggest artwork, plantings, lighting, furniture, and all kinds of amenities to turn a backyard into a go-to retreat. “The difference is always in the details, much of them the small ones that few notice individually but collectively enhance the visual appeal of a great backyard destination resort,” says Aaron Gurley, vice president, Premier Pools and Spas, Phoenix, Ariz.

Once a design has been visualized, space allocation planned, traffic patterns agreed upon, and convenience as well as practicality incorporated into the site, the next step is the use of materials and the accessories that will give the pool its distinctive personality. “Material selection can make or break the overall beauty of a poolscape,” says Chad Dains, designer, Southernwind Pools, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.

Interior pool finishes are one of the key details that designers use to create a desired look. There have been a number of exciting developments in recent years, with the introduction of colorful aggregate surfaces in a variety of textures and colored plaster that are long-lasting, durable, and most importantly, visually impactful. All-glass tile has long been the choice of those seeking an Old World sophistication.

Years ago, I visited the Hurst Castle in California and found myself in awe of the all-tile pool creations that have adorned that facility for over 80 years. Pool designers can create the same enduring beauty for homeowners. Whether an intricate patterned design is called for, a powerfully beautiful iridescent tile that sparkles in the light, or maybe a simple glass tile finish along the waterline, tiled pools radiate and personify beauty and luxury. The secret is in the installation. Tile work is an art form and homeowners should have an expectation that the installer has the resources available to craft a perfectly executed final product. Iain Middleton, master tiler for V-vo Architectural Mosaics, Perth Australia, explains, “In order for a project to stand the test of time, proper preparation and a solid foundation is the only method, and the best products must be used.”

Decking is another important element that defines a poolscape because it is experienced every day. This surface should blend in completely with the surrounding property and its architecture. Some examples of decking include stamped concrete, luxurious wood like Ipe, hard-wearing composites, and natural stone. No matter the choice, however, a knowledgeable designer or landscape architect will choose the best option that is beautiful, durable, and fairly easy to maintain—and the one that complements the home’s style.

Another important aspect that designers consider is creating an environment that offers all-day, year-round enjoyment. This may include heating and cooling systems that keep water just right or an outdoor fogging or misting system for those really hot days. Nighttime lighting effects, be it in the pool, landscaping, or accent lighting, give a dynamic visual appeal that separates the truly luxurious from the ordinary. Nothing is more spectacular than seeing an outdoor environment come to life as the sun sets.

When it comes down to it, planning a poolscape is like planning a home—every part must be considered for the benefit of the whole. In fact, the one rule every designer abides by is that you can’t skimp on the details if you want to create a setting that will give you a lifetime of enjoyment.

Above: The glass tile on this vanishing-edge pool works hand-in-hand with the rustic textures found on the home’s façade. Acting like a vibrant foil to the otherwise soft hues found throughout the property, the tile is definitely an exquisite finishing touch.


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