Above: The pool designer created a simply elegant poolscape by combining a vanishing edge with the rounded edges of a geometric shape. Added bonus: the far-off vista is invited to play a larger role in the setting’s tropical splendor. Photo courtesy of Kona Sunset Pools & Spas; photography by Michael Paravano.
While spontaneity can be a good thing, building your long-desired swimming pool should not be left to chance. Today’s designers have a huge range of pool shapes and styles in their portfolios, from freeform pools and infinity edges to Grecian styles and classic rectangles. Get inspired by your own property and what shape fits it best. But before you get to this step, consider what material will be best to construct the pool design you have in mind.
Choosing the Building Material
There are three basic types of inground pools: concrete, vinyl, and fiberglass. Each type of building material has its own set of pros and cons when it comes to forming a shape and creating a style. Make sure the design you imagine for your pool can be fabricated in the material you want to use. Don’t hesitate to do your homework: research options, ask other pool owners, and interview prospective builders of all three types.
Concrete is the most accommodating material for crafting a pool shape and style; your imagination and your budget are its only limits. Ideal for any kind of custom design, you can further enhance your concrete pool with a finishing material like glass tile, colored plaster, or stone aggregate.
Vinyl, like concrete, is great for all types of swimming pool designs. The material and styles for vinyl-lined pools have advanced over the years; the number of patterns and colors are almost infinite, giving homeowners a large assortment to choose from for the look of the pool’s interior.
Built from pre-manufactured molds, fiberglass pools come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and styles, including popular designs like infinity pools. Fiberglass pool companies can further customize your project by adding ceramic tile, custom jets, mosaics, and other water features.
Pool Shapes and Styles
Once you’ve decided on your material and builder, you can next flesh out the concept. Take a look at these popular pool shapes to learn how they are best used. Then, when you consult with your designer, you’ll have a better idea of which options can be accommodated.
1. Infinity Pools
Infinity pools (also called vanishing-edge or negative-edge pools) are one of the most dramatic pool design effects. Made to look like the pool flows over an edge into the neighboring vista, this type of swimming pool is actually a product of math and science: the water flows over the pool’s weir wall into a hidden trough where it’s recycled back into the pool. Homes that overlook spectacular scenery like the ocean, a river, mountains, or even nearby cityscapes are the best candidates to implement this design’s magic. However, a designer might also suggest an infinity pool for a property that’s surrounded by natural lushness like wooded glens or palm tree groves.
2. Perimeter-Overflow Pools
Perimeter overflow pools use optical illusion to mimic mirrors and flat deck surfaces. Water overflows on all sides into a trough in the deck, functioning like a 360-degree vanishing edge. When viewed from overhead or from afar, the pool appears to be a flat surface on the deck. It is only when the wind or some other movement ripples the surface that the effect becomes apparent.
Concrete, vinyl, and fiberglass pools can all incorporate infinity edges and perimeter overflows into their designs.
3. Classic Rectangle and Lap Pools
If your home is luxurious and traditional, then a classic rectangle pool’s straight lines will not overpower the property’s ageless elegance; in fact, those clean edges will reinforce the architecture’s magnificence, creating an even greater aura of sophistication.
But don’t let your imagination stop there. Rectangular pools are the little black dress of pool design. In fact, many designers prefer to use this shape for non-traditional homes because it never goes out of style and will always coordinate perfectly with its surroundings. When joined with an infinity edge or a perimeter overflow, this type of inground pool shape takes on even more character and allows the pool to truly become one with the setting.
A rectangular pool can also be put to work. Many people enjoy using the pool for exercise and swimming laps. A lap pool is an excellent option for those who want more out of their pool than a place to dip their toes or float away the day. Built to accommodate a swimmer’s strokes and turns, a lap pool can be whatever length and width the user deems necessary. And, by changing the design to an “L” shape, get the best of both worlds and accommodate a lap-swimming area and a fun and games area. But don’t think that your pool must be utilitarian in looks—use your professional pool designer’s flair for the visual to keep the pool as the home’s showpiece.
4. Freeform Pools
Freeform pools live up to their name; because their contours don’t have to obey the rules of geometry, they can become whatever the designer visualizes, making them ideal for most properties. Homes in natural, tropical, or rustic settings are exceptional candidates because freeform pools blend in seamlessly with their surroundings, morphing into the setting and appearing to be organic in origin. With imaginative landscaping, hardscaping, and lighting, a freeform pool can mimic a tropical lagoon, a secret oasis, or a tranquil waterway.
Freeform pools are also excellent choices for homeowners who want to incorporate a pool into an asymmetrical space that’s already developed. The designer will finish the pool to match the surroundings, thus keeping the poolscape in sync with the entire outdoor space.
5. Geometric Pools
Geometric pools rely on mathematics for their sharp good looks. Coupled with special design features like fountain bubblers, vanishing edges, overflows, and spillways, this type of swimming pool is the choice for those seeking the ultimate in haute couture.
Full of squares, rectangles, triangles, and other carefully formulated shapes, geometric pools are best suited for contemporary properties. They provide the perfect counterpart to the property’s overall beauty—which is why geometric pools also work well in desert or other Spartan environments.
Many designers gravitate to a geometric pool for desert homes for its ability to complement an austere setting. Against the browns and tans of an arid backdrop, a geometric pool works the way it does in a modern or contemporary setting: it enlivens the environment’s simple splendor. To make it really pop against the neutral tones, many designers finish this type of inground pool in vivid, sparkling glass tile or splashy hues of plaster.
6. Custom Pools
Some homes require a unique look that goes beyond the common pool shapes; they need something that is completely their own. Most often, a homeowner gives the pool designer carte blanche to create a one-of-a-kind poolscape that incorporates every nuance and element found on their property.
Usually, these types of pools are built from concrete because this versatile material can accommodate every size and shape that can be imagined. For instance, if your home overlooks magnificent panorama like an ocean or a graceful mountain range, you may want your builder to combine the magical effects of an infinity pool with a freeform lagoon style. Over the years, homeowners and designers have let their imaginations fly: guitar-shaped, fish-shaped, even car-shaped pools have been the result. Designers have built cantilevered pools off the sides of mountains, creating breathtaking infinity pools that belie gravity. They have also created meandering pools that mimic lazy rivers and “invisible-sided” pools that appear to be floating on air—the options are limitless. Custom pools are for the homeowner who is fearless and ready to create a poolscape that has never been seen before.
7. Kidney-Shaped Pools
If you peeked over the fence of every home that has a swimming pool, you will notice that quite a few sport a kidney-shaped pool. The reason is simple: kidney-shaped pools’ soft, retro look is appropriate for a variety of architectural styles.
Many pool designers use this pool shape as a foundation from which to build more elaborate structures. No matter the building material, they will add accents like natural coping, glass tile, colorful plaster, or a textured finish to customize the project.
8. Grecian and Roman Pools
Grecian and Roman style pools are classic rectangles gone wild. Mirroring elements found in ancient art, these pools start out as rectangles and then get pushed and pulled into something completely different.
Grecian pools have cut corners, forming an octagon, while Roman pools have stylized corners and rounded ends. Both types blend in with a variety of homes, but especially those of Tuscan or Aegean styles. When finished in a colorful glass tile and framed with Travertine coping or decking, they seem like relics from another era.
In the end, the swimming pool needs to be shaped for you and your property. When your project is done, there should be complete harmony throughout the space. The home, the inground pool, the outdoor structure, and the landscaping that frames your backyard should all be in sync with each other. Then, when you look around your new favorite spot, you can applaud your designer and builder—and yourself—for a job well done.