The creators of luxury pools assess a dizzying array of considerations before any construction begins. The design process is a multi-disciplinary evaluation of the home’s size and architectural style; the property’s grading, topography, and composition; how the pool will look from inside the house and how it will take advantage of views outside; mechanics, materials, features (not too many but not too few); and integrated technologies. It all has to look good, feel good, and function precisely. In short, a lot goes into a successful poolscape.
So what happens when designers aren’t limited by a small footprint? When they can go as big and bold as they’d like? The short answer is that design principles don’t change just because there’s more room to work with. “Proportion, scale, rhythm, balance, texture—all of these deliberations must be applied no matter the project’s scope,” asserts Skip Phillips, owner and founder of Pool Spa Technologies, Inc. and an SWD (Society of Watershape Designers) Master. “The key to designing for a wide-open space is taking advantage of its expansiveness,” he says.
SCENIC + SEAMLESS
To Phillips, achieving the feel of expansiveness isn’t about acreage—it’s about good design. “Most people don’t have the ability to own hundreds of acres, especially near the water,” he explains. “But what they can do is capitalize on the land they don’t own—what’s in the line of sight.”
For a project in Kelowna, British Columbia, Phillips showcased the property’s panoramic views of majestic Lake Okanagan. In collaboration with Gene Brown of Kelowna-based Valley Pool & Spas, he created an angular pool—its sharp vanishing edge blurs the divide between pool and lake. “On this particular project, we had to handle the elevations very carefully to protect the sightlines,” he explains. “We dropped the patios and the barbeque down three feet so they don’t impede the view.”
A second project by Phillips on Lake Okanagan is a stunner. It’s a rectangular pool with three 90-degree corners on its vanishing-edge side and a raised perimeter-overflow spa. “This was for a really spectacular property. We lined the pool with tiles that echo the hues in the surrounding coastline,” describes Phillips.
“The pool is essentially an extension of the landscape. It feels natural and cohesive, and therefore expansive.”
Skip Phillips, owner and founder of Pool Spa Technologies, Inc.
When there is plenty of space, like on his own 125-acre ranch in Texas, Phillips warns against doing too much. “You have to be very careful not to create any arbitrary compression with unnecessary features or retaining walls,” he cautions. “Unless there’s a requirement like fencing, you don’t want to box the pool space in at all or create any unnecessary elevation changes. It’s the same with a house,” he continues. “No one ever remodels to make smaller rooms with more walls. They do the opposite; they open up its living spaces.”
SLEEK + URBAN
Kevin Van Kirk, a design consultant with family-owned Van Kirk & Sons Pools & Spas, specializes in high-end poolscapes for coastal homes along South Florida. “These properties have really amazing backdrops,” he explains. “One of the ways we maximize the available space is by arranging the pool deck and boat dock on one cohesive level, eliminating step downs and elevation changes.”
For a client in Miami, the firm united a long, linear pool and dock via a seamless deck of travertine. “It’s definitely a game changer,” Van Kirk says of the arrangement. “It creates more usable space and better flow.”
Properties along the coast of South Florida usually have small footprints, notes the designer. “But when owners have more space, they tend to use it for family entertainment. They want bocce courts, fire pits, a play area—they want a resort-style back yard.”
RUSTIC + FREEFORM
Benjamin Lasseter, partner and president of operations at Design Ecology and Design Aquatics, typically works in the urban jungle of Austin. But he’s no stranger to larger properties in Central Texas. “Four years ago we worked on a 60-acre property on Lake Travis,” he recalls. “It’s a two-and-a-half-story house clad in stone with lawn stretching down across two acres towards the natural water line where the cliff falls off.”
In order to keep the poolscape in proportion to the property’s size and the home’s rustic feel, Lasseter scaled everything up. The large freeform pool overflows over a massive waterfall, crafted from over 60 tons of stone. An integrated raised spa overflows down matching rock walls. “It’s like a private resort,” sums up Lasseter. “The pool house has a grilling area and colored lights are set into the nearly 3,000 square feet of decking. On the whole, the design scales proportionately and nothing looks out of place.”
Freeform pools work well for rambling, rustic properties where contemporary just doesn’t fit. For a ranch outside Austin, Cascade Custom Pools executed the owner’s vision of a desert oasis with a natural setting. “The client wanted granite boulders, so we quarried them from a ranch in Llano,” explains T. J. Thompson, vice president of sales and operations at the Austin–based custom pool firm. “One of the pool’s unique features is that its makeup water is on a rainwater collection system.
“This client designs movie sets, so he had high expectations,” continues Thompson, laughing, “but we enjoyed the challenge.”