7 tips for successful pool design

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7 min readAs a landscape designer pool design is an integral part for many of our projects. No longer are the humble backyard pool and garden thought of as separate entities.

Unlike pools of the past where little thought was given to the visual and functional elements of the pool and its surrounds, today’s pools and surrounding landscape have become striking architectural features which can transform an outdoor space into something very special.

When good design meets an adequate budget, the results can be quite breathtaking where the average backyard can be transformed into your own private oasis. Here are my top seven tips when it comes to designing the perfect backyard swimming pool.

 For sale: 52 Cocos Palm Close, Port Douglas, QLD For sale: 52 Cocos Palm Close, Port Douglas, QLD

1. Function

Before you start creating a design you need to asses why you want a pool, who the pool is for and what its purpose is. Is it for family fun and entertaining, exercise, relaxation, occasional use, solid use or it could also simply be something pretty to look at?

Once you have settled on its purpose you can begin the design process. As a general rule the standard family sized pool is 8m x 4m and this will cater for most functions, it’s a good all-rounder. A pool that is any smaller will start to minimise the functionality of the pool, but don’t panic as there is one thing that I have realised in my years as a parent, kids will have fun in whatever sized pool you give them.

Obviously the bigger the pool the more people can enjoy it at the same time but avoid the trap of catering for ‘one off’ or ‘sometimes’ summer events.

If exercise is your thing, then a lap pool could be an option to consider. Remember a minimum of 16m is required for a reasonable number of strokes so make sure you have enough room. However, these pools can be more expensive than standard sized pools due to the higher percentage of concrete per square meter of water surface area required.

 For sale: 2 Deane Street, Cottesloe, WA For sale: 2 Deane Street, Cottesloe, WA

On the other end of the scale, if size doesn’t matter then a plunge pool can offer you the perfect solution and will get you as wet as any 25m monster.

‘Spa or no spa’ is another question we face on a regular basis. My answer to this is a spa increases the functionality of a pool to all seasons. In Melbourne, my home base, this is very relevant. Spas are also therapeutic and act as a social hub where many good times are had so in my opinion they should be a consideration at the fore of your pool design must-have list.

2. Form

This is where the fun begins and your scrapbook (you do have a scrapbook don’t you) comes in and you can choose the shape and style you want for your pool. This however is not an open ticket to design whatever you want. You’ll need to consider the architecture of your home. Is it modern, traditional, symmetrical or asymmetric? Does the home have any curves or is it super geometric? My advice is no matter what the functional requirement is of the pool, it’s form needs to compliment the home’s architecture and internal decor.

In terms of materials, you have the option of a fiberglass or a concrete pool construction method. Both have their pros and cons and the decision can be a tricky one. Generally speaking fiberglass pools are a more cost effective option and if done well they can look amazing. However, there are some limitations such as access for cranes, site conditions and surround engineering requirements where a fiberglass pool may not be viable.

Concrete pools are more expensive than fibreglass, but the options, sizes, shapes, structural surround options and positions have no limits whatsoever. Whether it be on the third story of a home where a pool can cantilever over the building to a pool hanging off the edge of a cliff with a 20m long infinity edge, the options are almost endless when it comes to the form your pool takes.

 Image: COS Design Image: COS Design

3. Proportion

Although the function of a pool such as a lap pool would dictate its size, the size and scale of the pool is critical in creating a successful design. In my opinion the pool needs to fit comfortably within its surrounding space.

If you have a large open area and you position an 8m x 4m family pool within it, it will look like a spa within the context of its surrounds. Alternatively, an 8m x 4m pool in a small courtyard can be overpowering to the space and the end result will be all wrong. So you have to be mindful of not only the pool size you want but the space you’re planning on constructing it in.

 Image: COS Design Image: COS Design

4. Safety

Pool compliance is the single most critical part of any new pool or pool renovation project. Each state and territory in Australia is committed to zero drownings to all public and private pools and they also have slight differences with their compliance rules so you need to ensure your project is water tight in regards to its pool barrier design, installation and maintenance.

This is all very serious but to add some light to the topic, with clever design the pool fence/barrier can become a striking design feature that is a talking point of your design. For example, timber or steel soldier posts can break up a glass fence and add a subtle point of interest whilst still being compliant and legal.

 Image: COS Design Image: COS Design

5. Landscape design

Most pool builders would not like me saying this but aesthetically a pool is a hole in the ground that is filled up with water and it’s actually the surrounding landscape, architecture and design features that make the pool special. It’s a harsh comment but it’s often the case.

When designed together, the pool and the garden should sit in harmony with the adjacent residence, and even on a large area, the devil is in the detail. A feature nib wall with a raised garden bed, an integrated water spout to a feature wall that hides the pool equipment, a spa that becomes a mirror to reflect the surrounding garden or a feature uplift tree, the coping detail which creates a 20mm shadow line to the water all help create the point of difference to make your pool shine.

 Image: COS Design Image: COS Design

6. Breaking the mould

My first memory of a pool was the Clark Rubber above ground pool my dad built on the back yard from a DIY kit. While our wealthy friends down the road had an in ground pool which has always been seen as the luxury option for a home pool. However, there is still merit in designing and building an above ground pool to either work with a tricky site or minimise the pool fencing required in a small space.

We have had an increase in demand to design pools on tricky sites or small spaces and the old out of the ground options have many advantages. (Please note: Some states do not allow the external wall of a pool to be classified as part of the pool barrier so check your state laws if you’re considering building your pool above ground).

A sloping site offers an opportunity to create a level pool zone that rises out of the ground and improves the functionality of a tricky site. You can also add wet edges (aka horizon edges) to capture a view or create a dramatic statement if the wet edge faces the main viewing aspect. Following this path can also create other regulatory issues such as overlooking and balustrade requirements but when done properly the results can be most attractive and enjoyable.

Don’t forget to consider some funky, fun and unique ideas in and around your pool. Such as feature spas, floating daybeds, wet edge features and feature acrylic windows to further enhance the entire pool concept and experience.

7. Lifestyle

So far I have spent a lot of time speaking of rules, regulations and general requirements but let’s not forget the reason you’re considering building a pool in the first place…LIFESTYLE! Pools and spas are great fun where lasting memories with family and friends are made which enhance our overall wellbeing, through bonding, laughing and simply relaxing.

Pools have also been tagged as a maintenance burden but with new technology, they’ve come a long way. Pools can now vacuum themselves, chemically balance themselves, fill themselves up, be controlled by a mobile phone or tablet, so when you’re out for dinner and you want a spa you can turn it on at the restaurant to ensure its ready to go when you get home. As technology goes, it’s only getting easier to manage a home pool every year that passes by.

To create your own private oasis that is a permanent invitation to get outside and enjoy everything that is the Australian way of life is an exciting proposition and one we treat seriously when designing a pool and its surrounds for our clients.

I hope these general tips have helped inform your decision to undertake a pool project of your own. My advice above does seem relatively simple however there is a real skill in getting pool design spot on. If you’re struggling for ideas I recommend engaging a professional to design your pool and its surrounding landscape. An investment that will pay off during the construction process and ensure your investment is maximised to its fullest potential.

For more pool design ideas check out these 10 ultimate Australian pool party houses.

Happy swimming!

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Steve Taylor
Steve Taylor has been building and designing multi-award winning gardens in and around Melbourne’s finest properties for the past 18 years. COS Design was formed in 2000 by Steve and has since become one of the country’s most highly regarded and awarded residential landscape design companies. Recently Steve has been hosting Australia’s newest gardening show ‘Best Gardens Australia’.

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