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Planning a Swimming Pool? Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog

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Or is it don’t put the cart before the horse? I dunno- I suppose I’m bad with animal expressions. But what I mean is that all too often, we get calls from prospective clients who just had a swimming pool installed and now they are ready for the “landscaping.” To some people that the term “landscape” is synonymous with plants, and there is certainly confusion about what a landscape designer does. A landscape designer is first and foremost concerned with designing spaces. When talking about a residential backyard, we’re really talking about how the spaces are to be used, how the spaces relate to one another, and how you transition from space to space. While a swimming pool is a very specific item that does need to be installed by a contractor with a specific license, it is very much part of the landscape and needs to be treated that way when designing the yard as a whole.

So how does a landscape designer approach a swimming pool? By looking at the site as a whole, and how the swimming pool relates. What are the views of the pool from the house, or from other parts of the landscape? Unless the pool is to be covered most of the time, a swimming pool is essentially a large water feature, and should be treated as such. What are the views from the pool itself? What type of entertaining spaces do we need to compliment the pool when it is in use, or when it isn’t? What are the existing elevations of the yard, and what challenges or opportunities do they present. A waterfall or wall fountain looks great when built into an existing slope. When jutting out of the ground, not so much.

A tale of two waterfalls: Two pools with a raised bond beam and waterfall. Here we see one built into the natural slope of the site, with the pool and waterfall tied into the landscape as a whole. The stonework on the wall was carefully selected, and repeated through the landscape. The waterfall takes into account the scale of the pool and the surrounding plantings.

Here we see a pool and waterfall with no relation to the landscape or sense of scale. It’s hard to imagine that a landscape designer was involved with the pool here…. The rock work on the waterfall is actually very well done, but it is hurt by the design, or there lack of. In nature, water settles at the lowest point, not the highest point!

Just as they say the kitchen is the center of the home, the swimming pool is often the center of the backyard- a primary focal point and like the kitchen, the most important component when entertaining. Just like a swimming pool, there are many companies that specialize in the design or installation of kitchens. However, just as you would not have the kitchen built first then design the rest of the house around it, it would be a mistake to treat a swimming pool the same way.

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