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Cutting The Edge as published by Aqua Magazine

Pool Design article by Brian Van Bower, SWD Master, GENESIS® Ambassador & Co-Founder

I've always thought that part of remaining relevant in the aquatic design and construction business means coming up with fresh ideas, especially concepts that offer discerning clients something unexpected or unique.

Of course, coming up with new ideas is itself not new. There was a time years ago when now-familiar features such as the vanishing edge or the all-tile pool finish fell into the "something new" category, giving a competitive edge to designers and contractors who were familiar with those details and weren't afraid to suggest them to clients.

Nowadays, you can find countless examples of those features and many others that were at one time considered new and adventurous. In order to stay ahead of the proverbial curve, we need to push the creative envelope from time to time.


That was certainly the spirit behind a detail featured here, which we've been using for the past few years, as have a handful of others. It's an idea that literally brings landscape right up to the water's edge — or perimeter overflow edge, to be precise.

It started back in 2008 when we were developing a residential project with an architectural firm in Miami, Rene Gonzalez architects, a company we enjoy working with on a regular basis. The reason we like them so much is that they love water —water features, ponds, pools, spas, inside, outside and all around. And they tend to be extremely creative in their design work, often coming up with surprising ideas.

In this case, they had a large residential project that was exciting to us and perhaps a little bit daunting as well. In a nutshell, they had an idea they described as "water meets dirt," meaning landscape (or softscape as some call it) that meets the water's surface with no coping or decking between the two. I never considered an edge treatment like that before and initially needed a bit of time to figure out just how to make that happen.

Although unusual, the idea held some appeal. I've long been a proponent of figuring out ways to unite landscape and water, and the idea seemed like a fun way to expand the concept. Having vessels interplay with plant material can be a wonderful way to add a sense of luxury and character to a project. (On the other hand, it can also amount to a maintenance headache if the plants deposit material into the water.)

That request prompted us to develop what we call a "grass edge perimeter overflow." It's essentially a variant of the Lautner knife-edge perimeter overflow concept my GENESIS® co-founder Skip Phillips and I have included in our construction class since 1998. (Today, the class is called "The Beauty of the Edge," if you're interested in learning more.)


The idea was to use an angled stainless steel plate, bolted to a lowered exterior gutter wall to allow soil and grass (or other ground cover) to be planted right next to the pool.

For the first project using the detail, the pool builder, using our plans, fabricated custom stainless steel panels, which worked out just fine. After the success of that prototype I decided to collaborate with Bobé Water and Fire, a manufacturer of water features, fire bowls and other creative hardware, to create a standardized version of the system called the "grass edge perimeter overflow" that could be called out in plans and specs and delivered ready to install.

I have experience working with the folks at Bobé on other original products, including custom solid stainless steel radius handrails, and have always found them to be thoughtful, artistic and responsive. They clearly know what they're doing and it's been no surprise that they've taken the concept and run with it.

As is the case with many new products, there was a learning curve involved. The panels are made in sections, for example, which means they have to be connected and sealed in order to prevent soil and plant material from falling through the joints and into the gutter, which could create maintenance issues. To ensure the gaps stay closed, Bobé developed a special joining material that seals the panels together.

In another critical development, in order to keep water from running over the 1-inch slot, we raised the stainless steel approximately a ½ inch higher than the water level. It's an almost imperceptible difference in height, but one that effectively contains most of the water flowing over the edge. Sure, if you do a cannonball, water will splash out onto the grass or other landscape, but for the most part that little half-inch elevation makes a huge difference.

Another fine point: The first time we used the system, the top edge of the stainless steel was visible and potentially sharp to the touch. To resolve that, Bobé includes a black rubber-like material that fits over the top edge of the stainless steel so it isn't as visible — and certainly isn't sharp.


Naturally, it's been exciting to see the idea catch on with various designers and contractors who have made creative use of the idea. One of my favorite examples so far was built by Paragon Pools in Houston, Texas, which used the angled stainless steel panels to create a four-sided application. In other designs, we've seen pools partially bordered by grass, artificial turf and other landscape surfaces.

On the early versions of the product, we ran a disclaimer with the instructions that read, "Yes, your grass may get some browning from chlorine or salt in the splashing pool water, but it looks really cool."

Truthfully, there are grasses that tolerate pool water conditions, and the ½ inch offset mentioned above substantially reduces the potential of water loss. Now that we've specified the product on a growing number of projects, we've been thrilled with the results and are happy to report that grass as well as other ground covers have performed beautifully.

For our part at Aquatic Consultants, we have now have a number of projects completed with the grass edge perimeter overflow, including a large pool in the British Virgin Islands for Richard Branson and one in Palm Beach, Fla., with faux grass.

Is this a detail for everyone? Absolutely not! Will it be the perfect aesthetic choice for some? Definitely.

GENESIS® Ambassador & Co-Founder

Brian Van Bower

Aquatic Consultants Inc.
13775 SW 145 CT. Suite A
Miami FL 33186
T (305) 383-7266
F (305) 383-7266
Skype: bvanbower and andy.kaner