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Designing Nature

Pool Design article by Jamie Scott

A recent project came our way that is proving to be very interesting. A couple with a 'perfectly good' 8 year old pool were not happy with it. The pool is a fairly typical natural freeform pool with a raised spa. There is a waterfall built adjacent with the spa, that spills into the pool. The kind of setup that we see all the time - okay, but nothing special.

In the interview process with the homeowners, it became very clear that they were not satisfied with the level of detail and lack of respect that the pool paid to the existing landscape. In this case, the use of the term 'landscape' means the natural surrounding and topography. In the Northeast we are blessed, and cursed, with the topography. We don't typically have the issues of expansive clays, sinkholes or other boggy soil. What we do have, however, is rock - and lot's of it! Large boulders and ledge rock dot the landscape, and lurk not far below ground.

On this project, the star of the show is the backdrop of ledge rock; with decades or even centuries of moss and lichen patched onto the aged stones. Unfortunately for the previous builder, and now for the homeowners, anything man-made would have had to have been done very thoughtfully, and well crafted - so as to not call itself out as a poor imitation in comparison.

As a side note … Interestingly enough, when faced with a gorgeous rugged backdrop, modern or contemporary design can work quite well. Rather than trying to match to the surroundings, a modern shape can act as a contrast, instead of a complement. This serves to let the pool be its own theme, and leaves the natural landscape as its own entity. There is not the risk of trying to blend one with the other.

This is not the goal in our case - the homeowner loves the natural effect, and is only upset by the lack of success with the initial attempt. I must say, we have our work cut out for ourselves! Creating natural environments is much, much harder than working to a specific architectural plan with clear dimensions. The design on paper is only conceptual - the real designing comes during the construction - and this means everybody! Not just the designer, but the excavator and the labor force. In fact, the excavator is the key - he/she is the one searching through the rocks, thinking about placement, on site every moment. If not the excavator, then the foreperson. But, it cannot be done with the designer alone. Patience and enthusiasm is needed from all players. So much time is spent editing and thinking and trying things. Did I mention patience?

The budget is a critical component. Real rock work takes a lot of time. The client's budget doubled from the first meeting to the most recent. Or, rather I should say - our estimate doubled. The client has come to understand, and has signed on.

For those of us who are comfortable in expanding a pool shell - adding onto an existing one - then our opportunities triple. Proper understanding of engineering and soil conditions are required. And should I say, having peers to talk through issues is equally as important. I count all the GENESIS® members I know as potential resources. We all care - and are willing to share ideas - or act as consultants. Very valuable resources indeed.

We are increasing the size of the pool by 25% - by extending the shallow end into a large sunbench area with boulders. We are increasing the old spa footprint by a factor of 5 to create a series of naturally stepped waterfalls - back into the pool. We've designed a bubbler pool off deep end to add another embracing spot to sit. If you look carefully at the design, you'll see a number of separate spaces, in and out of the water, for the homeowners - which is a major goal of theirs.

Well, spring is just about to spring - and we're about to start. I've included photos of existing pool and a copy of the conceptual design. Wish us luck - and stay tuned for more reports on how the project goes!

Before picture
Before picture

James Scott

James Scott

Group Works LLC
PO Box 7269
Wilton, CT 06897
T (203) 834-7905