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Redeveloping poolscapes

Tuscan columns and upright cedars brought simple elegance and Old World charm to the traditional backyard landscape.

By David Wright, CLP, OALA, ISA

Changes in the economy and the resulting shifts in the residential real estate market can create new opportunities for the landscape and swimming pool industries. Instead of building a new dream home, homeowners may decide to stay and fix-up their existing residence, or buy an older house to renovate. Instead of shelling out for expensive vacations, budget conscious consumers will save money by staying home and enjoying a ‘staycation,’ using their own backyard as a cottage while exploring their surrounding community.

Homeowners have an easy time understanding the value of interior renovation. A kitchen or bathroom makeover is a proven investment, as is the creation of a ‘rec room’ in the basement—complete with big-screen television, surround sound and all the latest gadgets. However, when it comes to the backyard, what can a homeowner do with a 25-year-old pool surrounded by a cracked concrete patio and disintegrating deck? While most pools built in the 1980s and early 1990s were not designed with the purpose of extending indoor living space, the increasing popularity of the ‘outdoor room’ presents landscape and swimming pool professionals with the opportunity to transform older poolscapes into an integral part of the backyard living environment. With today’s outdoor audio/visual equipment and the latest in built-in barbecues, fireplaces and outdoor lighting, the ‘rec room’ can be moved into the backyard.

With careful planning and co-ordination between the landscaper and pool builder, an outdated pool and tired landscaping can be easily rejuvenated to renew backyard ambiance and make a statement about the homeowner’s lifestyle.

What does the client want?

Start the design process by finding out what the client wants. Determine their likes and dislikes and examine their lifestyle, as this will dictate how the space should be used.

For example, a mature couple with no kids might lean toward a new entertaining space with quiet, contemplative nooks within the landscape, while the priority of a professional couple who have kids will likely be an active play space for children within view of the adult lounging area. A homeowner who enjoys entertaining may prefer an outdoor dining room and barbecue area complete with built-in bar and enough space to accommodate guests.

The existing landscape contained several problem areas, including a retaining wall topped by a dilapidated wooden fence shrouded by overgrown cherry trees.

When planning an outdoor living area, interior renovation principles can also apply. For example, the tighter the space, the more important it is to perfect traffic flow. Whether it is the route to the pool or path to the soccer pitch, tripping through the dining area will only cause problems. Building smart traffic flow into the plan from the beginning is as important as creating easy access to the active space.

For example, a few years ago a client asked me to look at their 20-year-old poolscape and advise them on how they could create more usable space. The client did not have a cottage, so the backyard was their ‘getaway;’ however, they felt it was underused. They had teenage kids and wanted the backyard to become their ‘outdoor oasis,’ where they could spend more time playing and entertaining.

The existing landscape had several problem areas, including a retaining wall topped by a dilapidated wooden fence shrouded with overgrown cherry trees, which were all dangerously close to the swimming pool’s back edge. The concrete pool deck had settled in many places and the connected patio was divided into uneven sections. Finally, the small lawn was worn out with numerous bare patches and weak, yellowish growth in some areas courtesy of the family dog.

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