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The ins and outs of pool design

This project is a great example of the various elements and considerations that go into designing a complete backyard project.

By Tim Valerioti

“We would like a pool.” This is the typical, first broad request from customers that most pool designers/builders can relate to. And, more often than not, these projects become much more than just a pool. Why? Projects tend to escalate from this basic request as a pool designer/builder investigates further to understand what the client is looking for to ensure the project—from design to completion—fulfils their needs.

This was the case for the Monique project, which we recently completed. In fact, for this particular job, the process of incorporating the customer’s ideas into a working design spanned four months. The initial stages were conversational and used as a way to get to know the client better rather than find out what the project would entail. This included a number of meetings to help determine how their requirements could be satisfied. Several reference checks and portfolio reviews also occurred before moving forward.

The next step was getting an understanding the family’s lifestyle and how this pool project would fit into it. Simply knowing what features people want is not enough. A designer needs to know what has led the client to request certain features, e.g. “My neighbour had one,” “I saw it in a magazine,” “We loved it on a trip we were on,” or “My child thinks it is cool.” All of this helps to better understand the client’s mind set. It also helps to decipher which items or features a client may think they want, but not know why the items may not necessarily work for their particular project.

Laying the groundwork

Some customers who want the project to move quickly may find the initial design stage to be a ‘step back.’ However, it is important to take small steps during this phase as it sets the groundwork and is a foundation for the design phase. Not only does the customer get a feel for how the pool builder operates, the pool builder also learns more about what the client is thinking while observing the interaction between the decision-makers.

These client nuances are important for the designer to see. For example, in the Monique project, both of the clients had different key requirements in mind. One wanted a large garage as a primary feature to store the family camper and vehicles, while the other wanted an enjoyable space for their daughter and sons to play. Both, however, were looking for unique style and functionality that would remind them of places they have travelled.

Top-level requirements

Based on the observations and groundwork, the next step was putting together a list of the project’s top-level feature requirements. The client was a designer’s dream as they prepared a general feature list, but were more than willing to listen to additional ideas and suggestions. As a result, a joint list of primary features and ideas for the project was created, and, as with many projects, the pool was not actually the first item on the list. Instead, the elements around and integrated into the pool were discussed first. From waterfalls and fire features to grottos and lounge cabanas, these items where separate from the pool; however, the pool was the foundation of these elements.

Taking a closer look

Once a basic idea of what the project would entail was decided, careful attention was turned to the site to determine how each element could be incorporated. In this case, the property was on a hill slope next to a lake and was purchased specifically for the outdoor living space. The property adjoins the main house, which is surrounded by other homes in the neighbourhood.

The lot was long, narrow and elevated 3.6 m (12 ft) from the existing house. When initially walking the site with the customer, there was discussion as to how the different elements could be incorporated, and what would be the best angles for observation. Functionality of the space from the house was also looked at as were privacy concerns from neighbouring properties. This process also raised the question of how a 12- to 15-m (40- to 50-ft) long garage would fit into the landscape while leaving room for a large pool and other features. In this case, the answer was constructing the garage underground and building everything else above it. Not only would this provide the client better access to the garage, it would also allow the garage to be hidden at the same time.

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