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Custom Pools Combine Aesthetics, Amenities and Automation
By Marsha Canright

Remember when a backyard swimming pool was just a big rectangle with a float and a diving board? Those days are gone.

Contemporary swimming pools are more visually appealing with landscaping, resort-style amenities and high-tech functionality.

“If you have a beautiful pool, there’s a reason to spend time and to entertain in your backyard,” says Toni Denzer, senior designer with Laguna Pools & Designs Ltd. in Houston. “It’s like a luxury vacation. Even if you don’t go swimming, you can enjoy the serenity of the pool and the relaxing sound of the water.”
Today’s pools are integrated with landscaping and other entertainment areas, like outdoor kitchens, to extend the functional use of a homeowner’s outdoor space.

“Pools bring families together, and they provide a place for exercise and relaxation,” says David Vollmer of Vollmer Custom Pools LLC.

If you’re planning a backyard pool project, local builders recommend you do your homework and explore your options. Talk with friends and neighbors who have pools about their recommendations. Visit a local pool showroom where you can see actual pools and amenities.

“When you evaluate prospective builders, it is important to know how long they have been in business and make sure they offer a follow-up service when the pool is complete,” Denzer says.

Large or small, swimming pools are a major investment. So know your budget before you dive in. A medium-sized custom pool with water elements, fire bowls, up-to-date cleaning and sanitation, lighting and automation will cost $80,000 and up.

Why think about swimming pools in the chilly month of February?

“If you are planning to build a pool, now is exactly the right time to get started,” says Nathen Martens, a designer with Pacific Pools Inc. of Houston. “By the time you settle on the right design, a contract, the necessary permits and allow nine to 12 weeks construction, depending on size and specifics, you could still have your pool ready by the time the weather gets warm.” 

And when it is warm, then hot and then really hot, what do the pros think about chillers for the pool? There’s no consensus on that one. Chillers can lower the water temperature as much as 10 degrees.
“I have a chiller in my personal pool and I love it, but it’s not for everyone,” Vollmer says.

Design trends shift overtime, and pools are no exception. Here are 10 tips and trends from pool professionals to consider in project planning.

1. GO SIMPLE, GO SMALLER. The style and shape of pools are shifting from the once-popular free-form design to simple, clean lines and less decking. Large custom pools are still being built but as a rule, new pools are smaller and every bit as luxurious.

“In the Houston metro area, the trend is definitely contemporary: Sleek lines and sheer descents — that is, a sheet of water coming out of the wall,” says Vollmer.

2. A SUNNY SHELF. Having a sun shelf has become the standard for most custom pools, although the width and design vary.

“Tanning ledges with bubblers are popular and practical because they create a shallow lounge space where adults can relax and small children, even pets, can enjoy the pool,” says Martens.

Denzer adds, “Our designs often incorporate an umbrella into the sun shelf by putting a hole in the gummite with a plastic sleeve about five or six inches deep that the umbrella slides into. When it’s not in use, there’s a cover. Customers love it.”

3. RESORT OR BEACH ENTRY. Consider a beach entry. The pool has no lip, so it’s like walking into the ocean. 

4. WATERWORKS. Popular amenities include scuppers, sheer descents, bubblers, water bowls, rock waterfalls and Laminar jets, which shoot streams of water that are colored by LED lighting. Vollmer says these can be controlled via smart phone or remote.

5. FIRE OPTIONS. The glow of a fire against a shimmering pool creates an almost magical atmosphere. That’s why fire bowls, fire pits and fire within a rock waterfall are some of the hottest trends in pool design.   

 6. NOT SO DEEP. Pools are not being built as deep as they used to be, and for good reason. This allows a larger shallow area in the pool where people actually spend most of their pool time, says Denzer.  

7. POOL DECKING. There are many choices for pool decking. Travertine pavers, spray or sun decking and stamped concrete are only a few of the choices. 

“Laguna Pools specializes in acrylic inlaid decking, a dressy option, that goes over concrete and is not slick. It has several pattern choices and is extremely durable,” says Denzer.   

Another trend is porcelain tiles.

“For the past 15 years, higher-ends pools used travertine for decking, but now the trend is toward porcelain tiles. It’s got a rough finish so it’s not slippery, and it isn’t hot. Also, it comes in all different sizes. Right now, I’m doing a deck with tiles that are two feet by four feet,” Vollmer says.

Vollmer uses an Eco finish, which is blown on top of the plaster or pebble bottom to make it smooth. “It lasts longer and it doesn’t fade,” he says.

8. SANITATION. There are now choices in pool sanitation including salt, chlorine, ozone and UV sanitation, sometimes in combination. Professional builders say there are pros and cons for all of these. How you choose to keep your pool fresh depends on your individual preferences.

9. IN-FLOOR CLEANING SYSTEM. Builders recommend spending dollars upfront to keep maintenance to a minimum.
“The Paramount in-floor cleaning system is a great cleaning option for your pool,” Denzer says. “It allows you to spend more time enjoying your pool and less time cleaning your pool. It is built into your pool shell and is engineered to clean your entire pool, including your floor, steps, benches and spa.”

10. AUTOMATION. Automation is another trend that is almost standard in custom pools, whether you use a remote, a smart phone or an iPad. These will operate your pool, spa, lights and water features with the touch of a button.

If you want a close-up look at custom pool choices, Laguna Pools has a showroom with nine display pools. This makes it possible to see different pool shapes, water features and materials, as well as a lot of great decking choices. 


Adams Tile & Plaster

Cypress Custom Pools

Laguna Pools & Designs Ltd.

Pacific Pools Inc. of Houston

Star Pools

Vollmer Custom Pools LLC

Houston Web Design Company