Creating a pool that's in harmony with its woodsy surroundings


March 16, 1997|By Beth Smith

Thinking of building a swimming pool? Harboring secret dreams of moonlight swims under a cascading waterfall as nearby grasses flutter in the sweet breezes of summer? Looking for a pool that romances Mother Nature?

If so, forget the formal classicism of columns and statuary -- those templelike structures that borrow from the Greek and Roman pools of antiquity. Forgo the geometric consistency of the perfect rectangle and the Miami Beach aqua blue water offered by most backyard pools. Shun the traditional look of brick, tile or cement in pool decking. Those features do not lend themselves to a natural pool environment.

If a pool that's in harmony with nature is what you want, opt for one using natural design elements -- organic shapes, tough rock surfaces, water splashing from a fall.

Creating such a pool and then blending it into the adjacent landscape are no easy accomplishments. But the result is worth the effort when you get a swimming pool that is as comfortable in its backyard environment as a natural pond is in a woodsy preserve.

"I think before you decide on any pool or any landscaping, you have to take a really good look at your property," says Mike Patterson of Broadview Manor Inc., a landscaping firm in White Hall. "How far you may want to go depends on what you already have on your property."

Land edged by woods and natural rock formations takes much easier to landscaping with a naturalistic bent than a square lot bordered by a neighbor's mesh fencing. But even a property in the most unlikely setting can be turned into a natural oasis.

Al Huber and colleague Brian Ayres of Heritage Custom Lawn and Landscape Inc. in White Marsh moved 300 tons of dirt and brought in 30 to 40 huge natural boulders for a landscaping project around a pool in a Baltimore neighborhood. Although it looks very much like a mountain pond, the pool is situated just a few yards from one of the city's busiest streets.

"People who want a naturalistic look usually say they want their pool to look like a pond you might stumble across in the woods," explains Huber. "This particular family wanted to look through the windows of their home and see something very beautiful, not your standard swimming pool."

"The shape of the pool is one of the most important considerations to make a pool look natural," says Jim Spero of Maryland Pools Inc. in Columbia, builder of the Baltimore pool. "Basically, you want a free-form pool, not a geometric shape."

Free-form pools edge around the property in curvilinear patterns that mimic pools made by nature. Lines are soft and fluid, not straight and hard. Usually, but not always, free-form pools are custom-designed. For example, the kidney-shaped pool has a free-form look, but it is a standard design with many pool companies.

Shape isn't the only feature that gives a pool a natural look. A dark gray or black plaster finish makes the water appear dark green or deep blue, more like a woodland pond than a backyard pool. Sprayed on the concrete shell and troweled for a smooth finish, the dark plaster is in contrast to the standard white marbelite that makes pool water look aqua when hit by sunlight.

"Dark plastered pools are just as sparkling or even more sparkling than a pool finished with white plaster," says Kent Cooper, project manager with Kurt Bluemel Inc. in Baldwin, one of the first landscaping firms in the area to install what is sometimes called the "black bottom" pool.

"They are not murky. If you drop a dime into the pool, you can see it float all the way to the bottom," Cooper says. There is also a heat benefit with such pools. "Generally, dark pools warm up quicker and stay warmer longer into the fall," he adds.

The coping -- a border of sturdy material that follows the outline of an in-ground pool and hides the edge of the pool wall -- is almost always stone in a pool designed to project a natural image. Durable, attractive and skid-proof, Pennsylvania bluestone and flagstone are favorite choices.

These materials are also used for pool decking -- the terraces adjoining the coping that serve as space for chairs and tables. And for retaining walls that sometimes abut the pools. To achieve an especially natural look, some landscapers use weathered stone that is dotted with moss and lichen -- often found at old building sites.

While shape, color, coping and terraces are important features of a natural pool, their effect is lost if the pool is placed improperly on its site. Taking into consideration legal requirements, the location of utilities, and a pool's relationship to the sun, shade and wind, a good pool designer attempts to find the most pleasing location for a swimming pool. Tucking it into the contours of the land is essential.

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