Editor's note: This story ran in the July 2006 issue of Lake Norman Magazine.
“People here are looking for the wow,” says custom pool designer and builder Bob Pippin, owner of Charlotte Pools and Spas. Pippin, who has been building pools for 23 years, says he came to Lake Norman because he was tired of building cookie cutter backyard pools in Florida. Now his wife, son, dad and uncle are part of his Mooresville pool-building business.
Spread out in front of him is one of his full-color designs for a client on the lake. The free-form shape includes a waterfall and a sand beach entry made to look and feel like a natural body of water. “It’s not actual sand. It’s what we call river-slick stone,” he says. “It feels good on the feet, with some grit but not sharp. It looks great and it comes in custom colors.” Other designs feature the disappearing or infinity edge popular at resorts. The edge of the pool seems to merge seamlessly with the horizon or water beyond. Designs incorporate waterfalls, hot tubs and fire pit structures.“The clientele here are very much higher end than Florida,” Pippin says. “I build 90 pools a year, and every one of them is custom. I have to say I haven’t felt this excited about my work since I started my first business in Florida years ago.”
Making landscape art “It’s all about making a total environment,” says Bryan O’Neal, owner of Falling Water Custom Pools. Like Pippin, he says he does not sell pools – he will create a design that “reflects the personality of the owner and then make it look like it’s been there forever.”He adds, “It’s an outdoor lifestyle, a social center with fire pits and hot tubs. It has become much, much more than a place for sports and recreation.” Although O’Neal’s business is in Concord, he spends almost no time there. “I’m either at Lake Norman or down at Ballantyne. The biggest issue on Lake Norman is the 50-foot setback (from the lake), and it’s a challenge. I used to be an ordinary pool builder, and that challenge took me out of the box,” O’Neal says. “When you have to deal with that setback, some of the elevation changes you get into can turn into my best work.”Making the pool merge with the landscape is the goal. Luxury touchesSal and Renaldia Cozza moved from New York to their lakeside home in Cornelius 12 years ago.“When we decided to add a pool, I knew I didn’t want it to look like a neighborhood pool,” Sal Cozza says. “I wanted it very natural looking, surrounded by evergreens and shrubbery. No hardscape, just coping around it, and grass right up to the edge. I wanted it to look like a deep, dark pond, and that’s exactly what it’s like.” The Cozzas’ have an English country cottage style house on an acre of property. O’Neal used dark tiling and finishes to give the free-form pool a darker, more pond-like appearance. “The Cozzas’ design is completely different than something I would create for a contemporary home,” O’Neal says. “For contemporary, I’d use straighter lines, and pick up the color of the house in the coping and tiles, maybe do a disappearing edge.”The Cozzas’ pool also has a natural stone waterfall that embraces a built-in hot tub. “There’s a bench where the water’s falling, and you can sit under it if you want,” Sal Cozza says. The family has dubbed a large landing where lawn chairs sit in about 8 inches of water “the beach.” Low maintenanceO’Neal and Pippin say high-tech gadgetry not only makes pools nearly maintenance free, but also allows the custom pool builder to create a landscape, incorporating existing trees, without the worry of leaves getting into the pool. They like working within an existing landscape, or creating one if it doesn’t exist. “I’m creating a full Hawaiian landscape at my house right now,” O’Neal says.Pippin says the two most important high-tech elements are an in-floor filtration system and a salt-based chlorine generator. In-floor filtration, which traps multiple layers of debris, does not involve any sort of robot arm or snake-like object on the pool surface. Pippin says the salt-based chlorine generator eliminates the chloramines that irritate eyes and skin and discolor hair. The generator is computer chip controlled and comes with wireless remote.The Cozzas rave about their salt-based system. “When you get out, you don’t have any of that chemical, chlorine smell,” Cozza says, “just a soft, silky feeling. It’s amazing, really. They call it a saltwater pool, but it’s not salt like in the ocean.”
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Pricey but desirableAdding fiber-optic lighting, hand-painted murals, natural stone, swim-up bars, and glass pebble-filled fire pits that seem to float can drive up the cost of a pool.Designers say an outdoor environment can run 15 to 20 percent of your property value – more if the design includes a pool house, outdoor kitchen or other structures.Pippin says a custom pool environment can be $50,000 to $100,000, but even up to $200,000 is not uncommon.“When they started our pool construction, they hit solid rock,” Sal Cozza says. “They had to jackhammer into it.” The Cozzas spent six months with the pool construction process, and say they don’t regret a minute of it.