South Park Magazine

May 21, 2012

A year-round oasis

A luxurious poolscape adds a serene escape right in your backyard.

When it comes to creating a sense of luxury on your property, nothing makes a bigger splash than a pool. While most Charlotte-area contractors admit their custom-pool business languished in the shallow end during the recent recession, they’re now reporting that homeowners – especially those at the high end of the financial spectrum – are again taking the plunge to upgrade their pools or build one from scratch. Charlotteans are unleashing their inner mermaids again. “The slowdown of the economy affected the building industry as a whole,” says Keith Lombardo of Lombardo Swimming Pool Company. “Thankfully for Charlotte, our clients decided to invest back into their homes, so renovations offset what we might have lost in new construction. It was not unusual for us to get a call to add a custom pool to someone’s backyard or refresh the landscaping around an existing pool.” “We saw more people spending their vacation in their yards than traveling somewhere,” says Terry McDonnell of Blue Haven Pools & Spas. It helps if there’s a beautiful oasis with water back there. The soothing lure of water makes it a time-honored, sought-after feature in home sites from Hollywood to Helsinki. With a vision, an experienced team of craftsmen and a cooperative bank account, you too can turn your backyard into a beach – or your patio into a water park. Custom pool builders agree that poolscapes can be designed to fit any budget and need be limited only by one’s imagination. On the other hand, it helps to be realistic regarding the size, function and features one wants before construction begins. “We don’t want to design Disneyland, and then have to take the rides away,” says Keith Lombardo. Among the most popular features seen locally is the whirlpool spa, essentially an in-ground hot tub usually installed at least 18 inches above the main pool area and which can be heated separately, especially in winter. The two bodies of water can be connected by a spillover in the form of a decorative waterfall to add an attractive element to the overall design. Many pools installed in Charlotte homes are not so much for swimming and recreation as for the visual effect. “I call them ‘cocktail pools’ because they’re the centerpiece of a social gathering place,” says Grant Robinson, general manager of the local franchise office of Anthony & Sylvan Pools. Robinson, McDonnell and others have noticed a trend away from diving pools as the residential pool market is driven by safety and liability issues and higher insurance costs. Anthony & Sylvan now installs no springboards, and seldom adds diving platforms even over the deepest point of the water. Rather, in addition to spas with waterfalls, luxury pools in the area now boast such resort-style features as grottoes, swim-up bars, infinity edges and tanning ledges, all incorporated into amenities such as built-in benches, cabanas, gazebos or other well-equipped outside living spaces, as well as lush landscaping. Outdoor poolside kitchens with fireplaces have become standard. David and Laurie Black, whose house on Ballantyne golf course had only a nicely manicured expanse of grass when they moved in two years ago, decided to add a pool as a concession to their two teenage daughters. “We thought a pool would help them with the transition,” says Laurie Black. “But since we had it installed, we’ve realized how much it has beautified the space and enhanced our lives,” Laurie adds. The design incorporates a spa with a waterfall, a tanning ledge that doubles as a toddler ledge for visiting little ones and an outdoor kitchen with a fireplace. “It really is an extension of our living space and is great for relaxing and entertaining.” And since both the pool and spa can be heated, the area is used year-round. “I had to fish my husband out of the spa this morning at 1 a.m.,” Laurie laughs, “if that gives you any idea of how much we love it.” Charlotte’s thick canopy of trees, while prized most of the year, can become a pain in the drain – literally – in the fall. Still, contractors notice that few local homeowners cover their pools in the winter. Nets go into place in the fall when the leaf-shedding is reaching its peak, but usually come back off by Christmas. “(The owners) like to look out onto the back yard year-round and see the poolscape,” says Jim King of Carolina Pool King. Indeed, maintenance is one of the issues homeowners should consider before having a pool installed. “A very small percentage of our customers hire someone to come in to clean and maintain their pools,” says Robinson of Anthony & Sylvan. “Once we go out and conduct ‘pool school’ after the pool is installed, most homeowners realize it’s pretty easy and they can do it on their own.” All of the builders agree that homeowners should wade into a pool project carefully. “There are so many elements that have to come together seamlessly,” says Lombardo. “A pool is a big project, so I’d advise anyone who’s thinking about it to get references, find a company with a proven track record who’s going to stay in business, and somebody who’s going to continue to remain accountable to you. Having a superintendent, or project manager, that you can communicate with – and who’ll communicate with you -- is very important.” King agrees. “Go in person to see the company’s work elsewhere,” he advises. “Make sure their licenses and insurance are current. Check the Better Business Bureau. You’re looking to establish a long-lasting relationship.” Viewing online photos isn’t enough, because some firms might post images of other companies’ pools on their websites, he says. Robinson agrees. “You’ve got to take a company’s longevity and reputation into account so you have no worry that your warranties will be honored,” he says. Next is an analysis of the terrain itself, including slope and drainage, and such considerations as septic systems already in place, setbacks, easements, neighborhood covenants and other legal issues. Then come decisions about aesthetics and how best to integrate the pool design and its materials into the other new or existing structures on the property. Water treatment is another variable in the decision-making process. In the last five years, observes McDonnell of Blue Haven Pools, most residential pools installed locally are treated with so-called “saltwater,” thus reducing the chlorine content that used to turn eyes red and hair green. An additional recommended option for the whirlpool spa is an ozinator, which also lowers chlorine use and helps kill bacteria. The last big considerations in the design process involve how the pool will be used, and by whom. Is it mainly for the grandkids? Will it be used for serious lap swimming? Is it for other aquatic exercise, excellent for those with back problems or arthritic joints? A place simply to cool off after tennis? Or just a tempting backdrop for entertaining? Obviously, turning your vision for a fantasy poolscape into reality takes more than a bulldozer and a hose. With the right designer and construction team, however, your lawn can evolve into a relaxing, resort-worthy retreat.

More information

Anthony & Sylvan Pools

Blue Haven Pools & Spas

Carolina Pool King

Lombardo Swimming Pool Company

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