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Make a Splash

Fun, fitness, peaceful escape — there’s a pool for anyone.



It’s summer and nothing says easy living like an inviting swimming pool just steps away from your back door. Whether you dream of a pool that welcomes play, keeps you active or allows you to simply float, there’s one that’s just right for you. Here are six worth diving into.

Splashes of Fun

Tim Porter

WHO WOULDN’T WANT to live at the beach? Even if you don’t have beachfront property, you can make your backyard feel like it with a beach-entry pool.

That’s what Jim Bradanini’s clients wanted for their Tiburon backyard when they asked him to design a family-friendly, lagoon-like pool with a beach entry. Ideally, it would also have a nearby lawn and patio where they could comfortably watch from “shore” as their children played in the water.

Bradanini, president of Bradanini and Associates Landscape Architecture in Mill Valley, set to work on plans for a 55-foot-long free-form pool that varies in width up to 20 feet; he finished it in durable, sand-colored PebbleTec. He brought in about 30 tons of boulders to edge the pool and the spa and laid a bluestone terrace nearby, installing a palapa shade structure there for a tropical resort feel.

A few years later, Eric and Maria Clothier purchased the property and enthusiastically took to the pool. A boulder at the deep end is a natural diving board for the kids; an unmarked lane the length of the pool works well for Eric to do laps; and the beach entry provides a cool place for older adults to sit and dip their toes without having to negotiate ladders or steps. The pool even features safe access for the family’s 6-year-old golden retriever, Nelly.

“A beach entry is good for dogs because they can get confused and in trouble in a pool if they can’t find the stairs,” Maria explains. “We always joke that we can’t move, even when we’re empty nesters, because Nelly would miss the pool too much.”

If a site doesn’t have enough length, at least 30 feet, for a beach-entry pool, Bradanini suggests a shallow entry pool. It can have a landing step large enough to hold deck chairs and safe enough for younger children to enjoy.

WISHFUL THINKING CAN pay off when you plan the pool of your dreams.

An offhand comment from a Kentfield homeowner prompted Warren Simmonds, principal of San Anselmo’s Simmonds and Associates Landscape Architecture, to design that client a surprise.

Simmonds proposed to tuck an 85-foot-long slide into the property’s hillside, complete with four twists — two of them hairpin turns — that would swiftly conduct swimmers through a subtropical landscape before depositing them, with a splash, into a renovated 20-by-40-foot pool finished in Tahoe Blue plaster.

“My client thought it would be cool to put a slide there, but he really didn’t think it could be done,” Simmonds says. So Simmonds promptly came up with three designs, one of them featuring a spa and a slide. Fortunately for the fun-loving client, that design won.

The landscape architect installed a commercial-grade, fiberglass slide made by a water park supplier. He says such slides are so well engineered they can handle adults and even groups of children who want to slide down together. Stairs on either side of the pool ascend to the top of the slide, where feet can be quickly rinsed off in a concrete basin with a foot-activated valve before the next ride.

Proper topography is essential for a good slide, Simmonds says. “You have to have the right amount of slope, and the slide length is determined by the steepness of the slope. The steeper the slope, the more twists and turns you can add, and that makes it more fun because you can’t see what’s around the corner.”

Essential Escape

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN all you want is to enjoy lazy afternoons in your quiet backyard but your next-door neighbor wants to enjoy his newly installed sport court?

If you’re the Novato client who called Herb’s Pool Service, you head for the pool. Not a big swimming pool, but a smaller “cooling off” pool that’s only 12 by 24 feet with a Tahoe Blue StoneScapes finish, ideal for casual use. You’d also add a decorative wall with fountains that make just enough noise to filter out the sounds of bouncing basketballs and youthful cheering.

“Our client had a waterfall and pools at his other homes and he thought he’d rather listen to the sound from a water feature than the sounds coming from a sport court,” project manager Tim Lindelli says. “He’s told us he loves this pool.”

Lindelli has also had success installing pools with water features that muffle sounds from a nearby busy road. “You just have to create (pleasing) sounds of your own to drown out other sounds. Variable-speed pumps and well-placed fountains can help do that.”

AN INFINITY-EDGE POOL exudes effortless serenity. But when the rooftops of homes below visually disrupt the horizon and endless water view, the soothing is … interrupted.

That’s why Jared Polsky of Larkspur’s Polsky Perlstein Architects, working with Imprints Landscape Architecture in Mill Valley, stepped away from the edge, so to speak.

Instead of placing his client’s pool at the far edge of the property line, the designers placed it just far enough back to create the look and feel of an infinity pool without the attendant trough-and-pool-water recycling system.

Once you’re floating or slashing in the water, the world disappears except for the waves and boats in the bay and the daytime sky with soaring birds overhead. And the best part: there isn’t a rooftop to be seen.

“The owner wanted the feel of a retreat,” Polsky says, and because designers made sure the clean lines of the home merged well with the low-profile landscape, “the whole property is very restful.”

Get Active

LAP POOLS ARE great for those who want to concentrate on their swimming, but the pool’s dimensions need to smartly serve that function.

“Make it as long as you can so you don’t have to do hundreds of extra flip-turns and make sure it’s deep enough so you don’t hit your head doing a flip-turn,” advises Eric Blasen of Blasen Landscape Architecture in San Anselmo.

His recent clients wanted their lap pool to offer some privacy yet still be seen from the second story of their Belvedere home. Working with the home’s designer, BCV Architects in San Francisco, Blasen created a white plaster swimming space that evokes a long, narrow reflecting pool.

Set behind a privacy wall high enough to block rooftops but not the sparkling waters of the bay, the pool has a series of small water jets that provide a pleasantly gentle sound; nearby landscaping softens the external angles.

“Lots of people like to swim laps in a lap pool,” Blasen says. “But these pools can also be really elegant looking and work very well in a small space.”

WHEN PETE PEDERSEN’S client bought her home in Tiburon in 2012, she made a rather unusual request regarding the existing pool. She wanted a place to practice her favorite sport — fly-fishing — in her back yard, so Pedersen designed a landscape and a revamped lap pool that beautifully accommodates that wish.

"She's very good and travels all over the world to fly-fish,” says the landscape architect and principal of Pedersen Associates in San Rafael. “We set up the lawn so she can stand in the middle of it and have enough space behind her for her ‘back cast’ and enough space in front of her so she can lay her fly and line gently on the water.”

Besides getting a new blue Pebble Sheen finish, the pool coping was modified to accommodate a pool cover, and the old-school chlorine plumbing was outfitted with an eco-friendly ultraviolet-light sanitation system.

“For people who are looking for alternatives to chlorine or saltwater pools, the UV system is the most benign,” Pedersen says. “It’s a technology used to purify drinking water systems, and I think what sealed it for my client was the fact that the retrofit wasn’t a huge expense (less than $3,000) relative to the other systems that provide a clean pool and was essentially chemical free.”

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