Others are so upstaged by lush landscaping, outdoor kitchens and even putting greens, says Don Gwiz, principal of Fairfax County-based Lewis Aquatech, that “you might think, ‘Oh, there’s a pool, too.’”
“It’s more about the architecture and the floor plan,” says Gwiz, who specializes in high-end pools.
Given that a standard model can cost as much as $150,000, a pool is about as practical as a sports car. Still, experts say it’s important to be pragmatic about this luxury. In considering a pool, homeowners should ask themselves: How much will it cost, and how long will it take to install? What’s the permitting process like in my community? How much will it cost in time and money to maintain?
“It might be different for a typical family who just wants to get the kids wet and a couple in retirement,” says Chuck Browning, head of construction at Germantown-based Browning Pools. He says the homeowner’s priorities will determine what kind of materials are used and the layout.
A large, shallow area — sometimes called a “sun shelf” or a “kids’ zone,” depending on the client — is showing up in many pools, Browning says. The wading area (which can be a level 18 inches or slope to three feet) is even an option in vinyl-lined pools.
Rectangular pools remain a classic choice, he says. In addition to providing a timeless look, automatic covers can be installed, which reduces the maintenance requirements. A solar cover also helps heat the pool, Browning says.
The free-form pool is among the most popular options, especially on the high end. “It looks like it was meant to be there,” says Don Nesmith, a landscape architect and president of Gainesville-based Land and Water Design.
Boulders, hills stone paths and waterfalls can create an organic look. Pebblelike textures, which can be applied in a range of colors, on the bottom and sides of the pool add to the illusion of being natural.
Ron and Lynne Bergman opted for the free-form look when they had a pool installed in their backyard in Potomac.
“We wanted it to feel like a resort,” Lynne Bergman says. “No matter where you stand, the view is gorgeous.”
In addition to their free-form saltwater pool, the couple has a putting green, an outdoor kitchen and fire pit, and a cabana.
No matter the shape, about 75 percent of the pools installed by Browning Pools have some kind of water feature.
Waterfalls are the most popular, Browning says. There are two kinds: the type that makes water churn and foam as it descends and the type that sends water in “sheets” over a sheer drop.
There are also fountain jets, arcs and various other cascades, many of them highlighted by LED lighting fixtures.
“I think a lot of people like [the water features] because they drown out adjacent sounds, such as traffic,” Nesmith says. “They have also become a focal point for landscape designs.”