In the Swim of Things
Make a splash with the next big wave in pool and cabana design.
The Next Wave
New trends in pools and pool houses that are making a splash
By Joanne Furio
It’s no coincidence that much of the dramatic action in The Great Gatsby takes place poolside. By the 1920s, an era renowned for its decadence and luxury, pools were the newest status symbol.
The first home pools were the province of the very rich; one of America’s first was built for the Vanderbilts in Asheville, NC, in 1895. Twenty-four years later, E.L. Wagner of New York became the first company to begin building home pools, which led to their popularization. The company Wagner founded, now called Wagner Pools, is today located in Bridgeport, CT and, as a result of its long history, has grown to become one of the largest and most respected pool companies in the region.
Today, pools can be found in the backyards of many suburban split-levels, though they are still considered a cost- and labor-intensive summer luxury. Cabanas do make poolside entertaining so much easier, but require an even greater commitment to the backyard pool.
At this time of year, those of us who own pools start noticing what we’d like to improve or upgrade and wonder if this is the year we should take the next step and build a cabana. For those of us who have long considered a pool, the warmest months of the year are when our hankering for this backyard benefit becomes more acute.
Whether you’re in the market for something as simple as a new paint job for your pool’s interior, or something as complex as a new pool house adjacent to your tennis courts, you may want to consider the latest technologies and trends before you take the plunge.
Shape & Style
“What’s really out is free- form pools,” says Marc Evan Schwartz, a designer and salesperson for All American Custom Pools & Spas, Inc., in Norwalk, CT. More traditional pools are now gaining ground.
“Design-wise, the trend is going back to the traditional rectangular pool—only this time with huge, thick, wide coping stones [large stones that surround the edge of the pool and extend a few inches over the edge],” says Lois D’Uva, who, with her husband, Carmine, owns Carmine D’Uva General Contracting, Inc. in Katonah, which specializes in swimming pool construction. “Pools are being created with less deck around them. Sometimes the grass goes right up to the coping.”
Bottoms on the Up and Up
One of the hallmarks of the suburban pool—the white bottom—is on the wane. While pool shapes may be going more traditional, the new wave in interiors is toward more natural-looking surfaces. The biggest trend: the pebble finish. “This season I have contracted more pebble surfaces than plaster,” says D’Uva.
The finish consists of pebbles that are mined from rivers and reservoirs and screened and selected for their smoothness, round shape and color, then combined with a cement mixture. The finish is applied to pool walls and pool floors. Customers can choose from a pre-mixed stone assortment or a customized finish for which they can select the color background and pebbles.
Pebbles create an incredibly tactile surface, and an aesthetically desirable one, recreating the feeling of a rocky beach only without any jagged edges. “The combination of the stones with the colored background yields some unbelievably natural watercolor results,” says D’Uva.
A pebble finish also has some practical advantages: It lasts longer than plaster, is stain-resistant and retains heat better.
Perhaps the simplest way to update an older pool is to repaint or replaster the interior, usually to a more subtle gray or slate blue. Andrew Chary, a partner in the firm of Chary & Sigüenza in Bedford, who recently updated a 30-year-old Bedford pool and built a new cabana for it, explains the appeal: “The white bottom makes the pool look like it is in the Caribbean. That is not going to look well in a wooded setting. The gray makes it much more pond-like.”
In keeping with the naturalistic trend, saltwater is slowly replacing chlorine purification systems. Anna Torchia, who, with her husband Anthony, owns Coral Sea Pools in Briarcliff Manor, has seen the trend grow in the past five years and has switched to using saltwater in her own pool.
The biggest complaint about chlorine is that it’s drying (not to mention the havoc it wreaks on one’s hair color). “If you have children who swim every day, you have children with itchy skin,” says Torchia. She says saltwater systems are “really simple, low maintenance and pretty affordable.”
A chlorine pool has to be tested and given a dose of chlorine on a weekly basis. With a saltwater pool, “we do nothing but throw in a 50-pound bag of salt every two weeks,” Torchia says. “And we never have a problem with algae.”
Who could have imagined a time when the diving board would virtually disappear? “We’ve only installed a few diving boards in the last 10 years,” says Torchia. What’s in instead? The diving rock, literally a rock that extends over the pool’s edge.
According to Torchia, “the diving rock is more of a look than being actually useful for a dive,” since there’s no bounce. If you’ve ever imagined diving into a pond, this is how you can do so, without the sludge and the snakes.
Covering your pool at season’s end is a must—it keeps leaves and unintended visitors out. Still, many covers are dangers in and of themselves; few are strong enough to support a child or large animal that may accidentally wander onto its surface.
The solution is the more powerful auto-cover. Costing from $8,000 to $12,000, such covers automatically roll up and retract under one of the pool’s sides. Made of coated vinyl, an auto-cover is so sturdy, manufacturers claim a full-grown adult is able to walk across one. The only caveat: Your pool must be rectangular.
Whether you call it a cabana or a pool house, homeowners have been building them “since the swimming pool was invented,” says Gary Tyrrell, president and senior designer at Evan Wayne Associates, Inc., in Brookfield, CT, which designs pools and
The Price of Luxury. For those who already own a pool, a cabana is the next logical step—but a major leap in terms of cost. Top-of-the-line cabanas can be “every bit as expensive—if not more—than a house,” says architect Joseph P. Paiva of Briarcliff Manor. Architect Vincent Franze of Franz & Franze Architecture of Mt. Kisco agrees. Franze recently created a cabana for a client that cost $375,000. “Because a pool house is a small building, you lose the economy of scale,” he says. “It has everything a big house has—all the mechanical and electrical systems, kitchen cabinets and plumbing. All the trades are represented.”
A bare-bones cabana can start at $35,000 and end up between $50,000 to $75,000 with a bathroom.
The Minimum and Maximum. At the very least, a cabana provides a place to change in and out of bathing gear. What really jacks up the price is the addition of a bathroom. Often there’s a logistical problem: The pool house might be so far from the house that you can’t connect to the sewer line. And, after a bathroom is added, cabanas tend to grow. “Before you know it, we have a building that includes a full kitchen, bathroom and changing area that’s not part of the powder room,” says Franze. “All of a sudden it starts to look like a cottage. The next thing you know, it has heat and air conditioning.”
Coordinating with the Main House... Cabana architecture increasingly is designed to relate to the main house. But just how much the two resemble one another often has to do with how far the main house is from the cabana—and personal taste.
“Based on our experience, people want to have the pool house look like something that goes with the main house,” says Franze. For a very formal, brick center-hall Colonial home in Chappaqua, Franz & Franze designed a pool house that also utilized brick and a lot of Colonial detailing, including a strong cornice. The cabana’s small pergola and columns mimic those on the main house. And in Bedford, Franz & Franze created a pool house that resembled a Shingle-style house, repeating the use of a pergola and materials
in the main house.
However, it’s not always a good idea for the pool house to have a strong architectural connection to the house. “If the pool doesn’t have a formal relationship to the house and is somewhat remote from the house, perhaps in a natural setting, the pool house should be integrated in that setting,” says Franze. “It may not make sense to have a mini-Georgian in the middle of the woods.”
Chary says the creation of a pool house gives a homeowner a unique opportunity to deviate somewhat from the architecture of the main house. “Ninety percent of our pool houses depart from the architectural style of the main house,” he says. “It’s a place where you can take risks and be more poetic and playful.” He adds: “I don’t want to walk away from my house and see a small version of my house.”
An example of that philosophy is seen in a pool house Chary & Sigüenza recently created in Bedford. The main house is a stately 1929 English country-style home with a slate roof. For the pool house, the architects chose a stone similar to that of the main house. They also repeated the home’s use of vintage steel casement windows, purchased from Seekircher Steel Window Repair of Scarsdale. As a luxurious finishing touch, the cabana was topped with slate roof tiles that had been salvaged from the main house when the main house got a new slate roof.
...Or Not. For some, the ultimate pool house is one that houses the pool. Evan Wayne Associates just completed a million-dollar natatorium (as this type of pool house is called) designed by Stamford-based architect Richard Coats in New Canaan. A 3,500-square-foot building, it includes a dining area, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, exercise room, TV room and, of course, the pool—it’s 38 feet long and 20 feet wide.
Architecturally, this particular natatorium is a departure from the house, a sprawling brick-and-clapboard ranch on seven acres. The pool house resembles a château, complete with a stucco exterior, two turrets and faux-painted interiors. It happens to be quite a distance from the main house—next to the tennis court.
Joanne Furio is a Cortlandt Manor-based home and design writer.