Home & Garden

To Infinity and Beyond: What’s new in swimming pools

Paramount Stoneworks' textured marble.
Luxury Living Tampa Bay

The backyard pool, that emblem of the Florida good life, has undergone a transformation of late. Whether you’re building a brand new pool or renovating an existing one, there are myriad ways to inject this essential amenity with new vigor.

Get Chill

We’ve all thought, or heard, this during the summer months: “I’d love to go for a dip but what’s the use of jumping into a pool that’s 92 degrees?” 

What if, instead, it was 82 degrees — even in the dead of August?

Pool owners can achieve this quite simply by introducing a heat pump that includes a chilling component. “It’s one of my favorite things to recommend,” says Bart O’Connell, CEO of Landmark Pools, based in Odessa. “It helps so much during the dog days, and increases pool usage.”

A no-brainer, right? Dual heat/cool pumps are more expensive than standard heat pumps, but not exorbitantly so. And they’re easily installed for existing pools. You’d think such a feature would be ubiquitous in the Sunshine State. Not so. “It’s a mistake the industry makes by not promoting both [hot and cold] options,” says John Thomas, CEO of Pinch-a-Penny. “Pools have gotten smaller and shallower as backyards have gotten smaller. That means the water gets hotter that much quicker. The chilling component is really an untapped opportunity.”

Get Smart

Not surprisingly, swimming pools have entered the Internet of Things. Pool owners can change light colors, turn on the heater (or chiller), rev up the spa, click on water features, set them all on timers, maybe even mix a gin and tonic — all with a few taps on a smartphone or tablet. “I’ve had customers who never used the hot tub ’cause they don’t know how to turn it on,” Thomas says. “With an automation system, I can be in China, turn on the hot tub for the kids, and within a few minutes it’ll be the right temperature. And I can change the pool lights from blue to red, for good measure.” And LED lighting, he adds, has changed the game. “You have a rainbow color spectrum at your disposal.” 

Get Extravagant

Landmark Pools recently built a pool with an unusual feature. O’Connell calls it a “jet tunnel: a walk-in area at one corner of the pool, where you can stand up and get a therapeutic jet massage.”

That’s but one example of the luxury features available in new pool construction. Here’s another:

We’re all familiar with infinity — or “negative edge” — pools. Those have gone to the next level. Bobby Alvarez, who constructs high-end custom homes, is seeing rectangular pools with a negative edge that goes around all four sides, where the decking and the pool water are the same height. It’s infinity — squared!

Get Grippy

When it comes to hardscaping — the decking area around the pool — travertine has been the go-to material for more than 10 years. Spring Hill-based Paramount Stoneworks brings an exciting new option to the poolside game: real marble that’s textured with a proprietary technique, making it two-and-a-half times more slip-resistant than travertine, says owner Ben Rossett. 

That’s not to mention its enhanced color brilliance, durability, stain-resistance and smoothness (yes, smoother and grippier). Paramount sources its stone from an area of the world that Rossett will not reveal. “It’s basically been in the ground a million years longer than travertine, making it much denser,” he says. 

Get Vibrant

For decades, the standard pool finish was some shade of aqua, which over time tended to get dull, which turned into boring. About 15 years ago, using glass beads to make a pool-finish compound vastly broadened the underwater color spectrum. But glass beads tended to break apart, so manufacturers started mixing them with other stuff.

These days, the most popular material at Fort Myers-based Infinite Pool Finishes is a 50/50 blend of glass beads and pebbles, says regional sales manager Eddie Bohn. “You get the color vibrancy from the beads and the longevity of the pebbles,” he adds.

Pool finishes come in any color imaginable. Although aqua and gray-hued “Tahoe blue” remain popular, some customers are going bolder. “We introduced a new color called In the Mood blue, which is really vibrant,” Bohn says “Our owner’s wife is obsessed with the color purple, so we finished their pool with a purple-y blue. We could finish a pool in bright red if someone asked.” 

Get Sleek

In terms of contemporary pool design, contractors are seeing a shift toward a more minimal, modern look. O’Connell says that Landmark still builds some huge, multi-fingered resort-style pools with waterfalls, cliffs, rocks and other paraphernalia. But it’s more common to think of the pool as part of an overall backyard experience. And that increasingly means clean, simple lines.

“It really comes down to what kind of space you have,” he says. “These days, we have a lot of nicer homes built on smaller pieces of land. People aren’t concerned with having a 40-by-20 pool, or one with a crazy shape or rock work. They’re concerned with efficiently using the space.”

Jack Barnwell, owner of C3 Gardens, which designs and installs foliage for pools, sees it much the same. “You tend to see a more limited color palette of plants, maybe even one big central piece, rather than wild bursts of color all around… You’ve seen the reality shows about people decluttering their lives. These days, people are decluttering their pools.”

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