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How do you design a swimming pool, or more importantly what do you design when you design a swimming pool…?

Do you design the shape, size, and depth?

Do you design the finished look and feel?

Do you design what will be around the pool?


A big YES to all three, most architects design these and more to offer the client a complete package, and recently, quite a few of the homeowners have started taking an active interest in the design process to achieve not only the best looking, most usable but also supremely energy-efficient pools.

This, what we might say the Front-end part of the swimming pool design, is usually handled by the architects, interior designers and sometimes pro-active clients themselves.


What we swimming pool designers do is a little bit more involved, and we will come to that later but, as a start, the major factors to consider when designing the swimming pool in general are:

Why a pool? Is it essential?

A swimming pool is a commitment: construction costs, maintenance, treatment, energy, water use, and so on. You might want to weigh in the option of using the local club or gym for swimming rather than having your own pool and instead go for a built-in spa complex with a sauna & steam room, fit a gym or indeed install a cinema room or playroom in your new basement. The decision is entirely yours, but what you don't want to do is think back in the future that it was a wise decision at the time. If you want a pool, get a pool, period.


Having said that, it's important to assess how the swimming pool will actually be used, by whom, and for what, and to think about what the alternative uses of the space can be.

Where do you want it?

Outdoor swimming pools, when designed properly, look strikingly attractive and inviting on the right day, and with the use of heat retaining covers or rolling decks can be extremely energy efficient as well. However, if you want to swim all year round, indoor pools are the best option. The sliding telescopic enclosures to cover the pool in large gardens are quite popular outside of London and can extend the swimming season a few weeks on either side, but nothing beats a properly built indoor pool within an insulated building.


For an outdoor swimming pool, you might want to look for the largest area with the least obstructions, ensuring the most use of the sun, and ideally away from trees (less debris falling into the pool, root protection zones, avoiding overshadowing, etc). This will determine the available space and resulting pool size. Pools next to a water body or on a sloping garden make for a stunning feature, especially when approached as an infinity pool, connecting the water with fantastic views. You also will have to consider planning restrictions, though a residential garden pool at the back might normally not require consent, it is worth checking with the local planning authority as tree preservation orders, property listed status, conservation area constraints, and other factors might restrict what is possible.

Indoor pools offer year-round use in a controlled environment – ideal for the UK climate. These pools require more swimming pool design input not in terms of finishes to enhance the feel of the space and technical design for H&V installation, especially in the basement setting, but also in aspects such as acoustics and routine maintenance. There are also different approaches needed for ground-level pools like in extensions or garden buildings with plenty of natural light and ventilation, compared to basements where light and fit out will determine how one will feel in the space.

How will the pool be used?

The primary purpose of the pool has an impact on the shape, size, and depth as well as other functional extras, e.g. whether access should be via a ladder or steps. People choose to have swimming pools for a variety of different reasons and intentions, and these all affect the approach to the swimming pool design.

Remember : 'Form Follows Function'


Pool as a feature

A status or designer pool would be more refined, with practicality not necessarily the prime aspect (though still an important factor). A well-designed and well-executed pool would elevate the prestige and perception of a property. 


A striking outdoor feature pool will most likely require careful blending with the landscape composition, becoming an integral part of the surroundings and a real feature. Here materials will be rich and work in harmony with the water reflections, lighting, surrounding finishes, and perhaps even finishes that continue from the house connecting the inside with the outside for a formal evening entertaining backdrop.

An indoor designer pool, still using rich and sophisticated designs, will normally form part of a spa complex with additional functions that emphasise the luxurious lifestyle it addresses, like a steam room, sauna, spa, plunge pools, massage and beauty salons, home gym, etc. This will most often be a level deck pool, where the water level is flush with the flooring around.


Pool for relaxing

A pool that is focused on relaxation and contemplation will be approached as a retreat with softer colors and finishes, warmer water, and a zen feel with mood lighting and subtle details, facilitating mindfulness and time with oneself. Music, lighting, and even fragrance become very important, and having the facility in a basement might even augment the sensation of being completely separated from the surroundings.


Pool for family fun


A family pool can be more creative with a shape that evokes playfulness, with features such as jets and integrated seating, a shallow lounging area, or a secluded retreat. Practical things need to be considered more carefully, such as slip resistance, and parents will want to consider mitigating sharp edges and corners, picking splash-resistant and durable finishes, and considering acoustic treatment to walls to mitigate noise build-up, as well as access via friendly steps to shallow water rather than ladders straight into the deep. Practicality and safety are key here. Due to the wide user age range, a family pool also needs enhanced safety in relation to access and monitoring. The depth of the pool should be adjusted to the intended use; avoiding sudden and steep slopes.


Pool for excercise


If the swimming pool is purely for sport, this needs a regular shape with clear swimming lanes, an adequate length for doing laps. It can be less decorative, focusing on performance (visual, spatial, and functional); for example, the end of the pool should be clearly visible whilst swimming, the shell robust enough for turns, lanes clear of any protrusions such as steps into the pool. Where length is not available, options such as a counter current swimming jet machine are available. These solutions can be introduced into bespoke pools, but we also offer proprietary prefabricated small swimming pools that provide current for swimming and are integrated with spa function and may even have an underwater treadmill for exercising.


Pool Finishes

Swimming pool finishing materials are directly linked to the function. Some pools will benefit from lighter touches, others will be better off with a darker color palette. Textured walls and intricate ceilings will help with the acoustic environment. Lighting and feature walls such as planting (to be selected to work with the pool environment or use high-quality artificial options which help with acoustics as well) will bring calm and a sense of homeliness to the decor. A feature pool will focus on quality and visual impact, whilst dynamic use will require the durability and practicality of the materials, including slip resistance or being able to withstand staining or chemical deterioration. A dark pool will certainly be a statement, but lighting is key. This will also warm up more with solar gains and so it will be good for an outdoor pool here, whilst in a hot climate, this might not necessarily be the best option.

The finishes also need to work with the available light; will the swimming pool be naturally lit (e.g. on the ground floor or lower ground floor with a light well, or skylights when in a basement), or will this be a fully artificial scheme? Finishes can range from applied in situ monolithic mineral coatings (e.g. aggregate pool finishes), through vinyl linings, to the usual tiling approach, whether in tiles or mosaics. There are also stainless-steel pools that seem to be growing in popularity as well as glazed walls. All materials, especially natural such as stone, must be confirmed with the manufacturer that the proposed use is appropriate for the selected finish.

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So what do swimming pool designers do…?

What swimming pool designers like us, can do best is to assist both the architect and the homeowner to achieve what end result is desired, or as close as possible, with full functionality and hopefully above-par energy efficiency. And what we ideally should also do is to make sure that we advise on the don’ts as much as the do’s so that the expectations are managed and met, if not exceeded.

To be precise, we do the Back-end development (in IT language), taking care of the stuff that the swimmers never see but makes the pool work. It is our job to make sure that the water in the pool is clean, hygienic, safe, and at the right temperature.


In terms of the actual pool build, you can have a variety of options at various price points, starting with above-ground timber framed pools at the bottom end to the fully tiled concrete pools at the top, with vinyl-lined block pools and fibreglass pools sitting somewhere in between, but these are all basically the tank that holds the water that you swim in, and technically they all serve the same purpose. 

The most important part of the design is the circulation of water within the pool, as that is what will affect the uniformity of temperature in the pool water and also the distribution of the pool sanitiser, and after that probably the design of filtration of that water that happens in the swimming pool plant room. Pool water heating is also a subject of proper detailed design but we will come to that later, especially when we talk about indoor pools.

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