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Two Local Pros Dive Into Pool Design

In order for the free-form pool to make sense within its space, pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi echoed its curves in elements such as the spa and the planter.

By John Roark | Photo by Michael Woodall

In the 1990s, the, amoeba-shaped, free-form swimming pool was a common backyard addition. “Oftentimes when you built a house the pool package that came with it gave you option A, B or C,” says landscape architect Mary Estes. “As a result, now there are a lot of swimming pools that homeowners are not quite sure what to do with.”

You may be pondering just such an anachronism: a cement pond that is out of sync with its surroundings. “A swimming pool doesn’t work as its own entity; it needs to have a reason why,” says pool and landscape designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Kirk Bianchi. “In the Southwest, we spend a lot of our time outdoors, and we want our exterior spaces to make sense.”

Here are solutions for transforming your existing free-form poolscape by taking cues from both the pool’s inherent attributes and your home’s architecture.


The key to integrating a naturalistic pool is to create a context where it looks like it belongs, not like it was forced into a box,” says Bianchi. “When I design a pool from scratch, I’m creating elements in the yard that influence the shape of the pool. If you’re reversing the process, you have to make the yard make sense around the existing pool.”

Bianchi recommends celebrating the character of the pool and echoing its attributes elsewhere within the landscape. “I look at a jelly bean-shaped pool and ask, why is it bending? What gravitational force is pushing it into this arc? Then, because it often doesn’t exist, I will create the reason, by, for example, placing a circular element such as a fire pit or seating area within that crescent. Now, when you’re sitting around that fire feature, you have the sense that the pool is sweeping around you.”

This plan by Bianchi shows the incorporation of arcs inspired by the existing kidney-shaped pool integrated into the backyard landscape.

To further echo the pool’s curvature, Bianchi recommends employing arcs throughout the landscape. Pay homage to the pool with circular stepping stones leading between areas, or add curving arbors, seating areas, planters and sinuous walls of color. “These elements will resonate with what the pool gave you. You will create a unifying harmony, so that the pool isn’t just an accident or an anomaly in the space,” he says.


“Typically you will find a 3-foot-wide deck all the way around an organic-shaped pool. There is no reason it has to be that way; in fact, it probably shouldn’t be,” says Estes. She advocates creating decking that has an architectural relation to the home. “By squaring off the hardscape and making it relevant to your architecture, you create uniformity. Mimic the lines and angles of your house. Carry hard surfaces, such as outdoor flooring, stacked stone or stucco, into the pool area. Even changing waterline tile is a little improvement that goes a long way.”

Diversity can also be achieved by varying levels within your space. “Many lots in Arizona are very flat, but small changes in elevation can help to define outdoor rooms,” Estes continues. “Raised decks, elevated patios, sunken areas, even a 6-inch-high curb will provide visual variety and interest.”

Landscape architect Mary Estes took cues from the home’s linear architecture to fashion a squared-off open patio surrounding the existing free-form pool. “Creating relationships between the elements results in a cohesive whole,” she says.
What was once an oddly shaped pool in the middle of a featureless backyard is now an inviting oasis. Extending the hardscape from the patio door into the poolscape creates harmony between the areas.

Estes recommends starting with a list of features you want to incorporate—for example, covered patios, shade structures, fire pits or lounge areas—and then getting creative about where those elements can go. Look at your space with a new eye and forget about what you have been living with. “Establishing relationships between the different elements creates a cohesive whole,” she explains. “Everything should have a logical relationship to the pool as well as to the house. Where those elements best belong may surprise you.”

That irregularly shaped, curvilinear body of water in your backyard isn’t just the pool you inherited. Think of it as an opportunity—the launching pad for the backyard you didn’t realize was waiting to happen.

For more information, see Sources.


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