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Pools Redesigned as Architectural Element Rather Than Focal Point

June 03, 1989|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

First there was the baby boom. Then parents, basking in the nation's nouveau affluence, looked for ways to keep all those children entertained.

Along came the swimming pool boom. Pools went down as routinely as tract houses went up.

Three standard shapes--kidney, rectangular and circular--were all the rage. An obligatory diving board stood as the pool's sole decoration. Lawn furniture, a couple of trees and a swing set completed the home's exterior design.

Twenty-five years later, those water holes of yesteryear look as if they belong in a Doris Day movie. Kidney-shaped pools are as out of fashion as Twiggy-shaped models.

What's a homeowner to do?

Well, nothing is always an option, if that's what your budget dictates. But should you have an extra $15,000 to $25,000 put away for home improvements, you might consider giving your outdated pool a face lift.

Tustin residents Roland and Yoko DeAenlle installed their kidney-shaped pool 15 years ago, when their kids were grade-schoolers and their tastes were simpler.

"We didn't do any planning; we didn't know what we were doing," Yoko DeAenlle admitted. "The pool took up 80% of our back yard. There was barely any room to walk around it. I was always afraid that somebody would fall in."

After her three children grew up and left home, she and her husband decided to spiff up their great outdoors. They started by expanding their property--buying the next lot, which will eventually be the setting for a Japanese garden, a gazebo, maple trees and a pond with waterfalls.

Even with the extra space, the DeAenlles decided that their circa-1973 pool was just too big, just too awkward. So they hired Santa Ana landscape architect Carl A. Vella Jr. to draw up a new plan.

"Before, when you walked out the sliding glass door, the first thing you had to do was watch out for the pool," Vella said. His map sheared 15 feet off the 41-foot-long pool, distancing it from the house.

Today the DeAenlles' pool hardly resembles its former self. New walls turned the curves into straight lines, which form angles of various degrees. A waterfall, trickling over a hill of rocks, replaced the diving board as the pool's centerpiece.

The pool is angular without being rectangular. "A rectangular pool inside a rectangular yard draws your view to the shortest span of the yard," Vella said. "The pool dominates the yard."

Vella's angles, however, direct the eye to the side yard's gardens and beyond. "The pool becomes an architectural element, a feature rather than the focal point," he said.

You can expect to spend the same amount of money (about $20,000) reshaping an old pool that you would installing a new one. Still, you will save about $10,000 in demolition costs by working with an existing hole, rather than starting from scratch.

Ben Qualls, vice president and co-owner of Mission Viejo-based Benchmark Pools & Spas, estimated that a third of his 200 projects last year were pool renovations.

"We build new walls inside the pool, make the pool more shallow, add benches and waterfalls," he said. "A big portion of our business is adding spas.

"By the time a pool gets to be 15 or 20 years old, it often needs some maintenance. The piping has corroded, there are leaks. So that can be a good time to go in and update the pool while you're at it."

Most of his remodeling customers first and foremost want to reduce the size of their pools. "Pools put in 20 years ago were too big for Southern California lots," Qualls said. "They took up the whole back yard. But swimming in it is only one function of a pool. The surrounding space used for socializing is equally important.

"A pool has two values: aquatic and aesthetic."

Randy Hlubik, a Riverside-based landscape architect and president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, agreed that the assets of a pool are not purely liquid.

"When you stop and think about how much time you're in the water, compared to how much time you're simply looking at the pool and enjoying its beauty, you realize the ratio is probably 1 to 99," Hlubik said.

Since the boom in pool construction that began 30 years ago, many homes have changed hands two or three times. "The new owner takes a look at his back yard and wonders how he can enhance it," Hlubik said.

However, he added, once homeowners assess the cost of reshaping a pool, they often decide to settle for less drastic renovations.

"They suddenly realize that they can live with the existing pool," he said.

Laguna Hills landscape architect Stan Smith said: "Adding a waterfall and renovating the deck can substantially change the look of a pool without the cost of building new walls inside it."

"Updating a pool is a major capital investment," warned Jim Bogdanof, owner of Shoreline Concepts Inc., based in Huntington Beach. "I tell my customers who want to reshape their pools, 'Picture Pandora's box.' Costs can keep piling up. You don't know what you're getting into until you've already gotten into it.

"You're not just dealing with a pool; you might have to do additional demolition along the way. You might have to pull out some old pipes, redo the plumbing. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money."

Still, Bogdanof said, modernizing a pool increases the value of a home: "A house with an ugly pool can be a little difficult to sell. It's not like buying a car. You can't trade in a pool 2 years later; you're stuck with it."

The DeAenlles have no intention of selling their upgraded swimming pool--nor, incidentally, the house that goes with it.

"Now when we have parties, there is room for the guests to stand around the pool," Yoko DeAenlle said. "We have an adult back yard."

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