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NUTS AND BOLTS : Residential Pools Take On Look of Small Oasis

September 29, 1990|PATRICK MOTT

Staying on the cutting edge, status-wise, can be a real chore around here.

Everybody was just getting used to drinking Perrier with lime when it suddenly became de rigueur to lug around a big bottle of fashionably non-carbonated Evian and take frequent and flamboyant pulls on it.

Then the '65 Mustang becomes a retro gold mine, and now people can't junk their Beamers fast enough. And if anybody discovers how really swell a Patek Philippe watch is, all those clunky Rolexes are going to mainspring heaven.

So it's a real pity about those poor folks with back-yard pools big enough to dry dock the Exxon Valdez. They're un-chic.

Yes, in the contemporary world of today's Southern Cal back yard, the Lake Huron-size pool, shaped like a pancreas and complete with diving board, slide, racing lane dividers, rubber inflatable beach toys and a cabana full of whooshing and gulping machinery is . . . out.

Small is in.

These days, pool buyers are looking for something that looks less like the municipal plunge and more like a private oasis.

"People are really trying to customize their pools," said Elizabeth Nelson, a spokeswoman for the National Pool and Spa Institute. "Years ago, in the '50s and '60s, there were only a couple of kinds of pools: rectangular or kidney-shaped. Now we have better technology and there are a lot more options. A lot of them are being designed like a home resort, customized to a person's lifestyle."

That lifestyle has become somewhat minimalist in Southern California, at least more so than in the days when having a built-in pool meant kissing the grass goodby, paving over the back yard and plunking a large and unadorned 8-foot-deep pool into the center of it all.

Today's typical pool is smaller, shallower and a lot more interesting to look at than its cousins from 30 years ago, said Jay Bullard, president of Aquarius Aquatech Custom Pools and Spas in Mission Viejo.

The depth of the average built-in is now around 5 feet, he said, and diving boards and slides are no longer considered standard equipment because of owners' worries about injury and liability. Instead, potential buyers want bubbles.

"Almost every residential pool we build comes with a spa these days," he said.

Also, many pool buyers now have less space to work with. Lots of yards, especially new yards, are smaller than they were 25 years ago, Bullard said.

More buyers, then, are settling on what the industry often calls a "play pool"--something to lounge around in and occasionally splash a little water. And, since they're not going to be doing any serious lap swimming or diving, one of the principal selling points of that type of pool is scenery.

"People are looking for the aesthetic value of a pool," Bullard said. "That tends to be a big factor."

And, he said, with new technology, aesthetics can mean almost anything. For instance, he said, one of the most significant pool landscaping trends in the last five years has been the use of artificial rock, made from molded concrete.

"It's the kind of thing you see at Disneyland," Bullard said. "They'll find interesting rock formations out in the field and make latex molds of them. Rather exotic looks are developed as a result. It allows for installation of what appears to be far larger boulders, and waterfalls can be made more watertight."

The aesthetics now encompass even the interior lining of the pool, he said. "It used to be just plaster," he said. "Then it evolved to colors of plaster, which you still see. Now there's Pebble Tec."

A brand name, Pebble Tec is finely graded smooth rock. It is, Bullard said, "like looking at smooth pebbles in a creek through running water, and it's much more durable" than plaster.

It is, however, more expensive than plaster, to the tune of about $2,500 for an average-size pool--that in addition to the $25,000 price tag that Bullard said is the statistical average for a back-yard built-in with an adjoining spa and "the normal amount of decking and masonry."

You can ease some of the sting, however, by installing one of the new generations of circulating pumps. Today, Bullard said, it's possible to buy a pump for your spa or pool that has two speed settings. Running the pump on low speed, he said, will circulate the water half as fast as high speed, but will only cost one-sixth as much to operate.

And if your pool happens to be fashionably small--which means a small surface area--you can put less demands on your pool heater, Bullard said.

For the true minimalist, however--the aspiring channel swimmer with a back yard about the size of a lifeboat--there is the swim spa. Slightly larger than a normal spa (about eight to 12 feet long), the swim spa is fitted with two or more jets at one end that create a current of water to swim against. It is, however, a Sisyphus-like exercise; you are literally swimming in place.

If this turns into exercise-aversion therapy, however, you can always stop swimming. Tell anyone who's watching that those pesky pool contractors forgot to put jets in the other end of your unusually large spa. Then smile and take a big slug of Evian.

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