The Great Outdoors

Main Line pools and their environs are becoming more exotic than ever.

At one time, pools were the must-have item to keep the kids entertained in the warm months. These days, there’s more to it than that. A pool is often the stunning showpiece in an elaborate outdoor living environment.

Many homeowners are putting as much thought, effort and financial investment into their outdoor areas as they are their interior spaces. With the right ideas—and an expert pool and landscape design team to execute those ideas—your creation will have you wishing Main Line summers were longer. Much longer.

Robert Nonemaker’s clients all have one thing in common: They want their homes’ outdoor spaces to remind them of the places where they vacation. “People have very sophisticated tastes,” says Nonemaker, principal of OuterSpaces in Glen Mills. “They want the ultimate getaway to be in their backyard.”

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OuterSpaces began as a landscape design construction company more than 20 years ago. In 2000, Nonemaker added pool design and construction to address a glaring need. “There was a disconnect between the pool designer and the landscape designer,” he says. “Now that we do both the landscape and the pools, we can ensure they blend together as they should.”

With their current on-the-go lifestyles, people often spend more time looking at their pools than they do actually swimming in them, so it’s important to create an environment that’s both practical and beautiful. Nonemaker is a member of the prestigious Genesis 3, a group of top pool builders nationwide “committed to raising the standards in the swimming pool, spa and water-feature industry by providing continuing education for quality-oriented professionals.”

Since 1998, Genesis 3 has sponsored a series of themed educational programs featuring international experts in the design and construction fields. Nonemaker himself has embarked on international tours of such exotic locales as Turkey, Egypt, China and Venice to study the art and architecture, and gain inspiration from the pool and landscape designs he sees.

“I’m not in the business of selling cookie-cutter projects, and I don’t have a typical client,” he says. “Every project is different, and every pool and landscape has to fit with the home.”

Empire Pool & Spa created this backyard wonderland with
a waterslide.

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Here and Now

What makes a designer above average, says Nonemaker, is his knack for fashioning an environment utterly in tune with the home for which it is created. The options are limited only by budget. On one hand, a client may opt for a simple, rectangular pool with Pennsylvania fieldstone decking and comfy lounge chairs. On the other, they might envision a private lagoon with manmade waterfalls and boulders. Either extreme is possible.

Nonemaker recently finished an eight-acre project at a 43,000-square-foot French chateau-style home in Gladwyne. It includes a vanishing-edge pool, two fountains (one timed to music), and an outdoor kitchen with trompe l’oeil ceilings. Nonemaker also is working with the owners of an 18-acre estate in Radnor who have plans for underground wine and spa rooms, a pool, two fireplace areas, and a gourmet kitchen.

“People most often say, ‘Make something spectacular for me,’” says Nonemaker. “And that’s what our company is known for: creating spectacular landscapes.”

If a client doesn’t have a particular style in mind, Nonemaker goes about the creative process much in the same way an interior designer approaches the inside of a home. “I start by using tons of images with my clients,” he says. “I look to see what ones they respond to, and then we go from there in creating a unique project for them.”

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The pool and spa industry has undergone a dramatic evolution in recent years. Modern upgrades incorporate everything from exotic materials to fiber-optic lighting, and intricate water features of all sorts are popular. Freeform-style pools are designed to resemble lakes and ponds, with gurgling jets mimicking nature. Sliding boards built into the rocks are a source of fun for kids and adults alike, and their aesthetic appeal is obvious. Streams of water can arch over the pool—or opt for a stone wall with dramatic sheer-descent waterfalls.

Another growing trend is thermal-edge pools, which feature a large shelf area of shallow water for sitting or sunbathing. It’s perfect for younger children who want to play at the water’s edge, or those who like to get their feet wet first. Umbrellas and lounge chairs are often positioned at the entry area.

A recent project by Wolff Pools of West Chester.

Designed on one side to appear as if water is flowing into the horizon, vanishing-edge pools are a great option for properties with extraordinary views. Still, custom pool and spa builder John Giuliani, of John A. Giuliani & Son in Bryn Mawr, urges clients to think carefully before deciding on one, advising them to see beyond their obvious beauty and consider their practicality.

“You don’t have complete decking around the pool for kids, and that could be a problem,” Giuliani says. “After the initial thrill is gone, some homeowners reconsider their decision.”

All-tiled pools are creating a stir among those looking for a custom look. Any color—from bold reds to subtle beiges —can be used in solid or more artistic patterns. Such distinctive beauty comes at a price—and a steep one at that. “An all-tiled interior can raise the cost of the pool by at least $100,000,” says Nonemaker. “The considerable difference in price makes many people reconsider before making that investment.”

Some compromise by tiling the exterior of an above-ground spa, so they still get a unique look without having to spend so much for it.

White lights have always been the classic choice for illuminating the inside of a pool. These days, LED lights in a rainbow of colors—from green and pink to purple and red—also brighten up the underwater view. They’re available in two types: standard or computer-customized. “Customers can choose from thousands of colors to create the exact color of light they want,” says Nonemaker of the latter option. “It’s equivalent to the lights you see on the fountains at casinos.”

Some local pool owners even go so far as installing multicolored strobe-type lights. “A white-finish interior has to be used so the colors can be seen,” says Tad Wolff, sales manager at Wolff Pools in West Chester.

A formal design by OuterSpaces, with a half-circle spa.

Spa and Tech Speak

Pools are fun for all ages, but spas are a place for adults to really unwind—which is why most clients request one. A spa can go pretty much anywhere—inside the pool, next to it, or someplace close by. Even better, a spa can be used long after its larger, chillier counterpart is covered for the season.

A popular choice is the stainless steel spa by North Carolina’s Bradford Products. It’s more durable than fiberglass, acrylic or concrete. It won’t crack, blister or absorb stains or germs. And its interior can be customized with tile to accent the beauty of the stainless steel.

Prices are steep: A stainless steel spa can start at $40,000. But it’s well worth it, says Nonemaker. “Its quality is beyond anything else on the market,” he says.

Positioning the spa near an outdoor fireplace makes for a perfect romantic retreat. A heated walkway to the house is an added luxury (no more cold feet in chilly months).

Pool and spa ownership has gotten easier over the past few years thanks to computerized systems that control everything from water features to filtration from inside the home or via a computer at work. Wolff says close to 75 percent of his clients opt for one.

“I equate having the pool and spa automated with watching TV with a remote or without one,” says Wolff. “Some people don’t mind getting up and changing the channel—and many others don’t want to be bothered.”

Swimming in Green

The pool and spa industry is urging clients to do their part for the environment in a number of ways. An easy one is using dark plaster for the pool’s interior. This increases the water’s reflectivity and allows it to retain more heat. That way, the amount of energy needed to heat the pool is significantly less.

Updating your equipment is another sound move. Today’s pool pumps require up to 60 percent less electricity than older models.

Another enviro-friendly option is a salt-water chlorine generator. Simply put, it converts salt water into chlorine, allowing the sanitizing chemical to generate at a consistently low level. In the end, the process minimizes the amount of chlorine needed to keep the pool clean.

Popular in Europe for years, biologically filtered pools are just starting to gain favor in the United States. OuterSpaces is currently working on one for a farm in Chadds Ford, where a manmade bog filled with plants keeps the water clean naturally. “It’s equivalent to swimming in a natural stream,” says Nonemaker.

A pool house by Bryn Mawr’s John A. Giuliani & Son.

High and Dry

An outdoor living environment isn’t complete without plenty of space for poolside entertaining. The latest outdoor kitchens rival their indoor counterparts, with amenities like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Adjacent seating areas make perfect al fresco dining spots, and a fire pit or fireplace is a popular focal point.

Even when it comes to something as supposedly practical as a pool house (pictured above), discerning homeowners are opting for opulence. Many offer a changing room, full bathroom, a kitchenette and storage space for supplies. One cute add-on is swing-out shutter doors from the kitchen, creating a pseudo-snack bar. Some pool houses are even designed with guest bedrooms for year-round use.

“We’ve built pool houses that have been considerably more expensive than the pool,” says Giuliani.

OuterSpaces, Robert Nonemaker, Glen Mills; (610) 558-5666,
Empire Pool & Spa, Jim Gezon, Bryn Mawr, (610) 527-7665
John A. Giuliani & Son, Inc., John Giuliani, Bryn Mawr; (610) 527-5276,
Wolff Pools, Tad Wolff, West Chester; (610) 429-9897,

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