Top tips for designing pools

Landscaping Victoria

By Steve Taylor, COS Design, on behalf of Landscaping Victoria
Monday, 12 March, 2018

Top tips for designing pools

Pools have come a long way in the last 20 years. Gone are the days of high-maintenance, inefficient, completely manual 10 x 5 m dinosaurs. Today’s pools require very little maintenance, are much more energy efficient and are fully automated. They have evolved into architectural masterpieces and often become the central, most significant feature in a garden space. Here are my top tips for designing pools for residential spaces.

The brief

Every design project starts with a brief, which needs to be explored with your client.

Who and what?

Every prospective pool customer will have their own specific requirements from an aesthetic and a functional point of view. Pools are surprisingly multifunctional and used for entertaining, exercise, visual impact, therapeutics or the most common use — expending energy out of kids!


Where is the best place to site the pool? Consider aspect, visual impact, safety and build-ability. The style of the pool is normally based on the architecture and interior influences of the home, so these elements also need to be considered.


There’s no point designing something that will never be built. Be realistic about your client’s budget and don’t forget the hidden costs — things like gas supply for a spa, power supplies or sewer backwash. And don’t forget the biggest ticket item of all: the surrounding landscape. Many clients think the pool will be the biggest cost, but the landscape can overtake the cost of the pool very quickly. Call me biased, but I think it’s the landscape that makes a pool rather than the pool itself, so it’s worth encouraging your client to invest in a consultation with a professional designer to try and ascertain the ultimate look and the total cost of a pool and landscape project. Pools can vary dramatically from $30K to many hundreds of thousands of dollars, as can the landscape which surrounds it.


The look is just as important as the functionality of the pool and, let’s face it, your clients will look at their pool more than they will use it.

Scale and proportion are where it all starts. Design a pool that has a sense of belonging in a space; not too big, not too small. You can ignore this rule if the pool is mainly for therapeutic or exercise reasons, but creating a geometric shape that complements the surrounding architecture is a rule that should never be broken.

The surrounding and borrowed landscape is the next most important consideration and will ultimately define the success or failure of the overall aesthetics. A pool positioned off the main living hub of the home is also recommended, to maximise the benefits of the aesthetics. It also helps with my next point — functionality — as the pool is convenient to access and convenience is king in today’s busy world.


The functional requirement of the pool is an important consideration. A family pool should be at least 8 x 4 m in size. A shelf or swimout is also a great feature for young children and adults alike. Sitting in the pool with a cold beer or cocktail is a beautiful thing in anyone’s language and having a safe ledge for kids to access at all times brings great peace of mind.

A lap pool is great for exercise and an absolute minimum of 16 m will provide just enough length for the average swimmer. For a family, however, a lap pool restricts the fun for active kids in many ways. Spas are also a fantastic social element and extend the use of the pool to all year round.

In the end this is the golden rule: design a pool that suits your client’s specific requirements, however unique they may be.


Compliance to your local laws and regulations are not only mandatory, they are a potential life-saving investment. In today’s world there are no exceptions or leniency to the rules, for good reason. You need to know the local laws, plan carefully and execute the construction of pool safety barriers to the millimetre.

There is nothing worse than having the very exciting moment of filling a pool being delayed because the pool barrier doesn’t pass mandatory inspection, especially in the week before Christmas. Your client also needs to maintain that barrier to meet the required code on an ongoing basis. Not following the laws can result in the ultimate tragedy, which no-one should ever have to experience.

Think outside the square

This is something I personally love to do, because pools can be positioned in the craziest places using cutting-edge designs. There are no creative limitations, just budget and compliance considerations.

Front yards, rooftops, basements, cliff tops — the possibilities are endless. And who says a pool needs to be in-ground? Why not design one that sits above natural ground and create layered design interest within a flat monotone space?

Clever design requires risk, innovation, creativity and thinking outside the square. With this mindset, the pool could become the most exciting feature of your client’s property; a real talking point and a permanent invitation to live outside.

Engineering and build-ability

Build-ability must be taken into consideration. While a great design is important, if the pool can’t practicably be built, then it’s pointless. Things to consider from an engineering perspective include: soil classifications, proximity to neighbouring properties, adjacent buildings, other structures and underground works, such as plumbing.

These factors present engineering and construction challenges, which may mean a pool redesign is required in order to avoid additional costs to your client.

Another thing to consider is using the pool itself as a foundation for additional planned structures on and around the pool area. Using careful planning and thoughtful processes can potentially deliver great cost savings.

Creating the dream

Hopefully some of these basic design tips will help in your quest and fulfil your client’s dream of owning a pool. I have only skimmed the surface of a very complex, creative and technical process, so here is the best tip to share with clients: make an upfront investment in a professional designer or pool expert. It will be the best money your client spends on their exciting journey of living the Australian lifestyle dream.

Image credit: © COS Design, Photography: Tim Turner

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