Expert Advice – Pool Makeovers

Breathing new life into lackluster pools and their surrounding landscapes


Whether they have purchased a home with an existing pool or built their own more than 10 years ago, many homeowners have pools that could use an update. The typical rectangular or kidney-shaped pool with a basic concrete deck can’t compare to today’s luxurious resort-like pools accompanied by fountains, waterfalls and custom hardscapes.

Aesthetics aside, most homeowners don’t realize that all pools require basic maintenance every 10 to 15 years. Concrete pools have to be re-plastered; if the pool liner is vinyl, you’ll need a new one. And while you’re at it, you may as well fix the tile and the coping. “It’s very similar to re-decorating a room inside,” says landscape architect Howard Cohen of Surrounds Landscape Architecture and Construction. “You might have some things you want to keep, but you’ll probably want a new, fresh look.” Re-doing the pool is also a lot less expensive than ripping everything out and starting over. Don Gwiz of Lewis-Aquatech says a basic update, including a new interior finish, tile, and coping, might cost $25,000, but there is no limit if you want a completely new fashionable outdoor living area.

The three makeovers that follow illustrate a vast array of possibilities for those old, outdated tubs that are sitting in the middle of so many back yards.

A Lush Destination

Ornamental grasses, an array of colorful perennials and a new lawn and walkway have artfully disguised a prominent free-form pool that now lies hidden behind a profuse Mediterranean-style landscape. The homeowners contacted Botanical Decorators to renovate the pool and remove the pool equipment from the basement of the house. According to landscape architect Steve Wlodarczyk, the company’s vice president, as the equipment aged, it sprang a leak and flooded the basement. “It was a major ordeal,” he said, “to get the equipment out of there and relocate it on the site.”

The pool was sitting in the middle of the yard, in plain sight of the house, like a floating spaceship. Designer Morgan Washburn nestled the pool into the landscape, adding new planting beds between the house and the pool to give the yard a sense of mystery. It’s now hidden from the rear of the house, and it does not come into view until you either wander across the lawn or down a curving path that is lined with vibrant plantings. The existing pool decking was

replaced with Sundek, a surface material that is cool to the feet and soft to walk on. Pockets of planting beds were added around the edge of the pool to give it a more lagoon-like feeling, and a small seating area at one end creates a quiet niche just large enough for two lounge chairs.

Wlodarczyk says the new design has completely transformed the back yard. “The pool is now a destination,” he says, “rather than an element right outside the back door.”

Design & Photography: Morgan Washburn, Botanical Decorators, Olney, Maryland.