A Wave of Luxury

By staff December 1, 2006

Forget the trophy wife (or husband), the sexy car and the professional show-kitchen. These days, a swimming pool provokes equal envy—and comes with appreciably lower maintenance costs. Status pools are the hot new frontier in luxury home design, providing dramatic water views for Sarasota’s growing population of landlocked multimillion-dollar abodes.

Homes in prestigious new communities offer lavish outdoor living spaces replete with gourmet kitchens, fireplaces, multiple lounging areas and more. But the visual hub of the home is always the pool and spa, embellished with over-the-top options restrained only by the limits of the imagination. The architectural layout of these dream homes follows the standard Florida footprint (master bedroom, living room and family room forming a “U” around the pool), so the visual drama is evident from key vantage points inside.

“A really well-designed pool provides good views from at least three stations, sometimes four,” says Jim Dellinger, owner of Splash Pools. “Most important is the first impression, the view from the front door through the living room to the pool.” Dellinger says his design team next focuses on creating a relaxing view from the master suite, then fine-tunes views from the kitchen, family room or both, if budget allows.

While an experienced pool designer can readily visualize the end result, that hasn’t always been the case for the average homebuyer. Local pool builders say the rise in creative pool construction can be correlated to improvements in computer-aided design. “It’s made the process fun for consumers,” says Phil Hess, designer for Coast to Coast Pools. “The software lets them work alongside the designer to build the pool of their dreams.”

Coast to Coast uses the revolutionary Pool Studio software to give customers a peek at their future pool in 3-D, exactly as it will appear from eye-level perspective through each interior window and door. “The program also previews the actual sounds of various water features, allowing us to adjust the intensity of a waterfall or fountain,” Hess says.

But homebuyers aren’t the only ones impressed with computer design. Builders and architects like the way it can help create pools that maximize the potential of each specific site. Lucas Lagoons, a Sarasota company known for natural lagoon pools with rock features, did just that in Solymar, Laughlin Luxury Lifestyles’ pricey gated enclave on Siesta Key.

“Each of the three models has a waterfall and spa that recapture the feeling of swimming in a mountain stream,” says Lucas Congdon, whose designs are always one-of-a-kind. Congdon used computer design to squeeze the amenity-rich pools into unusually narrow footprints, then personally picked natural rocks in Tennessee and placed each one on site.

“I don’t like straight lines, so I tried to make a more interesting free-form design in each space, keeping it as wide as I possibly could,” Congdon says. One of Solymar’s pools, while 40 feet long, narrows to four feet in spots. To compensate, Congdon laid out a series of turns, in effect duplicating the natural curves of a river or stream. “I staggered coco palms at the turns, because that’s where you’d find trees growing in nature,” he says. “The pool flows around the palms, and it’s nice to be able to look up at them as you float or swim by.”

At the Beach House model, Congdon used an infinity-edge spa. The look first appeared in beach and bayfront estates to capitalize on expansive God-given water views. Soon after, the technology—which creates the illusion that the pool is one with the natural body of water—was modified to adapt the look to offshore locales.

“All you need is the right elevation for a disappearing-edge pool to work on canals and even lake homes,” says Coast to Coast’s Hess, who tints the pool’s interior surface to harmonize with adjacent natural water tones. Area builders say a negative-edge pool adds about 10 percent to pool costs on new construction. But percentages are relative: The pools featured on these pages start at $100,000 and soar to $300,000 and more.

Those who covet the look but don’t have the space or site conditions for full-court, negative-edge pools are opting for infinity-edge spas instead, says Dellinger of Splash Pools. In a new model for Pruitt, the spa is dramatically integrated into the larger swimming pool with just a few inches of water tumbling over its sides providing the only hint of a demarcation between the two.

But if money is no object, the pool built by Splash for Arthur Rutenberg’s Bellagio II model in Lakewood Ranch is the ultimate fantasy; the result of collaboration between designers from both companies. Winner of the Parade of Homes award for the $300,000-plus category in 2005 and 2006, the pool is surrounded by colonnades that add privacy and complement the home’s Mediterranean style. Tumbled marble decking gives the illusion that the outdoor patio is an extension of the same flooring indoors and, with the help of disappearing corner sliders and aquarium glass windows, seamlessly integrates indoors and out.

At the Founders Club, the Todd Johnston Villa Carina model garnered the 2006 Parade of Homes award for best pool in the $96,000 to $120,000 category for Coast to Coast Pools. Another Todd Johnston model, the newly completed Wilshire II, offers prospective buyers even more cutting-edge options. “Steppingstones are popular in higher-end pools now, as are sun shelves, waterfalls, fountains, marble coping and natural stone finishes,” says designer Hess. The new Wilshire II offers them all.

“It’s all about options—ferreting out the best new products and coordinating the customer’s lifestyle with the design,” says Dellinger. With clients like the Lakewood Ranch homeowner who imported 24-karat gold tiles from Italy, even this seasoned builder marvels at the quest for luxury that drives pool design.


The same builders who create model-home pool showstoppers can transform older pools into trophies, with options from mini to extreme.

Status Decking. Upgrades range from pavers to tumbled travertine. Choose colors and materials that blend with interior floor coverings to optically extend the size of your home.

Surface Redux. Think of it as dermabrasion for your pool. Marcite surfacing is out, natural pebble finishes are in. They are stronger, last longer and offer colors that mirror natural water or beach sand tones.

Coping with Tile. Just like designer accessories, chic new tile—glass mosaics, natural stone and even 24-karat gold—makes a personal fashion statement.

Total Control. If TV clickers turn you on, you’ll be fascinated by the latest remote controls for pools. Manipulate lighting, heat and fountains from indoors; automatic in-floor cleaning and better filtration systems make pools more user-friendly than ever before.

Resort Amenities. Sunning shelves, in-pool benches and steppingstones re-create the vacation experience, as do raised rock waterfalls, grotto caves, sprayers and pulsating spas. CAD technology allows you to compare sheer descent and step-fall waterfalls or lust after an infinity-edge spa before the pool’s ever built.

Digital Lighting. Colored lights are in demand, and builders say the best new systems use LED technology to reduce energy consumption. The consumer can digitally create unlimited colors at will from a palette of seven basic tones.

Goodbye, Red Eye. Salt chlorine generators are no longer just for hotels. Local builders estimate 80 percent to 95 percent of new pools have them, and you can add a system to an existing pool for $2,000. They end red eye, bleached hair, chlorine odors and maintenance fees. The cost for 50 pounds of salt: $4.50 per year.

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