Article No: 289

2011-03-09 15:32:58
Beyond Swimming
By: Steven H. Miller, CDT

The modern swimming pool is a little slice of paradise rendered in decorative concrete.

A pool used to be a concrete hole full of water, used for exercise or floating. Now, the pool " and its surroundings " have become a carefully designed space aimed at multiple uses: entertaining guests, vacationing at home, cooking and eating meals, sitting on the first step in the water and reading a book¶and yes, occasionally swimming.

The material of choice for the pool, and much of its surrounding structure, is concrete, so the decorative techniques possible with concrete have come to play a major role in pool design.

The pool/backyard business has likewise become an important market for concrete contractors, so much so that they will be a significant focus of the 2011 Concrete Decor Show & Spring Training, which takes place in Nashville March 15-18. The event will include presentations on pool/backyard design, hands-on workshops in the use of pool-related decorative techniques, and even a panel discussion devoted to decorative concrete around swimming pools. There will also be numerous exhibitors on the trade show floor with the newest pool-related technologies.

These exhibitors, seminar speakers and workshop leaders represent some of the best knowledge available about present and future pool design and execution. Their observations and insights describe an evolving art and a growing business.

Entertaining in your own backyard is a growing trend, explains Scott Cohen, a designer and contractor, president of The Green Scene, Los Angeles. Cohen will be doing two presentations at the show, Fireplaces and Fire Features From Design to Completion concerning outdoor fireplaces, and The Outdoor Room Boom covering design and planning for this burgeoning trend.

As it becomes more difficult to travel, more expensive and time consuming, Cohen said, people are doing more and more in their own backyards. Our firm specializes in creating backyard resorts, places people can go without leaving home. They include kitchens, bathrooms, balconies, slides, outdoor sound systems and fireplaces.

Cohen said he now sees pent-up demand for backyard remodels, especially among high-end clients. Homeowners want to update their current pools and add to them with an updated deck, a water feature, a fire feature, a cooking area or a spa. Many small spas of the past are being replaced with spacious ones. On one project, we had perimeter overflow and a fire feature on either end of the spa, so you had water over fire.

Another trend is the enlarged first or second step of the pool, called a Baja shelf or sun shelf. Sometimes it even has an umbrella holder in the concrete, making a relaxing place to hang out and read a book all afternoon.

Concepts for the new pool/backyard seem to fall into two major areas: the contemporary look, and the natural fantasy. The natural fantasy pool/backyard might be themed with rocks and boulders, waterfalls, greenery, and other natural elements. Contemporary designs emphasize a man-made regularity that features clean lines and bold shapes. It may include dramatic re-imaginings of simple standard elements such as drains, and sometimes a waters edge that vanishes over the horizon.

Paolo Benedetti, principal and founder of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, and the international design firm Il Studio Paolo, Morgan Hill, Calif., is an exponent of the contemporary style, although he has designed and built his share of fantasies as well, such as pools that look like Greco-Roman ruins. Benedetti confirms that a pool is no longer simply for swimming.

High-end clients are coming to the realization that a pool isnt a just kidney-shaped hole in the backyard, its an architectural element, Benedetti said. It should be something beautiful to look at as well as to swim in. A pool area with snow and ice on it can be absolutely gorgeous. I had a client who said he used his pool every day, even in the winter. He didnt mean he swam in it every day, but he used it when he was sitting in his living room looking at the pool, and he felt he was getting a lot of use out of it that way.

Benedetti, who will be giving a pool design seminar at the 2011 Concrete Decor Show & Spring Training, applauds the outside-the-box thinking in the decorative concrete work now being lavished on pool areas. Im seeing movement into decorative staining, exotic aggregates, a lot more embedded things such as fiber optic lighting and interactive water features, he said.

For new and exotic looks, he has used crushed granite aggregate " which he notes is a recycled product, a byproduct of granite countertop and tile fabrication. For a truly exotic look, hes seeded integrally colored concrete with 3/8-inch jade, a semi-precious stone, which was then polished to create dramatic contrast with the cement matrix.

The versatility of decorative concrete lends itself to simulation of other materials, which is the stuff that backyard dreams are made of. Using coloring and texturing techniques, a wide variety of stone and wood looks are possible.

The natural look is a natural choice for a pool style, a lagoon lined with low rock walls and greenery, perhaps fed by a waterfall. Rico Rock of Orlando, Fla., is a precaster of concrete boulders and waterfall kits with national recognition. They make modular kits in a variety of sizes, with no single piece heavier than 400 pounds. Combined with appropriate stone textures in the surrounding areas, they can present a convincingly natural appearance, with a practical effect thats both aesthetic and fun to swim around.

Tyler Irwin, national sales manager for Proline Decorative Systems in Oceanside, Calif., said he believes the trend towards the natural paradise is still on the rise. Proline makes interlocking mats and overlapping skins for stamping textures on fresh concrete, as well as a complete line of concrete coloring materials. They are the originator of the seamless skin that enables stamping of a virtually endless texture without faux grout lines that suggest cut stone. Irwin said he gauges the popularity of the paradise by the demand for materials.

We have more and more guys coming to us for products to imprint and color concrete rocks, he said. Both precasters and contractors who are hand-carving concrete rocks are using skins to get the rock texture. Proline recently introduced a travertine texture skin. The veins of the stone are recessed areas that can be grouted in a contrasting color to produce a smooth, durable travertine marble look.

Bart Sacco is president and founder of the Concrete Kingdom, a complex of concrete businesses that includes manufacturing of decorative concrete mixes and coloring materials, supply for both his own and others products, and a decorative concrete training center. Sacco said he is excited about the creativity and multiple decorative techniques being applied in the pool industry.

People are incorporating different colors and patterns, mixing different looks, Sacco says. Theyre not only using a stone pattern for the deck, theyre adding a different skin for a border. He said he likes how contractors are using overlapping skins to make endless textures, but then saw-cutting them to create the illusion of individual stones with a very random appearance. Many contractors are seeking training in vertical stamping, extending patterning to more surfaces for a more complete illusion.

Keith Boudart, sales and marketing manager of Butterfield Color Inc., said he also sees these combinations as a sign that the pool industry is getting more creative.

The network of decorative concrete contractors are coming up with neat and useful designs, Boudart said. Butterfield offers a range of decorative materials including integral colors, color hardeners, overlays, stampable overlay, acid stains, and water-based stains. They recently introduced a micro-surface retarder called SurfEtch that is applied to concrete right after final finishing. It exposes the fine aggregate but not the coarse aggregate, producing a sand texture.

Boudart says he believes creativity and quality " not cost " are driving the business, despite the downturn. Those contractors who have differentiated themselves as being leaders in pools and backyard hardscapes are still busy. They spend the time to detail; they have people working for them who care. Perhaps theyre not as busy as they were, but theyre still making pools.

Cam Villar, director of marketing for LM Scofield Company, a manufacturer of concrete coloring materials, is similarly enthusiastic about the continuing creative advancement. Each year, the contractors doing it get better and better, and the products get better and better. As an example of breakthrough products, Villar points to the companys recently introduced Solachrome Integral Treatment, a colorant that features high solar reflectivity index (SRI), even for some fairly dark colors. This keeps the concrete cooler underfoot, and reduces the hardscapes contribution to the urban heat island effect " an environmentally valuable property.

Villar says he is excited about the upcoming 2011 Concrete Decor Show and Spring training, too. I think its a great show. We attend a lot of shows, but none of the others are attuned specifically to the same audience that the Concrete Decor Show reaches. These are the guys who do the works of art, so this show is where the rubber hits the road. COMMUNITY SERVICE
Irwins company, Proline, is one of numerous manufacturers that are contributing to a massive public service project " a Decorative Concrete Makeover for a Nashville youth community center called Rocketown " that is being organized by the Concrete Decor Show. The makeover work will be executed by the show attendees as they participate in a series of hands-on workshops during the events Spring Training program. The workshops combine education and public service. They will be taught by leading concrete professionals, and will give participants of every level " beginner to experienced pro " the opportunity to improve their skills while benefitting the community.

At most workshop events, Irwin said, you make a 10-foot by10-foot slab and the next day it goes into a dumpster. Its so cool to be doing a project thats going to help these kids. Last years project, at the Childrens Museum in Phoenix, was good, but this Rocketown project is taking it to the next level.

For more information on the Concrete Decor Show and the Rocketown Decorative Concrete makeover, see

Steven H. Miller, CDT, is an award-winning writer and photographer specializing in issues of the construction industry, and creative director of Chusid Associates, North Americas leading building products marketing consultant. He can be reached at