Not Your Parents’ Backyard: These Hot Trends Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

May 1, 2017

By Marc Luff and Dave Clark

Photos courtsey Betz Pools

Today’s backyards are a far cry from the kidney-shaped pools and concrete patios of our parents’ era. Advances in technology are bringing amazing new changes to swimming pool products and design, opening up a whole new spectrum of possibilities for backyard fun. The following is a look at some of today’s most popular trends.

Modern design
Probably the most significant trend in recent years is the transition from free-flowing organic design to sleek modern design, and it seems to have happened overnight. Not long ago, curving random-shaped pools were the norm, but now the great majority of new pools are rectangular. The phrase often coined is “minimalist design.” Everyone seems to want clean lines and no busy patterns. Large simple tapestries of colour and texture are hugely popular as people move away from installing kidney-shaped pools or natural cottage-look backyards in favour of classic rectangular, contemporary, or all-out modern looks.

Outdoor living spaces
The trend towards outdoor living spaces has grown steadily to the point where people are now building complete lifestyle backyards. These generally include a pool with full landscaping, plus special features such as outdoor kitchens, living rooms, fire features, games area, and shade structures. Some even include a multi-room luxury cabana with a full entertainment system. The interest in healthy living has people going to great lengths to spend more time outdoors.

Some are choosing to make a significant investment in their backyard rather than travelling to a cottage. This allows them to spend more quality time with family and to enjoy the yard seven days a week. Another reason lifestyle backyards are popular is because entertaining at home can be more affordable and relaxing than going out to an expensive restaurant or club. Budget is always a key factor, but thanks to market innovation and competition, consumers now have a choice of good, better, or best for each backyard feature. For example, you can buy an out-of-the-box fire table for about $500 or a custom-designed and custom-built outdoor fireplace in natural stone for up to $12,000. Almost everything is available at every price level, so you may be surprised at how much you can get on a relatively modest budget.

For years, infinity pools have remained one of the ultimate status symbols. It’s hard to top the view looking towards the spill wall where the water appears to merge seamlessly with the background.

Infinity pools
Infinity pools, also called zero-edge or vanishing-edge pools, have been around for years and remain one of the ultimate status symbols for people who want the very best. It may be the dramatic vistas they produce, or the fact they cost more to build and maintain, but infinity pools keep their prestige. For those who want the look at a lower cost, a visual zero-edge pool uses an automatic water leveller to maintain the water level at the top of a glass end wall. This eliminates a number of costs including: building an overflow trough, finishing the trough in tile or stone, recirculation pumps, plumbing lines, heat loss from the continuous flow of water exposed to air, cleaning costs to remove debris from the trough, etc. A true infinity pool will cost more, but if you want the knife-edge horizon of a spill wall plus the drama and sound of flowing water, nothing beats the excitement of the real thing.

Today it is all about creating outdoor living spaces, like this steep-sloping ravine lot which was transformed into a full lifestyle backyard. Budget is always a factor, yet, for every feature there’s a choice of good, better, or best.

Interior finishes
One of the best advances and biggest trends for pools in Canada is inspired by the availability of new crushed aggregate finishes. Your pool’s plaster can now do more than determine the colour of the water; it can create a stunning visual tapestry of shimmering seashells, quartz, or river pebbles. The benefits are not only esthetic; durability is significantly improved with more resistance to staining, etching, and scratching.

These finishes are more costly, since they use more expensive aggregate in the mix and there’s more labour in manufacturing, but the benefits definitely outweigh the cost. A new and even more expensive finish uses luminescent glass beads set in an aggregate plaster base. It’s the most comfortable underfoot of any interior finish and offers the most dramatic reflective palette.

Specialty tiles
One of the hottest new trends is the use of glass tiles. Glass tiles are a striking way to accentuate special features such as the waterline of your pool or spa, or the exterior surface of your spa, spill wall or tanning shelf. Most are translucent with metallic flecks that twinkle in a myriad of colours in different lights. They can be slippery, so they’re not recommended for flat surfaces where traction underfoot is important. They are mostly used to complement a modern look and are not often found with traditional designs. They can be expensive, although some reasonably priced ones are now available that look quite good. Another trend for waterline tile is the use of black or charcoal-grey tile. These shades are so neutral the eye tends to skip over them and focus on the important colours of the interior plaster or coping. Adding a dark strip along the waterline not only lends a touch of elegance, but also adds dimension to your pool. Perhaps the most important trend is the development of high tech epoxy adhesives and waterproof grouts that make sure tiles stay in place and grout resists staining over the long-term. These significant advancements in durability are probably even bigger news than the design trends.

Best suited to large pools, tanning shelves are shallow underwater ledges where you can lounge in cool comfort. With the water about 305 mm (12 in.) deep, a tanning shelf is the perfect toddler’s play area.

Tanning shelves
Sometimes called a Baja ledge or sun shelf, these shallow ledges are the perfect spot for chaise lounges. Some people find it more relaxing to be stationary than bobbing around getting wet and drifting into the deep end. The trend started about 10 years ago, probably after people discovered them in sunspot resorts. Usually placed in the shallow end, tanning shelves can also make great toddler play areas. Most have a uniform depth of about 305 mm (12 in.), since the marbelite interiors of concrete pools need to be kept underwater, and for winterizing, water levels need to be lowered a few inches. Tanning shelves occupy a lot of space, and given you need about 3 m (9 ft) to walk around a chaise lounge, they are most often found in large pools.

Water features
Water features have changed radically. For years, the trend was to have clumps of rock spilling water into a kidney-shaped pool. This evolved into the full cottage-look backyard, some with massive waterfalls spilling over armour stone walls to simulate a mountain stream. They were very dramatic, but required a lot of real estate to look authentic. Now, with the trend towards rectangular pools, sheer descents with seamless sheets of water create an elegant look, while laminar jets, with concentrated laser-like streams arcing out of the deck into the pool, provide a vibrant Las Vegas touch. A more subtle water feature relies on the flow from a spill-over spa, a great way to add drama using the normal recirculation between your spa and pool. The sounds from water features differ widely: the trickle and splashes from spill-over spas, sheer descents, and laminar jets are quite subtle, while tumbling waterfalls are the most prominent. It’s a matter of personal taste and something important to consider. There are times when some sound is desirable such as to muffle noise from nearby traffic. Some water features have variable-speed pumps so you can vary the amount of flow and sound. If sound is important, you may also want to consider a high-quality outdoor sound system, another growing trend.

Fire features add the ultimate dramatic touch to outdoor living spaces. One of the latest trends is the gas fire table with elegant linear flame insert. They’re not only mesmerizing; the also add warmth on cool evenings.

Some like it hot
Since the beginning of time, fire and water have held a life-affirming fascination for people, so it’s not surprising fire features are one of the biggest backyard trends. Leading the charge are fire tables, which range from a simple campfire to
a sleek coffee table with removable cover that reveals an elegant linear flame rising through a bed of glass pebbles. Some fire features help provide warmth for an intimate lounge area while others set the mood across a larger area. This might include a series of fire bowls or linear flames set on elevated pillars or walls with sheer descent waterfalls spilling below. When the pool lights are turned down this can create a dramatic tapestry with dancing flames reflecting off the water and surrounding landscape features. Outdoor fireplaces are also very popular. Some are standalone structures in stone while others are built into cabanas or feature walls. Gas fireplaces are the most popular, not just because of lower construction costs, but also for ease of use and the selection of modern inserts available.

Low maintenance yards
As time becomes increasingly precious, people are looking for ways to spend more time enjoying their backyard and less time maintaining it. A greater proportion of yard space is now being devoted to patios and decks. Lawns are often converted into artificial turf that doesn’t require mowing, fertilizing, or watering. Low-maintenance grasses and evergreens, along with borders of decorative stone or river rock, further reduce yardwork. Irrigation systems help eliminate watering chores. High-quality sealers cut down on the upkeep of fences and decks and automated pool cleaners and sanitation systems help minimize pool chores. The best thing about the new lifestyle backyards is the significant amount of additional time available to enjoy them.

This photo shows several hot trends; modern design, water features, and LED lighting. Just some of the reasons you’ll want to spend more time outdoors.

LED lighting
The advent of affordable LED lighting has brought wonderful changes to backyard landscaping. Not only do LEDs consume a fraction of the energy and last thousands of hours longer than conventional bulbs, they allow for much more precise lighting of specific features. In the past, pools traditionally had one powerful light in the deep end. The light would fade off as it reached the shallow end, resulting in very uneven lighting. Now the fixtures are much smaller and you can install several of them at specific locations to light the pool perfectly. Being so small, they can be installed in the nooks and coves of water features to create the specific effect wanted. Colour-changing LEDs extend your creative options and allow for set colours or a rainbow of continuously changing colour. They are used to dramatically light sheer descent waterfalls or in laminar jets to create a narrow beam of light that shoots out of the deck and into the pool. LED lights can be used in pools, spas, and water features or throughout the entire backyard to provide creative lighting for patios, walkways, steps, landscape features, and all manner of structures. The possibilities are endless!

Automatic covers
One of the very high-end luxury trends is automatic pool covers. They enhance safety when your pool is not in use and help reduce heat loss, especially at night. They also help keep the pool clean and cut down on chemical use. Auto covers are quite expensive, but really prove their worth in spring and fall. There are some things around a pool that are hard to automate, so they do require a little caretaking. Before retracting the cover you should remove any leaves and debris, and after it rains you’ll need to pump off any standing water using the special cover pump. When not in use, the cover is stored out of view, retracting into a bunker below the deck. Although auto covers incorporate the finest components and materials, they do require occasional maintenance, usually to adjust the cables that keep them properly aligned during roll out and retraction. Auto covers can change the way you think about your pool by adding safety, comfort, and peace of mind. They are the ultimate accessory for the discerning pool owner.

And that’s not all
There are even more trends to including glass panel railings and gates, sports courts, outdoor games tables, outdoor showers, exotic natural woods and stone, engineered wood, high-tech composites. Indeed, there’s a multitude of innovative new trends emerging in pool products and backyard design. Today’s backyards don’t look anything like your parents’ backyard did.

Marc Luff is a senior sales manager with Betz Pools and for the past
27 years has used his extensive experience and knowledge to help create a wide range of lifestyle backyards for hundreds of Betz customers. Luff specializes in turnkey projects that include a pool, spa, full landscaping and the myriad of special features that make lifestyle backyards unique. He can be reached via e-mail at[7].

Dave Clark is an independent communications consultant and writer with Soulutions Inc., and has handled the marketing communications for Betz Pools for the past 33 years. He can be reached at[8].

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