Out On An Edge

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Remember the first time you saw a pool with a vanishing edge. It was probably near a natural body of water, and it probably was designed to make the pool look like it flowed right into the lake, bay or ocean beyond. Or the pool may have been on a hillside or mountainside, sited to appear as if the edge of the pool was the edge of the earth. Either way, it was breathtaking and you probably pondered how it was done.

In many vanishing-edge projects, the edge detail is often the star of the show, the focal point. It's a vanishing edge for vanishing edge's sake. And there's nothing wrong with that β€” it delivers a big "Wow!" But some builders have discovered that edge details can be more than a focal point; they can solve design problems or highlight other aspects of the built environment. They can create visual effects that lead the viewer into the landscape or tie the built landscape seamlessly to the natural one. Or they can enhance a faroff view by eliminating decking and coping that would create a visual stop. In these cases, the vanishing edge is a means to an end, not the end in itself. "It's different for different people, but I take all my cues from my sites," says Mike Nantz of Elite Concepts in Lewisville, Texas. "I don't sit around and think, 'What else could I come up with?'"

Nantz thinks it's backwards to think up a specific detail and then apply it to the site whether it needs it or not. "It's fine when you're talking about ozonators, for example, but it's not fine when you're talking about design. I can't just go force a vanishing edge into a space because I think they look cool. That's not how design works, it's all site-specific."

On the other hand, most builders will never know the luxury of having a client who says, "Do whatever you think is right for the space." While clients rely on their builders to guide them through the design process, they usually have a want list of features. "Most of the pools we do have vanishing edges, and frankly, part of that has to do with fad," says Jim Mowry, the principal of Mowry Pools in Austin, Texas. "That's not particularly a motive for me, but if that's what people want, we try to incorporate it."

A Different View

Once builders stop thinking of the vanishing edge as a feature and start treating it as a tool, the possibilities are endless. "If you take a coping or deck off the edge of the pool, it can define it, but it can also soften and mute the start of one thing and end of another," says Nantz. "If I have a green pool and I have green ground cover coming right up to the edge, then it becomes a non-defined space, depending on the type of planting β€” if it's soft and undulating as opposed to a clean hedgerow. We can come up with scenario after scenario, you don't say, 'This is what you must do in this situation.'

To accomplish the renovation project pictured on the next page, Nantz used a vanishing-edge feature to solve a number of design issues. The home was strictly contemporary with soaring monochromatic areas punctuated judiciously with accent colors. "When I walked in the front door, there was a cobalt-blue sofa, a canary-yellow chair and a tangerine-orange chair. Those were the three elements in a 20-by30-foot room with hardwood floors. One entire wall is glass, and on the other side is the pool."

Nantz knew he had to extend this aesthetic to the pool. "Clean simple and elegant, with that contemporary .air of a straight line β€” in this case a trapezoidal shape to create the illusion of length."

To soften the look and further intrigue the viewer, Nantz planted reed-like horsetails up against the gutter that receives the over.ow from the vanishing edge. "Horsetail lends itself β€” like bamboo β€” to an Asian sort of feel. Modern contemporary minimal design takes a lot of cues from the Asian minimalists.

"I like [horsetails] a little wild on the top to keep it soft. In this case, the whole reason for that edge is a soft line. With the vanishing edge, there's no vertical visual containment. So we brought the horsetail in close for the re.ective opportunity. The river birches provide texture and color as their peeling bark reveals the new."

The Edge Of Reality

Oftentimes, the difference between a pool situated in a natural setting and a pool that appears to be part of the natural environment is the edge. Or more specifically, the lack of an edge.

We also do fountains and vanishing edges. One of Mowry's favorite projects, shown on page 77, demonstrates this with breathtaking beauty.

"It's built on a cliff overlooking the Perdenales River," says Mowry. "[The client] wanted the pool to be down under the cliffs and come on out with a vanishing edge that would end on the river side. Those cliffs are about 25 feet high. We took a diamond-studded chain saw, cut 14 inches into the cliff using a water level to get it perfectly level, and tucked the pool back in underneath there. Cliffs are on three sides, and it snakes around a corner, there's a cave and a waterfall, then at the end where it looks out to the river, there's a negative edge."

Mowry likes to get double duty from an edge detail. "You can use the overflow from the vanishing edge in another role, down lower, like for a children's pond," he says. For this pool, though, he built a wooden deck 6 feet below the vanishing edge, offering visitors a soaring view of the river valley on one side and the sounds of the falling water from the edge's over.ow on the other.

"If you create a space [below the edge overflow] with decking and so forth, that's a very attractive thing to be able to do," he says. "If you're on a hillside and you have the negative edge on the upside, then on the lower level you have another whole entertaining area down in the trees and it has the fall of the water."

Sculpting With Water

At the other end of the spectrum are pools that look entirely unnatural. Using a vanishing-edge detail can redirect emphasis from the vessel β€” clearly defined by coping and decking β€” to the shape of the water itself. Mowry's crisply geometric pool shown on page 78 appears to be a solid block of water hovering above the cliff. "It looks like a sheet of water that goes out into nothing. Visually, that's the whole idea of it," says Mowry. The installed lounges amplify the straight-edges-andright-angles theme. The lounges appear to be solidly anchored, rather than hovering, adding to the sense of a solid block.

Mirror Mirror

Vanishing edges are much more than just another item in a list of high-end add-ons. Edge treatments enhance water's most intriguing qualities and also create a sense of mystery. Nearby structures, whether trees or walls, re.ect on a borderless pool making it hard to tell were the water stops. An edgeless pool gives shape to, and puts emphasis on, the water itself, rather than the vessel that contains it.

"When you're standing back looking at the water and you really don't know what it is, you have to move closer to it to discover it, engage with it," says Nantz. "You create points of interest throughout a space to draw the viewer in because they can't understand or perceive everything from one single point of view."

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