Fiberglass Pools: As Beautiful as Concrete

Genesis will be launching a new builder course, GENESIS CONSTRUCTION SCHOOL: Vinyl Liner/Fiberglass Pools, at the 2020 International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo, November 8 – 13, in Las Vegas.

This 3-day, 24-hour, 2.4 IACET CEUs program will encompass all facets of vinyl liner/fiberglass pools, beginning with engineering and design, with a dedicated day focused each on vinyl liner and fiberglass installation. Registration is now open for this course.

Fiberglass has so much to offer: a factory-built, uniform quality shell, generally impervious to the ravages of bad chemistry and black algae. It goes in fast, even in colder weather. It is compliant with builder planning and provides a tidy profit.

Despite these desirable attributes, fiberglass pools have always been burdened by the perception that they take a backseat to concrete in terms of aesthetics. But really, the charm and artistry of any pool depends mostly on what you put around it.

In other words, says Kate Wiseman, designer at Sage Outdoor Designs, "The vessel's material is not the design."

In addition to creating beautiful poolscapes in Southern California, Wiseman is also faculty chair for design at Genesis, and since 2012, she's been teaching a fiberglass design class (see Genesis construction school information, previous page) that helps builders see how the limitations of fiberglass pool shells do not need to impact the overall beauty and quality of the project.

"The class shows how a fiberglass pool backyard can be just as appealing and functional as a concrete one," she says. "And it starts with the beliefs and attitudes of the builder. I think my first question for builders taking the course is: 'Why are you assuming that just because it's fiberglass it has to look a certain way?'"

This 16 x 40-foot fiberglass beauty by Renaissance Pools And Spas, Jacksonville, Fla., was gracefully enhanced with glass tile at the waterline and a spillover spa, as well as a majestic coping and deck paver combo.This 16 x 40-foot fiberglass beauty by Renaissance Pools And Spas, Jacksonville, Fla., was gracefully enhanced with glass tile at the waterline and a spillover spa, as well as a majestic coping and deck paver combo.



The course addresses the most common design lapses found in fiberglass construction. And right at the top of the list is a myopic focus on the pool itself — that is, simply failing to step back and see the whole picture.

"When you're putting in any swimming pool — it doesn't matter what kind — you're designing someone's entire backyard, whether you know it or not," Wiseman says. "Whereas often we look at it like we're just installing a swimming pool in someone's backyard. There's a big difference."

It's a profound shift to step back farther away from the pool. From that vantage point, it's easier to create something more broadly functional and appealing, starting with the placement of the pool.

RELATED: Fiberglass: The Builder Friendly Product

"I would say the most common placement is a rectangular pool parallel to the house centered in the middle of the yard. And there is no location that's worse than that because it ruins the outdoor living opportunities unless the yard's humongous, and frankly, it's just boring.

"If the yard is limited in size, you end up where the design becomes a swimming pool with some plants around the edge, but it doesn't leave you enough outdoor living space on any side. And with no outdoor living, there's no reason for them to hang out there, and then they just don't end up using their own backyard.

"Almost any other pool placement is better. If you put it on one side of the yard, you've got options, but if you put it in the middle, you've cut yourself off on all sides."

In some small properties, a placement at the far side of the yard can open up outdoor living space directly attached to the house, which is where most people prefer. It's a simple matter of setting priorities, Wiseman says. "So one of the things that I spend a lot of time on in the Genesis class is the idea that you decide where everything else has to go first — where people will spend time, and the space they will need to move around — and you decide where the pool goes last. I learned that from Kirk Bianchi: Place the pool last."

Ample and handsomely executed outdoor living space turns this fiberglass pool backyard into something both visually alluring and functional.Ample and handsomely executed outdoor living space turns this fiberglass pool backyard into something both visually alluring and functional.



Beauty, functionality and indeed all qualities of any poolscape are in the eye of the beholder. And the only beholder that really matters is the client. Therefore, the ability to get into the client's head can be a valuable skill for a designer, and it's one that can be developed with practice. That's part of the class, too.

"I call it 'client-driven' design," Wiseman says, "and the basic premise is that everything you do from the moment you first meet the client is focused on understanding them and their taste, so you can target your design to that particular person. So it's about asking the right questions and just observing your client.

"Everything we buy says something about us, so you can learn a lot about your client by just looking at their stuff. You can look at their car. And you can look at the inside of their house, or the art they have on the walls, and you'll see certain trends in their choices. Often really basic things: They like texture or they don't like texture. They're extravagant or reserved. They're edgy in their tastes or very traditional. They have money and like to show it, or they have money and don't want to show it. And then you make sure the design responds to what you've heard and observed."

For instance, Wiseman says, if the client is someone who has money but doesn't like to show it, and you give them something really flashy and ostentatious, they're not going to like it, and they may even think you're a poor designer.

RELATED: Fiberglass Pools Taking Market Share from Gunite

"But if you do figure them out and present a design that reflects that, what you find is that the client has this idea that you really know them. And it's kind of neat when that happens, because they always tell you afterwards, 'I didn't say that much, but you really listened.' And they find the product you've given them personally satisfying."

Wiseman suggests looking at other remodeling projects the clients have done. In any project, homeowners make a great many decisions, and each of these offer clues to their mindset. And from these clues, a designer can figure out what they might want for the backyard.

"So it's just about noticing those things," she says, "and it's not that complicated, really. If somebody has hundreds of pictures of their children up inside the house, you darn well better make sure that design addresses the kids — that it's a family-friendly backyard."


There's a lot of growth and excitement in the fiberglass pool market nowadays. There are a number of reasons why, but one of them has to do with the fact that, compared to concrete, fiberglass is a very sensible material with which to contain water. For that reason, it can make a strong argument for some of the six-figure pool projects that for years have gone strictly to the pourable shells.

The key to a great pool project is what goes around the pool shell, not the shell material itself. And making the pool surroundings look great is mostly a matter of design.

"Some think of design as the kind of fluffy, you know, cutesy side of everything, but there is logic and reason in good design instead of randomness and accident. And design is the difference between a boring pool and a stunning pool, whether it's fiberglass or concrete."


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Awkward Outdoor Living

This is a property that had a swimming pool and a fire pit, but it was really hard to use any of it. The fire pit was sitting on the bond beam of the pool, but because of the column (pictured), you couldn't actually fit chairs around it. So they had to move the chairs when they turned on the fire, and then move them back, which is awkward, but that's what they had to do.

When somebody originally designed this yard, they didn't think about outdoor living at all. The first thing they thought about was the pool, which they made way bigger than it ever should have been for this particular space because they were thinking about the pool and not the space.

Then they probably thought, "What should this pool be shaped like and what should it line up with? And they decided it should line up with the back fence, which means it doesn't line up with the house at all. And it doesn't line up with the other fence because it's not a 90 degree angle. And so you end up with all sorts of weirdness. To get into the spa, you have to walk right up against the fence because that is the only usable access point for the spa.

This yard would have been completely different if they had thought about the space first and then figured out where the vessel would go and how big it would be. But by thinking pool first, it ended up being too big and it stole all their outdoor living from them.

So what we ended up doing was taking the firepit off of the bond beam of the pool and moving it into the space that actually has the physical dimensions to be an upper living room. Now when you walk out the back door, you can get to the fire and the couch to actually hang out by your firepit, and look out across your swimming pool.

So if you think about living first, circulation second and swimming pool location last, you end up with an entire space that works.

And what it means for these poor people is that they bought a house that had a perfectly functional swimming pool with a brand new pebble sheen finish on it and now they're redoing the backyard because it didn't work. This is why design matters.
— KS


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