JEWEL POOLS Best new pools blend splash with spectacle

Because the pool is supported by pilings and not dug into the ground, it's not even visible from the ground (it sits between the two buildings).

Growing up a generation ago, it seemed like every backyard swimming pool had the same blue paint job, raised concrete block edge and metal ladders attached to the side.

Not any more.

Many of today's pools recognize an important reality: Their owners spend more time looking at them than swimming in them.

So they can be considered water features: key focal points of their outdoor landscape. And thanks to new technologies, the possibilities run as deep as a homeowner's pocketbook.

A new pool built on Sullivan's Island off Jasper Boulevard is a great example.

Clint Fore of Aqua Blue Pools says he relishes the notion of pushing the envelope of what's possible in pool construction.

And one of the most challenging aspects to this design and construction also is one of its most subtle.

The pool's edge is a layer of stone that's the same level of the deck. It's called a "perimeter overflow pool," and water seeps into a small crease.

Fore says the precision needed to ensure everything is level so the water covers the entire lip is exacting, but those walking around its edge don't need to worry about tripping (those not paying attention still could fall in, but it probably would look much more graceful).

But the pool has other special details, such as a colorful blue-green tile and a gentle set of steps that line one of its narrow sides. Its first step is wide and shallow, letting someone stretch out and relax in just a few inches of water.

It also has a set of six jets that can be flipped on whenever the owners want to turn the pool into a fountain, and it has special lighting so it has a bluish glow at night.

The pool is not dug into the ground, which protects it from the next storm surge and makes its mechanics easier to access.

The pool also is framed by a loggia that links a new pool house, designed by Herlong and Associates, with the main house. Those in the shade look out over the pool and Breach Inlet in the distance.

This project won the Charleston Home Builders Association's annual award for Best Pool and Outdoor Living Space, the ninth straight year that award has been won by Aqua Blue Pool.

The company also has won a "Best Of Houzz" award from that online home remodeling site and is a member of the Master Pools Guild.

Some of these pools have been infinity pools, where the water's edge blends into the marsh, while others have bottoms painted to reflect the surrounding landscape.

But Fore says there are other features that also are options for homeowners, such as grottos, rocky or weeping waterfalls, sunken kitchen spaces and swim-up bars, adjoining hot tubs, fire features and so on.

Those serious about exercise also can install a series of jets so they can practice endurance swims without ever reaching their pool's edge.

Some of Aqua Blue's best work is not well known at all because the pools' owners value their privacy more than helping their pool contractor show off its work.

One striking new pool on Kiawah Island is one of this nation's first with a system that raises the pool's floor to level ground with a flip of a switch, surely a feature that's not for every backyard and budget.

Still, those looking to add a pool these days should begin by thinking deeply about its design - about how it can serve as a visual (and audible) focal point, as well as simply a place to swim - before they take the plunge.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.