Poolside Splendor

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Laguna architect James Conrad shows us how to beat the heat with the perfect pool.

By Somer Flaherty


A fabulous residential pool is an escape from the heat, a reason for impromptu summer soirees and an easy way to transform your backyard into a resort. Local architect James Conrad, who has created to-die-for pool designs for some of the most exclusive Laguna Beach homes, says the key to creating the perfect pool is to first consider how the element will be used. If its main purpose is for swimming, a lap pool is just right; if lounging is in order, add shallow sun deck platforms; and if the space is for play, don’t forget your very own pool volleyball net. Here, James serves up his tips for creating your ultimate water retreat.

Laguna Beach Magazine: One of the most iconic pool designs is the infinity pool. Is it still popular?

James Conrad: Yes, most of my clients want to have an infinity pool, a design where the pool seems to spill into the ocean. This became popular many years ago when an infinity pool was used in a James Bond movie. However, achieving this effect is not always possible. And, it is not always the best design solution for all properties. On properties that do not have a view, a four-sided, negative edge pool can be used. This is done by raising the pool a foot or so above the pool deck and spilling the pool on all four sides. The result is a mirror surface.

LBM: In which types of homes do lap pools work best?

JC: Lap pools are typically used when we have limited depth in a yard area. Most yards don’t have room for a real lap pool––they need to be 60 feet or so long for swimming laps. I designed a home where the client wanted a true lap pool; it was designed so that it is located half under the home and half open to the sky.

LBM: What is the first step when deciding to add a pool?

JC: I always ask my clients to show me some pictures of pools that they really like. Most people have an image in their mind of the kind of pool they want. My job is to translate their vision into a unique design that really fits the home.

LBM: Are more clients asking for saltwater pools versus chlorine?

JC: All of the pools we install are saltwater. This is primarily for health reasons. The saltwater filtration systems don’t cause the skin to dry out like a conventional chlorine filter.

LBM: What about heating a pool?

JC: Solar heating is something to consider if the pool is going to be used regularly. Some cities are now requiring it, including San Juan Capistrano, for instance. I am kind of surprised it is not required in Laguna Beach. I encourage all of my clients to use solar heating for their pools. Also, remember small shallow pools are much easier and faster to heat.

LBM: Since many homes in Laguna are built on hillsides, can you tell us about cool ways to integrate pools into this type of landscape?

JC: That is where the infinity pool really works. The infinity pool really extends the yard area visually, and if the yard is oriented toward the ocean, we may be able to create the effect of the pool spilling into the ocean.

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  1. Nice interview, and a great local architect. It is definitely important more people hear about solar possibilities for their pools.


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