photo of a vinyl liner pool
The Latham Tru-Tile system and Kafko Liners are used for both new construction and liner replacements. In this project, the clients chose the Creekstone liner, which is blended with a real ceramic tile border. (Photo courtesy of Legendary Escapes/Al Curtis)

We get a lot of questions from pool owners and other pool companies about how we create our hybrid vinyl/gunite pools. For us, the process is a synergy; pieces from different types of projects and different types of pools are pulled together in new ways to create the optimal backyard environment.

The hybrid pools we create are in response to a growing trend: Customers are becoming more discerning and more specific about what they want. It’s no longer “keeping up with Joneses” and building a bigger version of what their neighbor has. Instead, we hear customers tell us how they want to use their outdoor space and what they want their lifestyle to be like. It’s these wishes that influence the design.

In building these complex environments, it’s not necessarily about discovering a brand new product or discovering something that didn’t exist before and creating it. Rather, it’s about taking what’s already known to work and readily available and appropriating it in a new way.

What I love about our work is the creativity of it all. Instead of saying “well, we’ve always done it this way” or having our customers pick a design out of book and plunking in the pieces, we like to say “what if.” What if we use the same products we are familiar with, but we use some of this over here, and blend in a little of that over there?

That’s what a hybrid pool is all about. It’s taking all the benefits of vinyl — the comfort, the ease of use, the durability, the way it handles the water chemistry and stands up to the weather — and combining it with the durability and flexibility of custom gunite elements — the sun shelf that can hold lounge chairs, that hidden grotto or spill-over spa, and all those elements that require a different treatment than vinyl.

We’ve arrived at this hybrid place because we kept trying different ways of working with the existing products, and we realized that when we use things in a new way, magic happens. I mean real, “wow, I had no idea our pool could look like this” kind of magic.

This kind of creative innovation is being driven by our customers and their desire for something unique that truly expresses the leisure life they are looking for. This kind of change — customer driven — means there is money in this industry for those of us willing to walk on the leading edge.

photo of a turtle pool feature
Each project is a unique expression of the homeowner. In this project, that involved adding unique water features for ambient sound and visual aesthetics. (Photo courtesy of Legendary Escapes/Al Curtis)

photo of a pool fountain feature

photo of a pool fountain feature

This leading edge is where I believe our industry needs to change. Pool design innovation has always been driven from the gunite side because it’s fabricated on site. Vinyl and fiberglass pools are more product driven, i.e. you pick your shape out of the product catalog, and we’ll build that for you. Yes, we can do some design around that with some gunite features, but your basic shape is limited by the product.

That could change, and I believe the time is right for some of the leading vinyl designers to embrace this idea.

What I would love to see is designers in the vinyl liner industry come to the forefront. The well-known designers in our industry — the guys who have created incredible things and taken pools to the next level — are all gunite guys. Now there are some well-known vinyl names, sure, known for both the quality and quantity of their products, but we don’t read much about these vinyl designers working on the front edge of custom pool design.

This is the road not traveled much at all . . . I don’t mean reinventing the idea of a vinyl liner pool, but reimagining how it all goes together and offering vinyl liners that are custom-designed.

This idea, where we can use the existing benefits of vinyl in a bespoke, made-to-order way, is where we can blow the customers away.

If we look back to how the pool industry grew to where it is today, concrete pools were the original pools, then vinyl and fiberglass, but so many consumers still think that the only truly customizable options are in concrete. Our industry perpetuates that belief by keeping our design consultations product focused. To me, that is the wrong approach.

Instead, we need to ask the deeper questions up front about what they expect out of their pool environment, and then design an environment to meet that request. There is a tremendous amount of design work that can be done in vinyl. We work with some terrific vinyl providers who provide the customization that we need, using standard panels that are put together in non-standard ways, repurposing instead of reinventing.

Right now I believe there is a huge opportunity for these designers to step up and showcase what they can do instead of offering the “pick one” approach.

The hybrid pool is more than a trend; it’s happening as a result of customer demand and a changing market. The vinyl industry leaders are not necessarily addressing it fully, but they will. They’ll follow the money, like all industries.

Instead of following the money, why not try leading the pack? What if we ask ourselves what more could we do for our customers? Be an early adopter, living on the front edge of that bell curve where all the innovation happens, not the long tail. Yes, you’re taking risks, but isn’t staying where you are and being a follower a bigger risk?

The customer is driving change in our industry, insisting more on custom solutions. We will either be pushed in that direction, or we can innovate and bring it to the customer. This is where the vinyl designer industry has a huge opportunity.

Sure, it requires more time up front on the design end, but the finished product — and the customer relationship — will be a hundred times better for it.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail scottw@aquamagazine.com.