The only good pool is a safe one. Unfortunately, not every safe, fenced-in pool setting is attractive. But safety and beauty don't have to be mutually exclusive when it comes to poolscapes. Codes and covenants must be followed, but much can be done to diminish the effects of aesthetically unappealing fences or barriers.

"Quite often the main solution for making safety attractive is using landscaping," says Bill Renter, owner of the Deck & Patio Company in Huntington Station, N.Y. "And because we're a landscape contractor, that's something we usually key in on and it's an important element of design when we're putting together a pool plan.

"But the first thing to consider in terms of trying to make the fence as invisible as possible is the color of the fence. Generally, a metallic-color fence is very noticeable, so we typically recommend black fencing, whether it's chain link or estate fencing, which is aluminum fencing that looks like wrought iron and has a coating on it. And a black fence tends to be more invisible because it fades into the shadows and the background.

"The next thing we do in order to minimize the impact of the fence is to work with plant material." Renter often plants on both sides of a fence, especially if the fence sits in the main viewing angle of the pool from the house. This way, the focus is on the landscaping, not the fence.

If a fence can't be hidden in trees or other landscaping, another alternative is a clear glass or acrylic barrier. Brian Van Bower, president of Miami-based Aquatic Consultants and a principal of the Genesis 3 Design Group, says material like this can be used not only to improve the aesthetics of an environment, but also to provide protection from wind on waterfront applications.

When the site's barrier happens to be a wall, "then maybe you could take the side you have to stare at all the time and have a mural painted on it, have a mosaic tile design installed on it or create a water element out of it using the raised wall as the emanating point for water flows of some sort," says Bower. "So make it a water feature, a visual feature of its own."

Work The Land

Using elevation changes to eliminate the need for a fence is sometimes a possibility. "We've been successful in some cases," says Bower, "when the pool is on an elevation change where the pool is flush with the ground on the house side of the pool, but yet the ground pitches away sharply enough on the back side to make up the safety barrier."

Yet another option is locating a fence in an area not immediately adjacent to the pool. "If you can wait and let the ground taper down to a low point and put the fence down there," says Bower, you can minimize the fence's visual impact that way, as well. Renter recalls a project where this concept would have worked, if only the homeowner had heeded his advice. "We did this absolutely breathtaking free-form pool with a free-form tumbled-stone patio, waterfalls and boulders, and there are beautiful elevation changes in the yard so we could tuck the pool into the hill. But the customer hired a different fencing company than the one we recommended and they took the fence, a 4foot-high estate fence, and put it right at the edge of the patio and left no room for planting at all. It made the swimming pool look like a playpen. Literally, where the pool deck ended, the fence began.

"But simply moving the fence back about 6 feet away from the patio and allowing for plantings on both sides would've dramatically reduced the impact of the fence because 6 feet back, the grade actually dropped, so the fence would be out of your line of sight. You would have seen the pool and looked over the fence."

Tom Driscoll, president of Cabana Pools Aquatech in Houston, also did a project not long ago where an inappropriately placed fence could have ruined the poolscape. Fortunately, in this case, the clients listened to his advice. "The way the clients wanted to do it, they would have walked out of their house to see a section of 6-foot cedar fence," says Driscoll. "I said, 'Let's take your eyes to another point. Hiding fences behind landscaping (left), or drawing attention away from fencing with water features and shrubs (above) are two ways to improve poolscape aesthetics. Let's put a feature in there — an elevated feature of some sort with the landscaping behind it so that your eyes don't go straight to that fence.' I explained to them why they should do this and when they understood, they thought, Whoah, this is great!"

Like he did on this project, Driscoll says he envisions a finished and balanced poolscape in the design stage and this helps to minimize the visual effect of necessary barriers. "I think about the whole project from start to finish and how this thing is going to be viewed and what we want to do and what we want to accomplish," says Driscoll. "If there is fencing in there, we'll design something to go in to block that or to hide that. And if everything is balanced, everything works well."

To Driscoll, having this vision of a balanced poolscape is key. But achieving the right look is a process, not a revelation. "I never start out with one design and work it straight through. I'm constantly revising and redoing. Constantly."

For those who are not as familiar with principles of good design, fear not — you can learn. "I look at everything I can get my hands on," says Driscoll. "I go through all the pool and spa magazines. I go through Architectural Digest." But, perhaps most importantly, Driscoll attributes his design skills to desire. He has many years of experience building pools, but was able to take his designs to the next level because he "wanted to be able to do this."

Secondary Devices

Though permanent fences and walls are often the barriers required by local codes, other devices can enhance pool safety, and as Bower says, "Everybody should have a combination of safety elements. Why wouldn't you if you have a child."

Renter recommends BABY-LOC, made by LOOP-LOC, Ltd. "It's a mesh fence that goes directly around the swimming pool and it works well because it can be easily removed if you're entertaining," he says. "Then after you entertain, it can be put back up as your secondary safety feature for children.

"You can also see right through it. And the other major advantage is that when the children get older, you simply take it down and it's not a major project to disassemble the fence."

There are also other less-visible secondary safety devices available. There are sonar, infrared and motion-detection systems that all sound alarms when a child or animal falls into the water. These systems can be virtually invisible.

Whatever layers of protection your clients choose, hopefully they enhance the beauty of the poolscape. Either way, it's critical they have them and use them. But, says Renter, "No matter what sort of fence or device you use, there is no substitute for parental supervision."

Kevin Woodhurst, president of Precision Pools and Spas in Gilbert, Ariz., and a parent of a 2 year old and a 5 year old, agrees and also practices the pool safety he preaches. Speaking about his old pool before he moved last year, Woodhurst says: "Beyond the fence, we had the gate to the pool alarmed. We had our house double alarmed, and we had the multi-lockable high handles. My kids also wore a Safety Turtle, and of course we never took our eyes off of them."

Handy Safety Brochure

In an effort to educate the aquatics industry about pool and spa safety and the equipment that can be used to facilitate it, the Pool Safety Alliance, a nonprofit organization whose members include the Genesis 3 Design Group and the Children's Hospital of Orange County (Calif.), created a brochure that describes the options.

To get copies of this brochure, contact the Pool Safety Alliance Headquarters at P.O. Box 2421, Seal Beach, Calif., 90740, e-mail info@poolsafetyalliance.org or call 949/933-0202.

—K.E.