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Into the Blue

New-wave designs elevate swimming pools to works of art.

Before Beverly Hills-based landscape architect Garett Carlson popularized the infinity-edge in the ’80s, California swimming pools were slaves to function. “The old-fashioned pool was 20-by-40 [feet] with light blue tile and a diving board,” says Carlson. Today’s styles have swung far in the other direction. “The really big trend [is] making a pool something spectacular that is more than a swimming pool,” says Jennifer Schab, a senior associate at L.A.’s Rios Clementi Hale Studios.

Take a recent project by the firm in the Hollywood Hills: A narrow strip of water along one side of the modern house is an integral design element with multiple functions. It’s a reflecting pool for 60-year-old olive trees plus an architectural feature, drawing the eye out to the city views. At night, it’s lit by LEDs that change colors. “It serves as a kind of giant light box,” says Schab.

In Santa Monica, a couple commissioned light-and-space artist James Turrell to put one of his famed skyspace installations over their outdoor dining area, providing a stunning backdrop to the pool.

One of the pioneers of inspired pool design was Thomas Church, whose 1948 kidney-shaped pool for a Sonoma residence—featuring a sculptural island by artist Adaline Kent—is a landmark. Today, his love of unconventional shapes is embraced by Santa Barbara landscape architect Susan Van Atta, who conceived of a narrow ellipse for the pool at her own residence.

Of course, if budget doesn’t allow for commissioning a world-class artist or even starting over from scratch, there’s one easy way to update an outdated rectangular model: “Bring it down to 12 feet wide,” says Carlson, “and it’s a really modern, slick lap pool.”

BY DEGEN PENER.

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