Pool With a View: How To’s for Installing the Perfect Infinity Pool

infinity pool
Photos by John Benford Photography

From the deck of this stately Queen Anne home near Cape Neddick, Maine, early risers can catch the first rays of the sun as it appears over Pint Cove. Just below, the glassy surface of a swimming pool reflects the sky as it turns indigo, then orange, then blue. One long edge of its rectangle simply drops into space, the water vanishing. At this hour the pool resembles a modern sculpture more than a place to take a dip.

Until recently, this 119-year old house overlooked a far less impressive backyard. Set on a slope, the basement let out only feet from a steep drop. A neighbor’s children called it the best sledding hill in the neighborhood. The homeowners, who are from New Jersey, found the house as a summer rental and fell in love with it. The wife was born in York, Maine, and it was her dream that her family have a summer home here. When it came on the market six years ago they snapped it up. The interior of the house needed updating and there was not enough parking, but renovations and a garage could wait. The family has three active teenagers. The first order of business was a pool.

Outdoor landscape in Cape Neddick Maine
Once a steep slope, the new backyard is a stylish space perfect for grown-up entertaining while still meeting the needs of the family’s active teenagers.

The Infinity Pool: Making the Water-To-Water Connection

“They had their priorities in order,” Robbi Woodburn of Woodburn & Company Landscape Architecture says with a laugh. Her Newmarket, New Hampshire, firm was charged with transforming the unusable backyard into a luxurious space to swim, sunbathe, dine, and relax with family and friends. Instead of a standard in-ground pool, Woodburn suggested an infinity pool, “Because of the view,” she says. “I wanted to make the water-to-water connection, and an ordinary pool wouldn’t do that.”

Also called negative edge, zero edge, or vanishing edge pools, infinity pools are designed to visually link with a nearby body of water, the sky, or even a cityscape by appearing to drop off into space. It is a trick of the eye; the edge is actually a sloped dam that allows the water to flow into a reservoir and be pumped up again into the pool. Once found only at high-end resorts, infinity pools have become popular with homeowners who want a pool that is aesthetically beautiful as well as functional.

outdoor living space with infinity pool
The spa (left side in photo) was originally separate from the swimming pool, but when excavators hit rock ledge, Robbi Woodburn reworked the design to sit above and spill like a waterfall into the pool.

The Mechanics of the Infinity Pool Installation

“It was a complex job, but it came together very nicely,” says Bob Reed of Robert Reed Associates in York Harbor, the general contractor. Reed had tons of fill brought in to extend the backyard and an extensive drainage system installed to control runoff. Extra-thick steel reinforces the pool, and its hydraulic system contains 1,100 feet of pipe.

Before construction began, David Macolini of Becker Structural Engineers in Portland evaluated the site to ensure that it could handle the weight of the installation and designed the nine-and-a-half-foot retaining wall the pool is set in.

The geometry of the space and the traditional style of the house dictated that the pool be rectangular. “There could really be no other shape,” Woodburn says. “A curvy pool would have looked out of place.” The 20-by-40-foot pool with raised spa was installed by Jackson Pool Service of Lexington, Massachusetts. “We spend our afternoons here,” the homeowner says. “It’s so cool to be in the water and look out and be level with the horizon.” The coping is Mystic Valley, a granite-based stone native to Maine. The white striations throughout the greenish-gray slabs provide movement and interest. The remaining stonework is Boston Blend, another local stone.

A Functional Outdoor Entertaining Space

The owners wanted a sheltered place to entertain nearby. Scott Fiorentino, principal of Scott Fiorentino Group, designed a columned pavilion that maximizes the view to the ocean and offers both eating and lounging areas. Since bringing anything from the house means climbing a flight of stairs, his design includes extra storage for cookware and tableware in addition to a barbecue, refrigerator, and sink. And at the far end of the pavilion there is a wood-burning fireplace.

Poolside pavilion
Scott Fiorentino designed the pavilion to both maximize the views to the ocean and be a place to entertain when it’s hot or there’s inclement weather. The family enjoys toasting marshmallows in the wood-burning fireplace.

“We use the outdoor kitchen all the time to make lunch or roast marshmallows at the fireplace,” the homeowner says. “It’s a comfortable place to hang.” The height of the pavilion and the roofline were intentionally kept low so as not to block future views from any potential additions to the house. Its roof is covered with cedar shakes.

“The main house has architectural asphalt roof shingles, but it’s more pleasing to have natural materials when a roof is in people’s line of vision,” Fiorentino says. “The cedar adds a richness and refinement, and it also fits the style of the house.” The pool’s pump house and storage area are built into the retaining wall under the pavilion. “This was a convenient way to use the area,” Fiorentino says. “The aesthetics of a pump house can be unsightly. Putting it below the pavilion means you don’t even know it’s there, plus it muffles the noise of the pump.”

Outdoor Landscaping to Highlight Nature’s Beauty

Tom Dunn of Stoney Brook Landscaping and Masonry of Cape Neddick installed the hardscaping and did the planting. The rest of the space is lawn rather than stone. “It gives a much softer look,” Woodburn says. “It works because they are not there all the time. If they lived there full time or had young children, the grass wouldn’t hold up.”

At the opposite end of the property is a garden with a seating area and steps down to a broad lawn. Knock Out roses, ‘Happy Returns’ daylilies, and ‘Carl’ sedum are planted in masses for color and ease of care. “Nobody wants to fuss with a garden at a summer house,” Woodburn says. Native shrubs such as blueberry, summersweet (Clethra), and bayberry provide color, fragrance, and food for birds and pollinators.

stone steps
The garden seating area overlooks a broad lawn. Knock Out roses, ‘Happy Returns’ daylilies, and ‘Carl’ sedum are planted in masses for color and ease of care.

Turning a backyard good only for sledding into a stylish retreat took more than two years, but everyone involved agrees the transformation was worth it. “The payoff is that when we visit, we don’t want to leave,” the homeowner says. “The backyard has become the destination.”

4 Tips to Keep In Mind When Considering an Infinity Pool

Landscape architect Robbi Woodburn and Steve Jackson of Jackson Pool share tips when considering an infinity pool over a standard swimming pool:

  1.  Not every site works for an infinity pool, Jackson says. To achieve the vanishing effect, there must be a significant elevation change where the pool isto be located.
  2.  The exposed wall(s) of an infinity pool require additional structural support. Woodburn recommends having a structural engineer evaluate the property before committing to this design.
  3.  An infinity pool’s catch-and-return system has more complicated hydraulics, Jackson says. This is reflected in the cost, which can be 30 percent or more above that of an in-ground pool.
  4.  Woodburn notes that the color of the pool walls makes the difference between a pool standing out from its surroundings and blending in. Black or gray walls echo colors in the Maine seacoast and appear natural. Blue or white walls look more “Hollywood.”

 

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