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above-ground pool, architect on demand, advice without strings

My kids, my students, and my fellow DIYers (those home improvement enthusiasts I consult online as Alla DIY Ally) have all heard me exclaim time and time again: “That’s a blessing in disguise!” I love when perceived design problems (like the ones I’ve encountered while designing an above-ground pool) are turned around and emerge as opportunities. It’s so much fun to use constraints to your advantage!

In my not so humble opinion, designing without explicit limitations as if “the sky’s the limit” is actually harder than when there are constraints. Design process can start anywhere. Sure. Hard to argue with that. But it’s a bit daunting, too open-ended. Too overwhelming. For instance, if you have a plot of land that you can build anything on, referring to context for clues might be a good place to start.

Somehow, it is always helpful to begin with a set of design guidelines or boundaries. Here is an example in my portfolio to illustrate the point. It showcases how I was able to turn restrictions into opportunities while designing an above-ground pool.

above-ground pool, architect on demand
    1. Willing to Experiment with an Above-Ground Pool

Searching for our first home, I fell in love with a run-down house mainly because of its amazing lot — a promise of an urban retreat nestled in a lush area of LA’s Hollywood Hills. My husband objected — built right under the hill, it had no backyard. I promised to build a pool and sauna in the front.

Thus, I set out to hire a well-regarded pool specialist who turned out to be too expensive and too much of a “star.” He was not interested in working with my aesthetic or incorporating my vision. We would’ve ended up with a cookie-cutter solution. No, thank you. Having never done a pool design before (potentially a huge problem), I took on a challenge myself.

above-ground pool, architect on demand

2. Making the Most of Existing Conditions

There was enough elbowroom in the front yard for a 40-foot long lap pool, but the ground sloped drastically, making it impossible to utilize traditional pool construction. I opted to preserve and enhance. Besides, flattening the terrain by introducing retaining walls would have been prohibitively expensive.


above-ground pool, architect on demand
3. Using Restrictions as Inspiration

As a result, I invented a site-specific solution — an above-ground swimming pool with an underground bath house to circumvent an outrageous obstacle. It crystalized in 24 hours, after a zoning official at the Department of Building and Safety cited a required setback of 55 feet.

My plan was to create a deck at the level of the house, set 75 feet away and eight feet above the street. You would enter a nine foot wide tub-like concrete reservoir at its most shallow from the deck. The depth would gradually increase following the slope.

above-ground pool, architect on demand
4. Dealing with Challenges Incrementally

An architect-DIYer, lucky enough to work on my ideal home, I thought it was important to provide choices and options. The immense front yard with over a hundred rose bushes (if nothing else, former owners had lovingly cultivated) possessed an amazing potential to be transformed into an outdoor enclave.

I envisioned lingering alfresco dinners amidst a fragrant garden. Children playing Marco Polo. My husband running out of the scorching sauna and jumping into the pool. Everyone relaxing in the bubbling spa at night, strategically assembled to partake in the drama of the fire pit.

Multiple functions had to be served. Meeting family’s needs as they changed over time was clearly the main design objective. Breaking up the vast scale by dividing the space into intimate areas seemed to make sense.

  above-ground pool, architect on demand

5. Self-Imposing Priorities

Using a restrained palette of natural materials allowed me to repeat a subtle theme while unifying all of the unique conditions. Specifying pre-cast concrete pavers for the coping (a budget limitation) in lieu of more decorative options, I faithfully expressed the method of construction employed for the above-ground pool.

Then, as pre-cast motif emerged, I chose to dress garden stairs in the same fashion. It appeared only logical to design pre-cast benches for the deck. As well as to repeat waterline tile combination in the underground bathroom, deck, and spa.

Repetition was a way of addressing a design problem holistically. It resulted in a collection of flexible outdoor spaces, suitable not only for different moods and times of day, but for years of continuous enjoyment. Making a conscious decision to consistently echo certain contextual details tied everything together. Embracing the mindset that “there are no problems, only solutions” helped tremendously!


  • August 24, 2015

    You’re so awesome! I do not think I’ve read anything
    like that before. So great to discover someone with genuine thoughts on this subject matter.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website is
    something that’s needed on the internet, someone with a
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    • August 24, 2015

      What a wonderful comment! I am very pleased that you are enjoying my blog posts!!! Thank you very much for your interest!

  • September 18, 2015

    This is really nice to know. I hope it will be successful in the future. Good job on this and keep up the good work.

  • September 26, 2015

    Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful
    & it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and
    help others like you helped me.

  • September 29, 2015

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  • October 1, 2015

    Great article.

  • October 11, 2015

    It looks awesome 🙂

  • Terrance Markos
    October 14, 2015

    This is a topic that’s close to my heart… Thank you! Exactly where are your contact details though?

  • October 15, 2015

    If I were to choose between a regular and above-ground pool, which one would you recommend? Are there any advantages to an above-ground pool?

    • October 15, 2015

      Penny, above-ground pool is much more expensive. It’s only warranted if you are building one on a slope. Otherwise, regular in-ground pool is a way to go.

  • October 21, 2015

    This is what i want in my backyard

  • October 26, 2015

    Looking at this shot taken at dusk, I can’t help but feel immersed in the sounds and aromas of the quiet evening, pretending to soak in the Jacuzzi right next to the fire pit.

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