We spoke with landscape and pool designer Greg Powell to find out how to build the outdoor environment of your dreams here in Northern Virginia.
It’s summertime, which means everyone has one thought: let’s jump in the pool. While there are plenty of public pools in the region, many people prefer to have a familiar outdoor environment, perfect for lounging in the day and entertaining guests at night, whether that be at your home or your next door neighbor’s. But have you ever thought about the process that goes into building your favorite summer hangout? Here, owner of State of the Art Landscape in Loudoun County Greg Powell, tells us exactly what it’s like.
First, talk to me about your company and why it’s unique.
I worked for design firms in Philly and this area since 2002, where swimming pools were usually part of that. Unfortunately, most pool companies don’t really have a design team, so in 2010 I went out on my own and started a design-build firm. About a year or two after that, we started building pools internally. Usually, landscape design firms don’t build their own pools, they contract a company or refer a pool company to the homeowner, and then they build the environment around it. We do it all ourselves.
What do you usually see when people come to you for a new pool and how do you create that?
It’s a fairly typical design process, in that the client has usually seen something at a vacation spot, resort or friends home—that’s usually the catalyst that gets them started. Or, they are looking for a pool for their kids. I would say that 90% of the conversations around the swimming pool designs have nothing to do with the features. It has to do with the shapes, having a cover, all that. It used to be that you had to build a fence no matter what to keep people out or for safety issues, etc. But with the new regulations, an automatic pool cover can be put in without having a fence around the property. So, to build an automatic cover on a pool, it has to be a rectangle or a square.
I would say at this point, one in 10 pools are not rectangles, they have an organic shape. When you go in, it’s not, “I want curvy lagoons,” it’s not like that at all anymore. It all has to do with the fence. So now it’s all about, how do we make a rectangle look fun, attractive, natural and all that. So that’s step one.
Then we do budgeting so the client understands what level of magnitude their getting into followed by a 3D design, which is all extremely interactive. We can make live changes in meetings, we can change the materials and make the house in the background look just like their house. We can even show them exactly where the sun will be on a given day. Then we present the idea and an updated budget, and then we try to get them engaged on the design. It typically takes about two to three weeks.
What is unique about designing a swimming pool here in Northern Virginia?
I would say mostly that it’s trying to expand the shoulder seasons, meaning the beginning and end of swimming season. We try to expand those so clients can get five months of swimming instead of spending $2,000 to $3,000 to get 90 days—it’s not worth the investment. We try to create environments—like darker interiors so it heats up better in the sun, creating a sunnier atmosphere—trying to get as much time as we can out of the pool. And then it’s wrapping the rest of the outdoor environment in. People here want water, fire and cooking. Then we move to light and sound, whether they want colored lighting outside, etc.
Is there a trend in this area that you’ve noticed people tend to want?
Everyone wants an outdoor kitchen or a fire feature, it seems universal. Everyone wants the ability to cook at a station where friends and family can join around, so the chef isn’t isolated in the corner. We also do a lot of shade structures, people like to have the pool in the sun but also like to be hanging in the shade with the fans. Everyone is looking for either some type of fire, cooking or both.
When is the best time to build a pool?
The best time to call is late summer or early fall to start the process so we can construct it and have you swimming the following summer season. A swimming pool process can take a while based on the county. Fairfax, for example, is sometimes a minimum of 90 days just to apply for the permit.
What is the biggest challenge you face in this industry?
The biggest challenge is having everybody’s goals and wishes fit into a budget for them to afford. Especially in this area, they are usually moving from other areas. We don’t find a whole lot of native Northern Virginia people, they tend to come from warmer areas so they are surprised by the price. Here, you don’t usually get a really nice pool for under $100,000. A typical pool for us with nice finishes is around $100,000 and then when you add the other elements of walls, landscaping and that type of stuff, you’re north of $200,000. Now that we have the 3D, we can really show everyone what they’re going to get. We are looking for, “Oh ,I love that,” or the, “Oh, I hate that.”
If you could design your ideal swimming pool, how would you go about it and why?
For me, I have young children. It would definitely be a rectangle with an automatic cover, it would have an infinity edge on the long side of the pool. The reason is because they are extremely fun to build and be in. You get the sound, the safety of the automatic cover; it kind of pulls everything together. And then I would get color-changing LED lights in there, some water play with waterfalls, all that.
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