Ask Elizabeth Stuart Design founder Muffie Faith about how to decorate around a backyard pool and she'll answer you with a question of her own: How are you going to use it?
"I know the obvious answer is 'swim and enjoy the cool water,'" says the South Carolina-based interior designer. But it's worth diving deeper (yes, she says, pun intended) into that question to ensure you'll create a backyard that really makes you happy.
Who will be spending time around this pool and what will they be doing?
Is dining poolside a priority? Then you'll want to take time choosing a large enough table for guests and family, and you'll need comfortable chairs that can get damp with pool water.
Do you wish to face the pool or be tucked in a side garden where you'll glance over at your pool but not focus on it?
And do you love to garden and want the pool in a lush setting or do you hate to garden and prefer hardscape and beautiful pots with less maintenance?
Taking your time with questions like these, Faith says, "will help you to design your area around the pool, which I would say is almost as critical as the pool design itself."
Designers Jade Joyner, co-founder of Metal+Petal design in Athens, Georgia, and Abbe Fenimore, founder of Studio Ten 25 in Dallas, agree.
Fenimore has several clients who don't have children or whose kids are out of the house, so the pool area is mainly used by adults coming over for cocktail parties or quiet afternoons. In those cases, sleek furnishings and an open fire pit are perfectly appropriate.
But Fenimore and Joyner point out that homeowners with small kids have different needs. They might have lots of young houseguests using their pool, so they need plenty of comfortable seating. And avoiding sharp corners is important if little kids may be running around with wet feet.
More advice for creating an appealing and safe backyard pool area:
HANDLING SUN AND HEAT
The furniture around your pool will likely be in direct sunlight and will interact with plenty of water. So it must be durable.
"Here in Texas, we get into the low 100's for at least a month or a month and a half," Fenimore says. "The sun is aggressive and damaging."
Metals, especially in direct sunlight, "are very unforgiving here," she says. "They will scald you."
So she suggests wood furniture and resin-based material that resembles wood.
Joyner recommends outdoor pieces that are fully upholstered — no hot metal chair arms — and tough enough to be left outside or splashed with pool water.
Also, when you choose furniture and pillow fabrics, Fenimore says, keep animals in mind. Squirrels and birds might try to pull out loose threads from nubby fabrics to make nests, so opt for durable and smooth upholstery.
And Fenimore recommends adding one or more large umbrellas that can be repositioned as the day wears on and the direct sunlight moves across the pool area.
BUILDING FROM SCRATCH
If you're adding a pool to a yard that didn't have one, take into account the location and root systems of nearby trees, Faith says.
"Some trees have invasive root systems that could harm the pool over time. Also, are there any deciduous trees close by that will make a huge mess in the fall? If so, I may want to vote for a pool cover," she says.
Another consideration: What kind of equipment will the pool have?
"You must factor in where a good spot will be to disguise it, as well as the noise that inevitably comes from the pool equipment," Faith says.
One benefit to building a new pool or redesigning an old one: You can choose the color palette of the pool's interior.
"I am currently designing a pool for an amazing mid-century home and the client wants it to be authentic," Faith says. "The pool will have crystal-blue water, so it is necessary that the bottom of the pool be white to reflect blue. There will be a pale blue tile surround, so as not to distract but give a 'Don Draper' 1960s look. The hardscape around the pool needs to be light so as not to distract your eye from the focus: a beautiful pool."
Faith designed a pool with a dark bottom for her own home, creating the feel of "an oversize pond that you could swim in." She surrounded it with slate, for a natural appearance.
RESORT STYLE (AND SAFETY MEASURES, TOO)
Rules vary, but for safety many towns require fencing around a yard with a pool.
Joyner suggests choosing a fence that complements your house's exterior and blends in, with simple and clean lines. All three designers recommend softening a fence's appearance with bushes, potted trees and other plants.
Fortunately, that same lush garden can also bring a bit of hotel resort-style glamour to your backyard.
Add small finishing touches like a throw pillow on each chaise and a basket of rolled-up fluffy towels in a cabana stripe or other pattern, Fenimore says.
An outdoor fireplace or fire pit can also elevate your pool area, Joyner says, making it a great gathering place for family and friends.
Make sure you have a small table between your chairs for coffee or a cocktail, Faith says, and put in plenty of electrical outlets for things like outdoor lamps and speakers.
Last detail, says Faith: A bar to serve refreshments, complete with pretty —but preferably plastic — glassware, because "'glass" and 'pool' are two words that don't work very well together."