A Look At Fancy Swimming Pools

There are more than 8 million pools in this country: a testament to the good life. They are places to play, to unwind, to soak up the sun and to see and be seen.

And in the right hands, they can also be works of art. Works celebrated in the book "Pools" by photographer Kelly Klein.

It started back in the 1980s, when Kelly and her then-husband, designer Calvin Klein, acquired an ocean-front home on Long Island. It had million dollar views, but the pool was a dime-a-dozen.

"We filled it with sand and just made it part of the dune," Klein told Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altschul. "And it just disappeared."

The next step seemed simple.

"I decided to go to the bookstore to get a book on swimming pools, an architectural book on different shapes and colors and sizes," she said. "And there were none — not one book to be had on the shape of the architectural design of a swimming pool."

And so she took matters into her own hands.

"I thought you know what? I'm gonna do the book," Klein said. "I'm gonna do this book because I love photography," Klein said. "I love architecture. And I need to research this project in order to build something different."

The result was an instant collectors item — page after page of photos that celebrate not just the look, but the feeling of plunging into some spectacular spaces. Out of print for 15 years, with used copies commanding upwards of $1,500.00, Klein has recently re-issued "Pools," hoping to help others in need of aquatic inspiration.

"I think the pictures that I have were spectacular at the time," Klein said. "I think now if I was to do the sequel, there would be far more spectacular swimming pools to put in the new book."

And that's what brought her to Southern Florida, to designer Brian van Bower. He is an expert on how to transform a hole-in-the-ground into nothing-less-than liquid sculpture.

"Each time I think, well, we're really doing some cool stuff now," he said. "And then a year goes by, and I look back and I go, 'Whoa.'"

Van Bower's repertoire ranges from pools that look like they're flowing into infinity to pools with sensual shapes — complete with dazzling tile work. He's even got a solution to the problem of pool water burning your eyes.

"This pool is treated with chlorine generation salt conversion — called autopilot," he said. "It makes its own chlorine from the salt. We did a calculation, it comes out to 287,000 margaritas worth of salt goes in the pool, we put that all in the pool at one time. And that makes the pool about half the strength of a human teardrop."

"We want to make something special, where they go, you know, 'This is my little piece of paradise,'" Van Bower said.

Of course, paradise doesn't come cheap. While the average cost of an in-ground pool is around $40,000, for a van Bower creation, expect to shell out a just little more — he has designed polls that cost $500,000 and even $1 million.

If that's too rich for your blood, consider splurging for a night here at the Delano Hotel in South Beach, Miami — where you'll find this pool, or as they like to call it, the water salon.

"That kind of really sums up the whole essence of the pool," the Delano's Mark Tamis said. "The whole social aspect to it. It's a salon. It's a hangout."

Of course, the Delano is not everyone's idea of perfection. For some, paradise can only be found by going back-to-nature. After designing wetland environments for zoo animals, Kansas designer Mick Hilleary figured there might be some two-legged creatures who would enjoy an equally wild environment.

"We're harnessing nature's own water-cleaning methods," Hilleary said. "Water moves through the reeds and moves through all the weeds and grass. And on those there's billions of friendly bacteria that eat the impurities out of the water as it comes by. And we're harnessing that same method here. It's been working for a million years in nature. So, why not do it here?"

Although the natural pool is increasingly popular in France and Germany, it's still a novel concept here. And Hilleary admits that his swimming pools are not for everyone.

"City girls, for instance, this may be just a little wild for them," he said. "But anybody who grew up like I did swimming in fresh, natural water, this is ideal. It's crystal clear water. It doesn't smell. It's absolutely fantastic."

And whatever your idea of the perfect pool might be, there's only one way to enjoy it — and that's by taking the plunge.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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