Why lockdown has turned outdoor swimming pools from costly extravagance to prime property essential
Forget last summer’s rush on inflatable pink flamingos for the paddling pool. This year’s perfect storm of lockdown, heatwave and a total lack of holidays on the horizon is seeing wealthy homeowners really splash out and call in the pool designers.
Those in the poshest parts of the Home Counties, however, shouldn’t bank on splicing through their own aquamarine waters any time soon. Swimming pool contractors are reportedly rushed off their feet for the next few months.
“We’re unbelievably busy,” says a slightly frantic-sounding spokeswoman at Falcon Pools in Surrey, earlier this week. The company is telling anyone who calls wanting a pool to expect an October start.
Pool designer Guncast also reports “a huge rise in interest” in home swimming pools in recent weeks – with a notable shift in favour of outdoor pools.
“With customers now unable to visit their favourite boutique hotels, luxury spas and members clubs, more and more are wanting to bring these wellness facilities into their homes,” comments Guncast’s design and commercial director, Andy Carr.
The average family pool, he says, is around 12m x 5m – though some want 20m training pools, and those with limited space in London townhouses are requesting 5m x 3m counter-current pools that still offer a decent workout.
One current project involves a multi-purpose outdoor pool, “with a moving floor so the owners can change the depth however they wish: for toddlers to paddle, to create a reflective garden feature, or when fully raised to create a seamless patio and sports space,” says Carr.
He says to allow up to four months for the build process alone, once the design is finalised. It can take longer, however, if planning permission is required for an outdoor pool in an Area of Outstanding Beauty, on a private estate or with a listed property.
But home-owners are looking long-term now – towards future lockdowns and more holidays (and working weeks) spent at home. What has in the past been considered a luxury accessory that is a pain to maintain and may never recoup its costs has now shot up the wish-list of desirables.
“A few years ago, when our sellers would ask if putting in a pool would make a big difference to the saleability of their home, we would normally advise them that it might be seen as an unnecessary hassle to maintain.
“Now, having a pool has climbed up the list of buyer requirements at the upper end of the market,” comments estate agent Simon Ashwell from Savills Weybridge.
His patch includes Surrey’s prestigious St George’s Hill private estate, where mansions with Hollywood-style pools include an Arts and Crafts-style five-bedroom house priced at £4.15m and a modern six-bedroom house with indoor and outdoor pools for £6.25m.
Super-prime renters and buyers in Hampstead, North London, are also prioritising a pool more than ever. Marc Schneiderman, director at Arlington Residential, notes a 35% rise in buyers “specifically requesting houses with outdoor swimming pools”, and a 20% rise in tenants “highlighting an outdoor pool as a requirement of their search”.
One option is a seven-bed mansion, with adjacent three-bed guest house and outdoor heated pool, priced to rent at £65,222 per month.
Those in a rush to build a pool this summer – and undeterred by the retro, holiday camp vibe – might consider an above-ground pool: a cheap solution, too, with a 24ft long metal-framed version costing around £1,400.
There has been a recent surge in requests among the well-heeled residents of Westport, Connecticut – one of America’s wealthiest towns – according to the local planning department that hands out permission for pools.
And the British YouTube vlogger Zoella (Zoe Sugg) and her partner Alfie Deyes boast the above-ground variety on the sprawling lawns of their Brighton home.
Other trends this summer, says Laurence Holder, head of Octagon Bespoke, include supersized pools – “the average pool we now install is 15m to 18m long,” he comments – and personalised pools, “to make it feel like a part of the home rather than merely an add-on”.
One client has requested a blood red pool, “complete with red glimmering tiles to add to the drama of the property,” says Holder. “Others want to replace the traditional plain walls of leisure suites with splash-proof artwork, from glass murals to Perspex-covered paintings”.
Two of Octagon Bespoke’s current clients couldn’t decide between an indoor or outdoor pool – so they have gone for both.
Another growing trend in this era of peak health awareness is the rise in popularity of natural pools.
“Chlorine and chemicals are now less appealing with fitness and triathlons becoming more of a trend, so saltwater and natural pools are making a comeback – particularly among frenzied purchasers looking for their country escape during lockdown, at around £5m,” says Harry Gladwin, partner at The Buying Solution, a buying agency.
The traditional natural pool, or swimming pond, is a “complex process to get right, to ensure the water is purified, filtered and the correct vegetation is planted,” says Gladwin.
But Bristol-based pool designer Clear Water Revival – which specialises in totally chemical-free pools – uses a bio-filtration system that means you can have a sleek, modern natural pool without the need for planted beds.
The company has seen a 20% rise in enquiries during lockdown, with most of its work in London and the Home Counties. The typical budget is £100,000-£180,000 for a tiled, heated family outdoor pool with automatic solar cover, lighting and mineral water filtration.
“The weather during lockdown has had a big part to play in increasing demand,” says Clear Water Revival’s pool consultant Joel Scott.
“Most clients want a pool that will be aesthetically in keeping with its surroundings – and there is a clear desire now for chlorine-free technology so you don’t fill your house with the smell.”
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