Sometimes, people just get tired of worrying about the economy, and say “to hell with it.” And that seems to be what’s happening in the pool business: There’s pent-up demand that’s finally driving people to take the plunge.
“When the economy went bad,” says Gary Hohne, owner of Baltimore-based Hohne Pools, “it was literally like turning off a switch.” But, now, notes Francis Stefanski, owner of Regina Pools and Spas in Timonium, “there’s a new determination. People are saying, ‘I’ve worked hard all my life and my kids aren’t getting any younger.’”
Indeed, 57,000 in-ground pools were installed in the U.S. in 2010, a 6-percent increase over the previous year, and about as many were built last year. While it still hasn’t matched the pre-recession building boom, it’s a sign that for people like David and Stacie Abrahams of Ellicott City, the timing is right.
Their three children are 5-12 years of age, and the two oldest are already strong swimmers, says David. “We’ve wanted to do it for a long time,” he says. “We thought we’d do it while the kids were young, but not too young.” So, in the spring of 2011, he says, “We decided to pull the trigger.”
The Abrahams hired Hohne Pools to build a “freeform-shaped” pool with rounded edges and a waterfall at one end. The waterfall streams from an 18-inch-high platform that the couple chose instead of a diving board. A lawyer who works for a firm in Washington, D.C., David says he has “a lot of issues with diving boards”—he’s mostly concerned about the propulsion of divers or jumpers far into the pool. The stationary platform, he says, “means divers land within the bowl” of the pool, where the water is eight-feet deep.
While building the pool “wasn’t a dollars-and-cents decision,” says Abrahams, “it saves gazillions on entertainment by simply walking outside on warm, sunny days.”
Family time is a strong motivator for customers, like the Abrahams, who have decided to go ahead and sink their money into a pool, says Regina’s Stefanski. “More and more,” he says, “people want to stay at home and hang out with family and friends.” One customer in Middle River, says Stefanski, has a standing party every Friday night. “All the neighbors bring food and drinks.” The payback may come in having a refrigerator that’s continuously restocked by guests. “When you ask someone to bring a liter of soda, they bring six,” he says.
After making the initial investment—about $45,000—to build the pool, the Abrahams plan to take their time with landscaping and other amenities. “The landscaping is a work in progress,” he says, and add-ons like a deck, an outdoor kitchen, and a pool house are on the drawing board. “It’s about the price of a luxury car,” he points out. “And unlike the person who plunks down $60,000 on a Lexus and can only drive it for five years,” he says, “we’ll have this pool a lot longer than that.”
After Tim and Jamie Frank built their northern Baltimore County house, with its sweeping views of “other people’s horse farms,” says Jamie, they decided the property called out for a pool. “We had this gorgeous piece of property but nothing was drawing us outside,” she recalls. They had three kids, ranging in ages from tween to teen at the time, and wanted them to have a place to congregate with their friends.
The Franks decided to locate the pool to the side of the house, so it wouldn’t distract from the views of the rolling hills in the back. Initially, says Jamie, “We went back and forth with a landscaper” who advised them to put the pool right behind the house. “I felt like I was being talked into something I didn’t want.”
Eventually, the Franks hired Lothorian Pools, which offers a soup-to-nuts approach that can include landscaping, building decks and outbuildings, and even accessorizing pools, “right down to putting the candlesticks on the table,” says co-owner Matthew Thompson.
The traditional rectangular pool design was dictated by one of Jamie’s chief concerns: “I wanted a pool cover,” she says. An automated cover, which retracts with the flick of a switch, wasn’t available on infinity-edge or organically shaped pools. “The pool cover was a big one for us. I worried about what would happen if one of the neighborhood kids decided to hop the fence to go for a swim.”
A pool cover, made out of reinforced vinyl, says Thompson, may be one reason for a return to classic pools. “We’re doing a lot of rectangles these days,” he says. “It’s classic and elegant, with a Nantucket feel.”
The Franks incorporated Butler stone (from a quarry in Butler) along one side of the pool, matching the house—which they’d built from traditional materials to mimic the vernacular of local farmhouses. They surrounded the pool with a bluestone border, though chose an aggregate for the pool deck, a material, says Jamie, “that’s cooler on the feet.” The pool bottom is “Pebble Tec”—a pebble-like surface that Thompson likens to “walking on an orange peel,” delivering a mini foot massage.
Their plans for an open, cabana-style pool house expanded dramatically, Jamie says, eventually becoming an enclosed space with casement-style windows, a refrigerator, powder room, heated floors, and a bar. There’s also an outdoor shower. Another feature that the Franks adapted a few years after building the pool is a saltwater system. Using salt to make the chlorine in the pool, says Thompson, is a growing trend. Along with being better for the environment (because fewer processed chemicals are involved), “the water is softer and feels good on your skin,” he says.
Besides its recreational lure, Jamie says her husband, Tim, also likes to swim laps in the pool, another reason they went with the rectangular shape. The 55-foot-long pool is a little longer than average, so he can get some momentum going, she says.
Although the Franks invested quite a bit more than the cost of a luxury car when they built the pool and patio area five years ago, it’s served as a huge extra living space for the whole family from early May to October. In the spring, Jamie, who manages renovation projects and is a volunteer fundraiser for multiple organizations, moves her home office out to the pool house. “There are wonderful breezes, even when it’s hot,” she says.