Freeform swimming pools are most often constructed of concrete or vinyl. After a hole shape is excavated in the ground and framework is in place, concrete is poured and can be filled to create any shape, size, or configuration.
Vinyl-lined pools can be made into free-form designs that can feature a variety of designs.
What Is a Freeform Pool?
Unlike a traditional swimming pool, which is usually a rectangular shape and lined with tiles, a freeform swimming pool is designed in a naturalistic or irregular shape, with curves or flowing lines. (The kidney shaped pool is one of the most well known freeform pool shapes.) Contemporary freeform pools often have rock and waterfall features and are designed to resemble a natural pond, lake, or oasis.
History of Freeform Pools
The first freeform pools were built in California, which dominated residential pool design in the 20th century. One was built for Pickfair, the Los Angeles estate owned by actors and Hollywood power couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.
Built in 1920, it was constructed above a 100-foot banana-shaped tank and featured a sandy shore along one side. The other was built by Pascal Paddock (of Paddock Pool fame) and featured poolside landscaping to give the feeling of a natural pool or pond. Ince died of mysterious circumstances in 1924 near San Diego while aboard a yacht owned by William Randolph Hearst.
In the late 1930s, Philip Ilsley, a landscape architect and chairman of the board of Paddock Engineering (later Paddock Pools), built the first "people's pool" in West Los Angeles for less than $1,700. Breaking out of the boxy or linear mold, Ilsley often designed freeform shapes. Instead of pouring—or hand-packing—concrete into steel-mesh forms, he sprayed it on, a process borrowed from the building trade. Guniting, as it's known, cut the time and cost of construction, revolutionizing the pool industry. While World War II delayed the building boom for pools and everything else, the business increased after the war.
Postwar, between 1948 and 1957, residential swimming pools in the United States grew from 2,500 to about 57,000, with 33,000 built in 1956 alone. Many sported the kidney and freeform shapes pioneered by Ilsley.
Not surprisingly, Ilsley and his wife later owned property at the top of the Hollywood Hills, where they built one of the most iconic freeform swimming pools in history, in the shape of a hepatica leaf. It is sometimes referred to as the clover or cloverleaf pool.
The Donnell Pool
In 1948, renowned designer and builder Thomas Church and landscape architect Lawrence Halprin designed a kidney or biomorphic-shaped swimming pool for a Mid-century modern home in Sonoma, California, owned at the time by the Donnell family. The groundbreaking shape inspired several copycats in the following decades. Church is said to have been inspired by the region's creeks and marshes.
Contemporary Freeform Pools
Those backyard pools that feature faux boulders, rocks, and waterfalls and are built to resemble a natural pond or body of water are more likely to have freeform shapes than be a perfect rectangle or L-shape. Materials used are natural or reflect those found in nature.
A good freeform pool could make a swimmer feel like they're swimming around a grotto rather than an a suburban backyard. Of course, the right plants and landscaping are what will truly make your freeform swimming pool to an elevated oasis.