In a push to come up with evermore creative backyard designs, many builders are mixing and matching multiple surfacing products to great effect.
Vic Lehmann, for one, uses a variety of materials on his
projects. “There’s no excuse for creating a
cookie-cutter pool in a day and age when there are so many
incredible surfacing options available,” says the president
of Lehmann Pools & Spas in Mahwah, N.J.
While it takes skill and an artistic eye to blend layers of
materials and textures in a way that creates a cohesive design
— and not a jumbled mess — pool builders should not
Here, we’ll examine the multiple-surface trend and
showcase tricks of the trade from those who do it well.
Spotlight on surfaces
With decking materials reaching new levels of sophistication,
it’s no surprise that designers are becoming more ambitious.
Many use multiple types of surfaces to enhance otherwise plain
patios, improve safety, and even make their projects more
cost-effective (To see real-life examples, go to Making an
“When mulling over new materials, not only should visual
elements be considered, but also strength, safety, ease of
maintenance, weather resistance and drainage capability,”
says Mark Ragel, president of Patio Pools &
Spas, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder in Tucson,
If price is an issue, these materials can be a great way to keep
costs low, says Joe Vassallo, president of Las Vegas-based Paragon Pools.
“When the materials themselves are breathtaking, you
don’t need as many bells, whistles and tricks [such as a
To discover creative combinations, designers suggest
experimenting while on the job. In addition, Lehmann spends time
reading trade magazines to learn what other builders are doing,
traveling to see what’s hot in other regions, visiting
quarries to look at stones firsthand, and crafting small-scale
mock-ups to show to his clients.
“Creating something new and exciting takes a lot of
experimentation, preparation and hard work,” he says,
“but the payoff is worth the extra time and effort that goes
into designing something truly original.”
Putting it into practice
To achieve design excellence with multiple materials, it’s
important to remember a few basic principles.
• Experiment with color.
Creative decking designs often use complementary or contrasting
Some prefer working with a narrow color palette — for
instance, a variety of blues, grays and black — which allows
them to visually unite the disparate materials. Others choose to
boost the “wow” factor by incorporating dramatic
elements against a more neutral backdrop, such as setting metallic
tiles into a concrete path.
Another option is to vary the look of a single type of material.
“For greater sophistication in our designs, we often use one
material cut or finished in a variety of ways,” Lehmann
notes. Using the material in different ways enables designers to
highlight focal areas and capture viewers’ attention in a
manner that’s less “look at me” and more subtle
Whether colors harmonize with one another or provide stark
juxtapositions of contrast is a matter of preference. Be warned,
however, that with so many beautiful and boldly hued materials
available in today’s market, it’s easy for builders to
“You have to use your most eye-catching materials wisely,
and sometimes sparingly, to avoid a final product that looks like
the work of an amateur,” Vassallo says. Even with more
adventurous clients, he still prefers to work with fewer than six
materials to avoid what he calls “a Picasso” — a
look that many will see as a disjointed mess.
• Keep things in proportion.
When blending a variety of materials, size, scale and proportion
should be considered in great detail.
“With a rectangular pool, you want to use materials that
are geometric. To throw in the use of boulders and curvy materials
simply doesn’t work,” Ragel says. “The same thing
goes for a free-form pool, where bold square and geometric patterns
disturb the overall appeal of the design.”
For large lots, he recommends multiple materials as a rule.
“Even if a particular material is incredibly beautiful, it
will lose its effect if it paves an area as expansive as a football
field,” Ragel says.
To avoid a mismatched look, he recommends setting off the
different materials with design elements such as waterfeatures,
planters, bridges or walkways. Doing so creates intimate spaces
that function almost like outdoor rooms.
Conversely, to maintain proportion in a small lot, Ragel often
limits the variation in materials used to keep things
• Consider balance and symmetry.
To provide a cohesive, finished look, designers should focus on
where the hardscape is placed as well as the materials.
“Balance outside the pool goes a long way toward making a
setting visually pleasing,” says Bill Renter, president of
The Deck & Patio Co. in Huntington Station, N.Y.
Materials should not only be in balance with each other, but
also harmonize with the property and home. “Use of rhythmic
patterns and well-known, simple shapes can provide a sense of order
as well as pleasing variation,” he adds.
That’s not to say the decking must always be evenly
distributed. While most builders strive toward symmetry, Renter
believes asymmetry can achieve a more natural look. “Nothing
is more classic than nature, and since most things in nature are
grouped in odd numbers, I like to see design groupings in threes
and fives to mirror nature,” he says.
• Strive for unity.
Unique materials can draw the eye, but nothing in the hardscape
should stand out too much because, ultimately, each element needs
to fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
By carefully editing the number of materials used and drawing on
them repeatedly throughout the design, aesthetic unity can be
achieved. Also, using a variety of differing but complementary
textures, colors and shapes can break up what could become
Harmony is crucial to creating a picture-perfect project.
“One key element should tie the entire yard together,”
Ragel says. “With consistency in patterns, colors and
textures, builders can make almost anything work. They’ll be
able to successfully unite many different materials while
maintaining a sense of seamless ease.”