This Phoenix-area townhouse sat on a golf course and had little space in the backyard. But, as is so often the case, the homeowners still wanted a lot of bells and whistles.

“I think it was about 15 feet between the house and the wall, and then about 40 or 45 feet long,” says Kathryn Prideaux, owner of Tucson, Ariz.-based Prideaux Design. “It’s under 1,000 square feet.”

To get the most out of the space, Prideaux designed a spool, a small pool that also functions as a spa. A vanishing edge would make the golf course seem like part of the yard, thus expanding the perceived sense of space and making the surrounding softscape more integral to the property.

This also helped the homeowners do one of their favorite things. “They love to sit and watch the people on the green,” Prideaux says. “From that spot, especially with the negative edge, it’s really fantastic. Not only can you watch people, but they don’t necessarily see that you’re there, because your head’s just barely above that vanishing edge.”

The spool is raised 18 inches, partly to reduce needed excavation, which Tucson-based pool builder Cimarron Circle Construction Co. would have to perform by hand. Prideaux considered not using entry stairs, since they would take up more space, and it would be easy enough for swimmers to sit on the raised wall and swivel around into the water. But, in the end, she placed a set in the center.

“I think those stairs add some drama to the space and provide a lead-in to what’s happening,” she says.

The stairs sit a mere 6 feet from the back door, but provide a visual cue leading to the pool. “Once they were in, I couldn’t imagine it any other way,” she says. “It doesn’t seem tight at all.”

Close quarters

Prideaux’s layout also helped get the most out of the space.

She divided the backyard into discrete areas, placing the spool in the middle. This allowed the homeowners to see the waterscape from inside as well as breaking the yard into three similarly sized spaces, measuring about 12-by-12 feet each. “It doesn’t feel too small or too large,” she says.

Because of the tight quarters, the focus definitely had to be on the hardscape. “We were really treating the space as an outdoor room, so a lot of it is hardscaped,” she explains. “Carefully selected pottery and potted plants bring in landscape and green features, but for the most part it’s really an extended outdoor space.”

Finally, she created what she called “shared spaces” to get the most from the yard.

“The walls of the pool become sort of the backbone for another area,” she says. “One side wall of the pool shares the same structure as the fire feature, and the other wall of the pool shares the structure with the back of the built-in bunko bench.”

Working in the tight space required ingenuity on the construction end, too. With no side-yard access, workers had to move through the house via a “construction tunnel” that general contractor Royal Remodeling walled off with plywood. Strict scheduling of the contractors was needed. “You could only have one trade at a time,” said Cimarron Circle President Doug Staples.

Match the swatch

When it came to the color scheme, Prideaux was asked to match, of all things, a brightly colored fabric remnant that the homeowner had from another home.

The client only had a little bit of the material left, so Prideaux used the unusually bright plaid on the bench, then drew colors from it in many of her choices. “I pulled from that the blue, red and orange,” she says. A similar aqua would become the dominant color for the pool, and she found a piece of pottery that almost seems like it was custom-made for this site.

These shades worked with Prideaux’s aesthetic as well, because she prefers bolder colors outdoors. “Muted and natural colors are appropriate for certain things, but they can get lost in the desert with everything that’s behind and around it,” she says. “I think colors come across differently outside than they do inside, and it takes a stronger pallet to really stand out.”

Framing it properly

The designer faced another constraint, namely that some of the original finishes had to stay in place to satisfy the homeowners association. She’d have to choose the backyard surfaces to mesh.

“There was a wall with a stucco finish and some brick, and that couldn’t change,” she says. “These were built, I think, in the mid 1970s, so the other challenge was to give an updated aesthetic but still maintain these finishes and colors that we were not allowed to change.”

She wanted some of her materials and items to be in neutrals so they didn’t compete with the brightly colored pool and accents. “With those colors, they’re so bold and they can get overdone very quickly, so I was cautious about that,” she says.

Prideaux chose brick for the pool stairs and a Saltillo tile for the deck. These materials didn’t have as much red or orange as usual, but rather had brown undertones. “The brick is more of a taupe brown, and the Saltillo tile is a chocolate color,” Prideaux says.

For the fire side of the pool, the designer chose subtler tones — brown synthetic wicker furniture with beige cushions.

“I try to do designs where the more colorful pieces are really accent pieces that you can change out,” she says. “Then I try to make sure that the permanent pieces are neutrals. Because of the space constraints, I also didn’t want to make it feel overwhelmingly crowded, and I think bright cushioned furniture could have done that.”