All the crucial pieces were in place by 1970 to create the modern home pool/spa combination. Consumers, builders and manufacturers
were clamoring to see vessels with more to offer than a simple lap
swim or game of tag. While many homeowners had pools in their
backyards, many more didn’t, and the hope was that certain
enticements would turn this around.
The big news in pool construction for the 1970s was development of
the inground gunite spa.
Spas had first appeared in the late 1950s in very rough form. With
jets not yet available, the earliest spa builders fitted them with
returns or made their own jets out of pipe, tees, nozzles and
faceplates hand-cut from plastic. Builders found plumbing spas more
complicated than the pools to which they were accustomed, with some
early versions performing poorly from inadequate water volumes and
the unavailability of high-head pumps.
Customers at first hesitated to attach these vessels to their pools
because of unfamiliarity and expense: Builders might charge a
premium to cover their expenses on these new and experimental
projects. Attached spas confused some of the first owners, who had
to open and close multiple gate valves to switch from pool to spa
These early spas rarely changed the pool footprint: Builders simply
built the hot-water vessel inside the cold. Spas were generally
smaller than they are today, with a simple bench and two or three
This new form of backyard entertainment and relaxation didn’t
become widely understood and accepted until the ’70s. Once
again, California blazed the trail, this time with its notorious
hot tub scene.
The complexion of the industry itself began changing, too. The
cluster of professionals originally hailing from such diverse
industries as teaching, farming and landscape architecture ushered
in second and third generations reared in the pool and spa
As the ’70s faded into the ’80s, builders looked for
ways to make their projects look more interesting and work with
shrinking lot sizes. Rather than leveling out tiny backyards and
using retaining walls to handle elevation transitions, builders
left the terrain as it was, yielding added visual drama from slopes
and drops. Raised spas and raised bond beams became more common,
with the added bonus of avoiding drainage problems.
New shapes added to the projects’ intrigue. Builders and
clients wished to move away from the classic rectangles, now-rare
ovals and ever-present kidneys. They began following the lead of
landscape architects, whose goal often was to integrate pools and
spas seamlessly into their environment using curvilinear and
rectilinear freeform shapes. Two main directions developed for pool
design — matching the pool’s architecture to that of
the home, and fashioning a backyard getaway with such themes as
alpine and tropical.
Stone was more widely available from stone yards, and more tiles
than ever were produced for chemically controlled water
environments. So, to assist in their design concepts, builders
popularized these previously overlooked surfacing materials.
New interior finishes included dark blue and black plasters for a
lagoon look. Pebble interiors arrived here from Australia in the
late 1980s, and other exposed-aggregate systems — some flat
and smooth, others resembling mini-cobblestone — followed in
Fiberoptic lighting for pool applications began to appear in the
early-’80s but began to take hold later in the decade. These
low-power alternatives gave pools a distinctive look, winning raves
In the mid- and late-’80s, Lew Akins, then of Ocean Quest
Pools in Austin, Texas, and Skip Phillips of Questar Pools &
Spas in Escondido, Calif., popularized a design element that still
wows consumers today: the vanishing edge. By reversing the
spillway, they made water appear to vanish into the horizon at the
edge of pools.
With all these tools at hand, the industry could address consumer
concerns voiced in a historical survey commissioned by NSPI: The
Oxtoby-Smith Report of 1990. This survey dispelled a common myth
— that consumers make pool and spa purchasing decisions
primarily based on price. When asking consumers their objections to
pool ownership, they specified such things as maintenance chores
Shortly thereafter, analysis of the aging baby boom became the
topic du jour for publications and telecasts. Studies found these
consumers to be highly individualistic folks who desire creature
comforts, often choose to stay home rather than vacation, and need
meeting places in which to spend time with their children. They
wanted pools — prettier, safer and easier-to-own pools than
their parents had.
Manufacturers responded with new ways to ease pool and spa
operation and cleaning, as well as safety devices ranging from door
alarms to fencing, automatic covers to pool alarms. Builders then
combined these new gizmos with new materials, shapes, multiple
elevations and design elements such as vanishing edges and
waterfeatures to add visual and auditory appeal.