If there’s one element that will transform your entire backyard, there’s nothing more exciting and enviable than a pool. But if you’re hoping to take the plunge in time for the warm weather ahead, an above-ground pool is your best bet.
Traditionally placed right on top of your yard, above-ground pools are often more affordable, easier, and faster to install than the average in-ground variety. They are also one of the most feasible pool ideas, with fewer obstacles and fewer local zoning laws to battle.
That said, easy isn’t always pretty—the average above-ground pool sticks out, its walls rendered in unsightly resin and steel (they aren’t exactly natural beauties). But style-driven options are changing the game: affordable and tiny stock tank pools alongside prefabricated plunge pools have popped up, while a new breed of shipping container pools also arrived with a splash.
Not surprisingly, higher-end concrete designs that rival even in-ground pools (permanent installations complete with hefty prices) are also debunking the assumption that above-ground pools can’t be all-around showstoppers.
Wondering how to build a pool and ready to revamp your backyard? Let these stylish above-ground pool ideas inspire you just in time for summer.
Above ground pool ideas
1. Modernize the classic lozenge shape
Traditional above-ground pool “kits” tend to be oval or round, often made with beige resin walls (about four or five feet high) reinforced with bulky steel. And while these standard shapes and materials still reign (there are plenty of pool landscape ideas to help them blend in, if that’s the case), there’s plenty of room to elevate the classics.
Above, a wooden swimming pool takes on the familiar oval shape with a natural twist. Designed by New York’s Crestwood Pools (opens in new tab), the wooden pool borrows its aesthetic from historic farm silos and water towers, while the material offers an organic look that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. And, for those with a green thumb, there are plenty of landscaping trends and modern garden ideas that can help integrate your raised pool with the rest of your yard.
2. Choose a plunge pool for smaller spaces
Scroll through any internet search for above ground pools and you’ll see an overwhelming amount of clunky designs. In the past, above ground pools had a knack for taking over the backyard. But if you’re limited on surface area and hesitant to hand over your entire backyard to a large body of water, consider something smaller: a plunge pool. Not much bigger than a hot tub, really, they're made for simly cooling off in after a hot day.
Like dipping a toe in the water, a plunge pool offers all the perks of a larger above-ground pool on a smaller scale, one that adds to your landscape without dominating it. Ideal for small backyard pool ideas.
“Installing a plunge pool partially above the ground creates a destination and a focal point that a flush install rarely offers,” explains Karen Larson, the co-founder of Soake Pools (opens in new tab), a maker of high-quality plunge pools that can also be installed fully above-ground. “Additionally, the above-ground edges provide seating. It is also a great opportunity to add additional personality and decorative elements, as the exposed vertical surfaces can be adorned with materials that fit within the landscape.”
3. Try a stock tank pool
The hottest trend for above-ground pools happens to be one of the smallest: stock tank pools are certainly some of the cheapest, quickest, and most customizable options on the market. While they’re popular as DIY projects, a bevy of small-scale companies has cropped up to help expedite the installation.
“A stock tank is a water trough manufactured for livestock to use for drinking purposes, but we have converted them into a chic ‘pool’ by adding a filtration system just like your typical aboveground pool,” says Jovana Johnson, who recently founded Stock Tanks of SoCal (opens in new tab) with her sister, Janice Luna. “They provide a more chic and trendy look to style a backyard rather than those traditional big blue aboveground pools.”
These are fun-size tanks - whether round or rectangular, they can be as small as two feet in diameter. Ideal for anyone who doesn't want to be too preoccupied with how to clean a pool. However, they can easily be scaled up. “Our customers love our 10ft tanks,” adds Luna. “However, those with smaller backyards love that we provide many sizes varying from 6ft – 9ft (all 2’ deep).”
4. Consider a shipping container pool
We’ve seen shipping containers repurposed in a number of architectural designs, so it was only a matter of time before someone started turning them into pools (they are containers, after all).
“Containers already have a complementary shape and robust engineering, making them a natural fit,” says Brad Fontaine of Modpools (opens in new tab), a shipping container pool concept based in Canada that was created after its founder vacationed in Palm Springs. Arguably sleeker than prefabricated above-ground concepts of the past, they’re virtually a plug-and-play product with equipment right built into the system (with some simple setup, like hooking the pool up to a power source and prepping the ground).
And while they arrive ready to go, there are also plenty of ways to customize yourt backyard deck ideas that offer perks even an in-ground pool couldn’t afford. “A lot of customers like to add a window onto their Modpool overlooking a great view and wrap 3 sides of it with decking,” says Fontaine. “There is nothing better than a pool with a view!”
5. Disguise your pool with a wooden deck
One common complaint about above-ground pools is that, well, they kinda stick out. And while you can sidestep the issue by picking a model that’s striking all on its own, another strategy is to embrace the elevation with stylish pool deck ideas.
Taking cues from the pool above, adding a wooden patio (timber does the trick, but fancier materials like teak, cedar, and ipeis will go the distance) will integrate your above-ground pool with its surroundings. “Decking and paver stones typically surround the pool to provide clean, finished edges,” says Joel Cookston, the founder of US-based Trek Pools (opens in new tab), a shipping container pool concept. Here, a wooden deck wraps around the raised, rectangular pool and connects to the home’s back door, turning the perimeter into a proper lounge space that also covers up the pool’s walls.
This happens to work particularly well for container pools, especially if you’re installing one on a sloped lawn. “A container pool is point loaded,” adds Cookston. “So, when thinking of footers and concrete supports for your deck, the same footers can be poured to support the corners of the pool or the rails of the container based on the size of the pool.”
6. Build and in ground pool above ground
One big difference between in ground pools and above ground pools is entirely obvious: the former disappears into the earth, while the latter sticks out. But if your pool is going to stick out, why not make it count? While it’s less affordable and arguably more ambitious, building an above ground concrete pool is certainly one of the most stylish, customizable options.
Especially if your landscape has undulating or sloped surfaces, or if you’re restricted from building an in-ground pool for other environmental factors, there are perks to the process. “The walls to these pools act as a pool fence and minimise the amount of traditional pool fencing within our projects and promote greater connection between alfresco spaces and pool areas,” says Tristan Peirce (opens in new tab), a landscape architect with a penchant for striking pools in Australia.
In the pool above, Peirce designed a radiant pool, encircled with a stone patio and space for below-grade plantings along the edge. “Simple geometric shapes seem to be what we gravitate towards, either a circle or two or three radius curves,” says Peirce. “We feel that this is more of a deliberate organic design approach than an organic shape.”
7. Integrate the pool into the wall
If you are opting to create an above ground concrete pool, you’ll also have more flexibility with decorative materials. In the plunge pool above, stone garden walls rise to the occasion by integrating the pool with the surrounding patio.
“The request we get most frequently is to install natural stone on the outside of their plunge pools,” says Karen Larson, the co-founder of Soake Pools (opens in new tab). “With that said, we have seen a recent trend towards using other creative materials, including wood panels and even large-format exterior tiles.”
8. Tile your pool inside and out
You might not be surprised to spot tiles lining the interior of a pool, shimmering below the surface. But incorporating tiles on the exterior of your pool can take it over the edge - and over the top, too.
In the sun-soaked concrete pool above, Spanish glass tiles glisten above and below the water in a design by Australia’s Artisan Exterior (opens in new tab), which created a series of pool tiles inspired by the country’s waters and coastline. “Tiling your above-ground pool will turn it into a statement piece and instantly elevate your outdoor entertainment area,” says the Artisan Exterior Team.
9. Go all out with hardscaping
If cost isn’t a concern, you can partially sink an above ground pool into the earth. It’s a particularly striking option for sloped properties, allowing you to add drama with an infinity edge, or enhance your landscape by extending a patio around the pool to create an almost cantilevered overlook.
Although it isn’t cheap, hardscaping areas around your pool can also embed the pool’s edges into the landscape—complete with a stone patio or even space for a pool house.
What is the best surface to put an above ground pool on?
The beauty of above ground pools is that they can sit on most surfaces - however it's best that the surface is flat. Because of this, while grass, decking and gravel and even dirt will all hold an above ground pool, the ideal surface is freshly poured concrete. This way, you ensure the ground is strong enough to hold the pool, has an even surface, and won't require any maintenance in the medium to long term.
Keith Flanagan is a New York based journalist specialising in design, food and travel. He has been an editor at Time Out New York, and has written for such publications as Architectural Digest, Conde Nast Traveller, Food 52 and USA Today. He regularly contributes to Livingetc, reporting on design trends and offering insight from the biggest names in the US. His intelligent approach to interiors also sees him as an expert in explaining the different disciplines in design.
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