design by rebecca johnson
design by rebecca johnson
  (Besides the ancient pools of select rulers in Babylon and Rome) the history of residential swimming pools kick started in Southern California.  In the mid-1930s, movie stars were photographed poolside, posing by their very own bodies of water.  This sparked a trend, which became even more popular during the post-World War II housing boom, and by 1950, there were over 12,000 pools in the United States.

Most of these early pools were created as classic rectangles to accommodate a lap-swimming experience.  Landscape architect Thomas Church changed the surface of pools in 1948 when he created the first kidney-shaped pool for the Donnell family.  Inspired by neighboring creeks and marshes, the new biomorphic design was featured in magazines, making the family’s Sonoma, California backyard pool the desired shape for residential swimming pools through the '60s.

And, for Hollywood, the kidney-shaped water was more than just a way of cooling down in the Californian heat; it was a center for entertainment.  One pool house harbored a piano attended by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.  Film producer Darryl Zanuck was entertaining a group of esteemed guests, when someone was pushed into his pool.  A fully dressed Mrs. Zanuck immediately jumped into the pool, not wanting to embarrass her guest.  The Zanuck children dove in after their mother, and the remaining partiers shortly followed suit.  Once the entire clothed-clad group was splashing around in the pool, the butler appeared to announce that dinner was served. A few decades later, Lisa Eisner can be found photographing trust fund fringe kids skating empty pools—the great grandchildren of the founders of Hollywood.

There’s nothing like the feeling of submerging oneself in cool water in the heat of summer.  Sipping a spiked smoothie while you float on a Yoko Ono towel on an inflatable raft –that looks like a Jeff Koons blow-up float transplanted into a David Hockney pool painting- flipping through Cheever. It’s a little known fact that when you go to a house party, you’ll be able to find everyone in the kitchen. Well, this same rule seems to apply when traveling: guests will spend most of their time around the swimming pool- even if there is a beach and warm stretch of ocean just steps away.  And, why not when these pools are dripping with exotic scenery, satisfying our physical and mental states of being? 
This summer, we take the party outdoors- whether escaping to the seawater oasis of the Galle Fort Hotel  in Sri Lanka, or staying a little closer to home with a kiddie pool at an Adirondack summer home. (If you find yourself under city-arrest, pour yourself a sea salt bath and have yourself an endless summer in the comfort of your apartment.) A list of our favorite pools:

As the history of backyard swimming is largely based in Los Angeles, we’ll start there. Visit the Rooftop Pool of André Balazs's hotel, The Standard Downtown, in LA.  The L-shaped dig is rimmed by cabanas with vibrating waterbeds, and traveling musicians mix with locals at the lively cocktail lounge.  Sip on a Pims lemonade and gaze through Polaroid lenses at the city’s skyline, or watch a classic film, drive-in style, projected on the giant wall of a building close-by. Retire to a poolside bungalow  at the Chateau Marmont for an indefinite Hollywood holiday.
Vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, and cool off at The Boathouse in Edgartown.  The Club has a 4,5000 square ft heated pool, popular even on the warmest days of summer.  It features a broad stairway and gradual “beach entry,” surrounded by bluestone decking- an influence of the neighboring shore, no doubt.  Five luxury private cabanas offer comfortable lounge couches and teak tables for socializing over a tart tea and your summer reading list.      
North Sydney boasts Olympic Pool. Eighty-six world records have been set at the pool by such swimming greats as, for example, Jon and Ilsa Konrads, Lorraine Crapp, Frank O'Neill, Judy Joy Davies, John Devitt, Shane Gould and Michelle Ford.  The 50-meter basin looks out over the Sydney Harbor, and swimming under the bridge you can see the train going across- Luna Park in Sydney illuminated.  You feel as if you are in an infinity pool, because you can see the ocean, and art deco arching above you.

In Morroco, UNESCO world heritage site Marrakech Medina remains the nerve centre of the red city. The luxurious Riad Dix Neuf La Ksour Marrakech, minutes outside of the famous Jemaa El Fna Square creates a bridge between the traditional Moroccan style home and the international standards of the 21st century.  Relax in a wicker chaise lounge bed and enjoy a traditional Morrocan mint tea in the quiet courtyard.  Find your center in the splash pool- surrounded by high white ceilings, lush plants, and hanging metal lanterns- cooling off before making a journey to the bustling city souks. 
Rent a charming restored French farmhouse, like the Bastidon du Murier: an old stone house with guesthouse spanning over two acres of vines and olive trees.  Spend summer days in the shaded areas of the large terrace, feet dipped in the saline swimming pool.  Indulge yourself with locally grown olives, goat cheese spread over sliced baguette, and a glass of Bordeaux.

Some believe it’s better to be seen.  If you’re looking for a social experience, take your party to the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc in the south of France.  Built in 1870, the vintage swimming pool has drawn celebrities for more than a century, including Clark Gable, Brigitte Bardot, and Egypt’s King Farouk.  Even Kate Moss has been known to make waves in the, cough, seawater pool, embedded in the seaside bedrock with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean.  We know the benefits of saltwater- softer skin, less blemishes- so soak in the infinity-edge pool, or pique your adventurous side with the pool level rope swing that will send you over the cliffs and plummeting into the ocean below.

France is not the only destination to brag over seawater spas- and annual visits by Kate Moss.  Mom Tri’s Villa Royale is a boutique hotel in Phuket, overlooking the Andaman Sea.  Guests can go barefoot from the saltwater pool down a private stone path to the white sand beach of Kata Noi.  The Villa Royale was once the private summer home of renowned artist and architect Mom Tri, a descendant of the King of Thailand. The creation, open to the public nearly a decade ago, sits on a cliff which was spared by the Tsunami, providing guests with a royal, Buddhist infused experience.

The largest pool in the world is the San Alfonso del Mar Pool in Chile- and it’s also full of seawater. 3,323 feet long, it covers 20 acres and at its deepest point it goes down twelve feet.  The pool was built right on the coast, steps from the sea, making it the ultimate destination for a casual, summer beach wedding.  Party of two… hundred?  No problem.  While Chile boasts the largest pool, Belgium certainly has the deepest. The utter calmness of feeling leagues under the sea is reciprocated in Nemo 33, the deepest pool in the world reaching 115 feet- a perfect depth for scuba diving courses.

Prefer a more private poolside experience?  The Ubud Hanging Gardens, a luxury resort in the heart of Bali, is set against a backdrop of volcanoes, forests, and rice terraces.  The resort’s hanging pool is perched on a gorge, over the rainforest and across from a temple on the opposite cliff.  In addition to the main pool, all rooms and suites have their own individual horizon-edge pool.  In Vancouver, the Shaw House is a single occupancy home on the south shore of the English Bay.  The pool, with terraces at each end, runs along the entire west side of the structure.  The front door of the home is directly under the pool, so an almost underwater aqua reflected light is transmitted to the entrance area through the water and glass bottom of the pool.

In the summer of 2016, New Yorkers can enjoy a backyard party, as pool couture makes waves in the world of green.  “+ Pool is designed to filter the very river water that it floats in through the walls of the pool, making it possible for New Yorkers to swim in clean river water for the first time in 100 years.  The layered filtration system incrementally removes bacteria and contaminants to ensure nothing but clean, swimmable water- that meets both city and state standards.  No chemicals, no additives, just natural river water.”  Funded by Kickstarter, this pool will clean half a million gallons of river water every day, making strides, or laps, to return the purity of New York City rivers. It’s a refreshing addition to an island known for some very beautiful public parks, but little in the way of fresh water.

~Susan Brickell