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Landscape designers vs contractors–who should design your swimming pool?

So, you’ve decided you want a new swimming pool. While this isn’t always an easy conclusion to come to, making the choice is only the first step. Once you decide you want a pool, you are setting into motion a series of new choices. The first choice you’ll need to make is who you want to design your swimming pool, and who you want to build it. This question has two main choices.


The first path you can take is looking to a swimming pool contractor to both build and design your pool. We’ve talked before about the difference between a design/build company and a landscape design company like Water and Earth. However, when focusing on a specific element of the yard (like a new swimming pool), new considerations should be made.


Many people’s first reaction is simply to find a company that can both design and install their new pool in one fell swoop. And we don’t deny that having the same company both design and ultimately construct your pool is great for convenience. If you work with the right people, they may do a great job. However, there are notably drawbacks to hiring a pool contractor to design your swimming pool.


We want to take a minute today to talk about the difference between hiring a pool contractor and hiring a landscape design company to design your swimming pool. As always, we’ll explore not only the cons, but also some of the valid reasons many people choose design/build over landscape design, and why you may want to reconsider.


Swimming Pool Contractors (Design/Build)

Once they decide they want a pool, most people want to have that pool installed as soon as possible. It’s logical that before coming to Water and Earth, many of our clients considered hiring a pool contractor to design their new swimming pool as well. A design/build pool company can take you from design to installation without involving any other companies in the process. In other words, it seems like the path of least resistance.


We aren’t going to try and tell our readers that hiring a design/build company is always the wrong answer. Things are never so black and white, and if you find the right contracting company, there is a valid list of pros to opting for a one-stop-shop for swimming pool design and construction.


Pros of hiring a pool contractor to design your pool include:

  • A single contact from start to finish.

When you reach out to a design/build contracting company, you are essentially going straight to the source. In other words, from the beginning of the process to the end of construction you will be speaking and working with the same individual(s). This means fewer contacts to wrangle, and a clear choice of who to reach out to when something seems amuck, or you need your questions answered. Phone tag is no fun, and it’s less likely to be a problem when you have only one number to call.

  • Control building costs (to an extent).

As we just mentioned, it’s simpler to keep yourself in the loop when you only have a single number to call for information. This narrow web of major players means that transparency about cost is often easier to achieve from the beginning. A pool contractor will usually know exactly how much one of their standard designs will cost you. From their basic offerings, you can then add on additional features within the limitations of what the contracting company will build.


You can think of this experience as moving through an al-a-carte design buffet.

Because you are choosing from a pre-approved list, and there is less space for customization, cost will also be more evident when you reach out to a pool contractor to design your space. The right company should be able to give you a close estimate on the expense of features such as upgraded tile, various kinds of coping, laminar jets, and more. Knowing these prices from the very beginning can help prevent sticker shock that might occur when having an independent design quoted by outside contractors.

  • Contractors are guaranteed to build what they design.

If your new swimming pool is being built by the same company who is designing it, you can feel fairly confident that what makes it onto the rendering will make it into your backyard. This is because contractors will only create designs that they are confident they can build. You don’t run the risk of falling in love with the idea of a waterfall or custom slide, or luxury tile on a custom sun shelf, only to find out it can’t be constructed by your preferred contractor, or for your preferred price.


A lot of homeowners find comfort in this guaranteed stability, despite how limiting it can be creatively. We don’t blame them. Getting your hopes up or getting excited about a design that doesn’t go through to construction can be upsetting. Many people are willing to limit their options simply to guarantee that what they choose at the beginning of the design process is what they will see in their yard when all is said and done.


All of these are real and valid reasons that many people decide to go the design/build route over working with freelance designers. However these points glaze over a lot of major cons that do not ultimately work in the homeowners favor. At the end of the day, asking a pool contractor to design your pool comes with its own set of drawbacks that cannot be ignored, and should always be considered before a decision is made.


Cons of hiring a contractor to design your swimming pool include:

  • Designs, skills, and services are limited.

While sticking with one company through the entire process can be comforting, this comfort comes at a cost. The cost? Design flexibility. As stated, a contractor will only design pools that they are confident can be built. And while this is a safe option, it means your choices are likely to be limited. The most cost effective design/build companies simply may not be able, willing, or capable of including certain design features that you have your heart set on.


This means that, if you’re looking for a particular feature or style, the hunt to find a contractor who will design within those limitations can be frustrating. This limited design flexibility is a reason many homeowners ultimately find themselves walking away from a design/build company in search of designers who will offer them the space and creativity they’re after.

  • Pool contractors turn a blind eye to the rest of your yard.

Many swimming pool contractors are excellent swimming pool designers. We are not here to try and convince you otherwise. However, like any specializing designer or company, their design experience typically ends where their specialty ends. This means that most pool contractors are only going to be able to focus or consider the design of a single element in your backyard–your pool. If you are trying to create a cohesive living space (and most of our clients are), then this can become a big issue.


A swimming pool is not a small feature. If it becomes disjointed or stylistically removed from the rest of your outdoor space, then your backyard is quickly going to look off. Even pool contractors who have design experience outside of their area of expertise are likely going to be so laser focused on the pool that how it interacts with your space becomes an afterthought.


As a result, clients will either need to find designers who can adapt to whatever your pool’s aesthetic becomes, or accept that their swimming pool may not quite fall in step with the rest of their backyard.

  • Limited creativity and design ability.

We want to be clear–we truly believe that many pool contractors are also great pool designers. However, this is not a universal truth, and when the design skills of your chosen contractor are underwhelming, the results can be extremely disappointing.


Sometimes, builders are great at building, but their design experience is limited or leaves a lot to be desired. Not only does this mean you’re losing access to innovative ideas and exceptional creativity, but you could be spending time and money only to be presented with recycled or poorly thought out designs.


If you’re going to drop a considerable chunk of change on something as large as a brand new swimming pool, you should be getting presented designs that are made with the consideration of your unique space and lifestyle.


Hiring a Landscape Designer to Design Your Pool

If you are not set on hiring a pool contractor to guide you through an insular design/build process, then your other option is to hire a landscape design company like Water and Earth. Hiring a landscape design company to design your new swimming pool means many things. Most of all, it means engaging with a designer who will listen to what you want, consider the entirety of your yard in the design process, and then design your pool using all of this information.


It means working with someone who has the creativity and flexibility to take every factor into account. This includes materials, homeowner lifestyle, and any unique challenges that your yard may present. For many people, especially clients looking for a personalized experience, this is well worth any drawbacks. Let’s look at reasons why you may, or may not, realize that hiring a landscape designer is the right choice for your new pool.

Pros of hiring a landscape design to design your pool include:

  • A holistic approach to design.

If one of the main drawbacks to hiring a contractor to design your space is their limited design focus, then hiring a landscape design company is the obvious solution. Unlike swimming pool contractors, landscape designers are first and foremost concerned with the unity of the entire space. They care about how all aspects of your backyard will interact once all is said and done. What does this mean for your design?


The final product of a designer with a holistic approach to your space is a pool that feels like it has always been then. It should look like a natural conclusion of the space, rather than an afterthought, or a feature that was inserted into a wider outdoor design project. Hiring a landscape designer protects you from the risk of ending up with a pool that looks like an afterthought, or an awkward addition. Ultimately, it means a cohesive design you’ll love for years to come.

  • You can shop out contractor costs.

Like we mentioned, when working with a contractor, what you see is what you get. A design/build company is going to design you a pool, and then quote you their going rate for that design. End of story. There is not going to be much room to negotiate or bring costs down unless you make design sacrifices. However, this is not the case when working with a landscape design company to design your pool.


A great landscape design firm is well connected to the contractors in your area. They do a lot to maintain these positive relationships, and their connections should run the spectrum in terms of services and specialities. This variety of connection puts bargaining power back into your hands. It means you can rely on your landscape designer to shop out your design among industry contacts and come back to you with the best deal.


Additionally, different contractors have different strengths, and landscape design companies will be aware of where these differences lie. A new pool isn’t cheap, and it only makes sense to hire the best people for each aspect of the job, at the best prices available.

  • Landscape designers can be project managers, too.

A big reason homeowners go the pool contractor route is the idea of keeping tabs on multiple contractors or builders is overwhelming. We get that. The stress of keeping up with the progress of your swimming pool can be annoying at best and completely overwhelming at the worst of times. Luckily, landscape designers know this.


And because they know this, many landscape design companies are willing to be project managers for their designs as well. This means checking in with builders, scheduling demolition, construction, and fielding the logistics of every part of the process. If you’re nervous about the prospect of managing your pool installation, but still want to opt for a landscape designer, then ask your designer if project management is a service they offer.


Still, no option is perfect, and hiring a landscape design company to design your swimming pool comes with the possibility of a few drawbacks.


These cons include:

  • A longer overall process.

The main drawback to working with a separate landscape design company is that the act of engaging more than one party in the process can mean a longer road to a completed design. It can take time for your designer to shop out contractors and find the best fits for your pool design. However, this delay is not often significant, and most people find that the finished product has been well worth the slight wait.

  • Remote designers may not know your area.

If you’re set on hiring a landscape designer to design your swimming pool, or any part of your backyard, we recommend going local. Remote design is all the rage these days. We get it! The convenience and flexibility of being able to design from anywhere is incredible.


However, some remote designers who are not familiar to your area can present problems. For best results, working with a landscape designer who is familiar with your area. This gives you the best chance that your designer will be connected with local contractors and building professionals, saving you time, money, and headaches when it’s time for the approved design to be built.

  • Cost

For most people, the biggest roadblock to hiring a landscape design company to design their swimming pool is the additional cost. At the end of the day, hiring both a designer and a contracting team will probably cost you a bit more than an “all in one” design/build experience. However, in outdoor living and design, you truly get what you pay for.


Willingness to spend a bit more can be well worth it when the finished result is your dream pool, personalized and tailored to consider every aspect of your home and aesthetic preferences.


Landscape designers care about creating a design you love.

Contractors can be good designers, but their end goal is always to design a pool that can be built as fast as possible. To them, design is a means to an end–after all, if they can’t build it in-house, what’s the point? Hiring a landscape designer to design your pool means avoiding this attitude altogether.


Landscape designers are being paid to design a space that you love. Full stop. This means listening carefully to your preferences, and keeping carefully in tune with the pitch of the rest of your outdoor space. If your goal is to have a swimming pool that is a true reflection of your style, includes everything you’re looking for, and is tailor made for your home, then a landscape designer is the right choice.


To see some of Water and Earth’s pool designs come to life right here in Richmond, visit our blog or follow us on Instagram.

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