By Jim McCloskey
I ran into an interesting reaction to my last blog — the one about diving boards and slides — that forced me to meditate on my approach to this series of articles about elements of aquatic environments that I like and/or dislike.
“Must everything,” I was asked, “be about aesthetics? You yourself say that diving boards and slides are a blast, but then you treat them as though their negative effect on the looks of aquatic environments is the sole criterion by which they should be judged. Isn’t it enough that they’re fun and that consumers want them?”
That’s a fair question, but my answer nonetheless is, “Yes, it’s all about aesthetics.” Even in light of the enormous amount of fun I’ve had with chrome-braced, blue-fiberglass diving boards and big, gangly plastic slides, I’m convinced that, as an industry, we will be more successful with homeowners if we make our products easier on the eye.
I am, of course, playing the provocateur here. I want to draw out designers and builders who’ve devised good, aesthetically pleasing solutions to the ugliness that too often comes with conventional, off-the-shelf aquatic-related products. In fact, I yearn to be challenged by evidence that these products can be made visually inoffensive.
Obviously, this isn’t just about boards and slides: Portable spas, for example, come to mind as visual misadventures that demand some sort of aesthetic retooling or on-site masking. And please don’t get me wrong: I love the way portable spas are engineered, the way the seats are contoured, the smooth finishes and the often-sublime vigorousness of their jet action.
As a longish creature with a creaky frame, I have always been an advocate for (and beneficiary of) hydrotherapy, and I’m the first to concede that even the best jet system I’ve encountered in a concrete spa is no match for even the merely good jet systems deployed in common portables.
But for all that inherent virtue, portable spas are woebegone mutts that run the range from mud-fence homely to garish, intrusive hideousness. I remember judging NSPI Design Awards competitions back in the day and being desperate to reward the least among portable-spa evils — and on occasion withholding any vote at all because I just couldn’t bring myself to relent.
Yes, I have been impressed at times by the way portable spas can be integrated (read: hidden) within the field of a good-sized redwood deck. And I was pleased back in the late 1990s when at least one portable-spa manufacturer started breaking tubs out of their skirts and installing them directly into concrete decks alongside pools. But it’s no more than lipstick on the proverbial pig: The plastic rims always intrude, and the insulating covers these watershapes simply must have never, ever looked good. It’s even worse when the spa is big and the cover requires some sort of gantry-like retracting system!
As with boards and slides, I will be utterly delighted if someone sets me straight by showing me a good, full-featured portable spa that avoids the usual visual sins these products seem doomed to commit. I’d love to share the evidence here, believe me. Until then, I will raise my flag of aesthetic preference on the side of well-integrated concrete spas — and just wish things could be different!
Have you developed a solution to the visual challenges posed by portable spas? If so, please let me know in the space below — and feel free to send images to me at email@example.com.