On the Flat and Shallow

By Jim McCloskey

I don’t remember exactly when or where I saw my first tanning shelf, but I recall being puzzled and even a bit put off by the concept.

I have never been one to loll around my own backyard pool, basically because my fair skin takes a UV beating.  (Actually, I’m just tired of having my dermatologist remind me that I’m paying the piper for having spent too much of my life in the sun, especially from the time I was six until I moved beyond walking distance of the beach at 26.)

Nor did I consider it sensible to take up valuable pool square footage with a large, flat area designed for lounging; personally, I preferred to use the space for swimming.  Our backyard pool is only about 35 feet long, and the turning around has always been more taxing for me than the moving from end to end — so why would I want to lop off six more feet of that potential recreational length and dedicate it to idle ease?

But I must say that these pool features — no matter whether you call them tanning shelves, sun shelves, lounging shelves or whatever else — have grown on me to a point where I like them as much as any extension of the pool design/build repertoire I’ve observed through the past 25-plus years. 

The key to my change of heart, I think, was a project by Joan Roca we once covered in WaterShapes: In a very long, narrow pool for a Costa Rican resort, he set up a shallow platform just outside a bar/restaurant, and the photographer staged a night shot with a table and chairs set up in the water for a casual tête-à-tête.  It was absolutely charming and instantly turned my head around with respect to in-pool shallows.  

Once I set out with these new bearings, I thought back on the things that had puzzled me and recognized that they were essentially nonissues.  In fact, a shallow shelf is one of the precious few things I have added to my mental checklist as something I’d like to consider if we ever get around to remodeling our pool.  I particularly like the thought of including a sleeve to hold a big market umbrella – must think about my skin a bit, after all.

This brings me to the only real problem I have left with these doohickeys:  What should they be called?  “Tanning shelf” is too limited and has no real appeal to me (or my dermatologist).  I’ve heard the term “sunset shelf” and like its romantic sweep, but I don’t think it suffices in enough circumstances to succeed as a working descriptor. 

I know that the terminology isn’t nearly as important as what these features do for the pool environment, but I can’t help thinking we’d all benefit from picking a good term and making it stick.  After all, eventually I want my friends to share in the fun, and I want to be able to tell them what they’re enjoying so they can ask for one, too.  

In the course of doing business and describing what you propose for your clients, what do you call these shelves?   I’d love to share your suggestions here, and would also appreciate any insights you might offer into their history, as I’ve never been clear on where they came from in the first place.

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3 Responses to On the Flat and Shallow

  1. Hi Jim,

    Great story on the “shelves” aka “wet decks” here in Utah. My only concern is the thousands of pools out there that we built over the years (before the feature was thought of) that don’t have them. The good news is virtually every remodel we do now gets a “wet deck”, as does 100% of all new construction. Multi levels and often different colored plaster is pretty much standard these days…

  2. CJ Miller says:

    I insisted my husband put one in our beautiful pool. I put loungers in, low chairs, low tables and of course – an umbrella in the sleeve. But for me, the single most important role it needed to play was that of easy entry and exit for our 2 dogs. And so, I call it Doggie Beach. When he shows it to potential customers, my husband refers to it as Beach Entry, but it will always be Doggie Beach for me!

  3. Cathy Ingham says:

    I’ve used the term sun shelf or even ‘kiddie pool’ for families with little ones. I think a more elegant label would be ‘aqua lounge’ – then it’s not necessarily thought of as only for tanning. I love the imagery of the night time shot of the table & chairs and romantic setting!

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