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A sense of style is important for backyard pools. A custom pool can look like a wilderness pond fed by a waterfall or have a sleek design that includes fountains and water cascading over block walls.

Any pool will keep you cool, but will it have a cool image? Style is the driving force behind custom pools these days. Gone is the era where a kidney shape, diving board and slide were all it took to satisfy those looking for a backyard place to relax and swim.Pool designers say demand is up for custom pools and customers are demanding unusual water areas. Waterfalls, boulders, tile, fountains, glass block walls, underwater tables with seats and dramatic lighting are some of the extras used to make pools special.

"More and more people are leaning toward a desire for something out of the ordinary - whether it's rock work or custom masonry work," said Gary Finley, owner of Aquarius Pools in Redding, Calif.

"People are looking for something that is aesthetically interesting, that's more than a holder of water or something to swim in," said Les Melburg of Nichols, Melburg & Rossetto Architecture in Redding. "They want it to be part of the design of the house, not something dumped into the design."

When Dr. Danny Stills and his wife Debra had Aquarius Pools design a pool for their house, they asked that it mesh with the style of the house. While the main purpose of the pool is to provide a place for family fun (the couple has two sons, ages 9 and 8, and a 3-year-old daughter), Mrs. Stills said aesthetics was still a priority.

The gray-plaster pool features a raised tile wall with fountains. "We can see it from the family room and the kitchen area and it's kind of tranquil to look out and see it," she said.

Robert Dias, owner of Aloha Design Pools in Redding, said it makes sense to go for fancy features because a pool takes up such a big chunk of the yard. "If I was in the market for a real custom pool, I'd try to make it more aesthetic than practical," Dias said. "You can only use it three or four months of the year and the rest of the time you are looking at it. I'd downsize the pool and upgrade the bells and whistles. You can get just as wet in a small pool as a big pool."

Recognition that a pool is something that dominates the yard all year has been behind the evolution of custom pools.

Tom Allen, a design representative with Guiton's Pool Center in Redding, said the custom pool has changed from "a very basic cookie-cutter pool" to something that's the centerpiece of a complete backyard setting.

Shade structures, decks, landscaping and safety features such as fencing are all part of the picture. Among the most-requested pool items are waterfalls, fountains and other running water features, Dias said.

Melburg said the sound of running water is relaxing and can enhance privacy by masking noises from nearby homes or the street. The sound of water cascading over rocks at a pool built for Charlie and Sue Philpot and their two adult children, who live at home, is Mrs. Philpot's favorite feature.

"I derive my most pleasure from hearing the water," she said. "It's so peaceful after you've been at work all day and you're stressed out . . . It's our little oasis."

Finley said some customers want running water to be part of a natural-looking feature, such as a rock waterfall, while others opt for fountains or flumes - pipes cut in half-moon shapes that spill water into the pool from brick walls or planters.

Finley, who has been in the pool design business for 20 years, said built-in seating is becoming more popular. It was almost unheard of when he first got started.

One option is underwater seating with tables that rise just above the water, providing a place to put down drinks. Many pool customers opt for decorative tile, which can be used to rim the pool and as an accent on underwater steps and seating.

In addition to jazzing up the look of a pool, tile can be a safety feature that lets people in the pool know where underwater steps or seats are.

For those on the cutting edge of pool design, there's the negative-edge pool. One side has no built-up edge, so water continually overflows (it is captured below and recirculated to the pool). The effect creates the illusion that the water is disappearing into the horizon.

Guiton's Pool Center worked with David and Carolyn Marossy to create a negative-edge pool. The water going over the low edge of their pool becomes a waterfall that can be enjoyed from a deck below. The pool itself is flanked with boulders and there's a rock that drops water into it.

The Marossys thought about how they wanted the pool to look for a couple of years. Mrs. Marossy said priorities were a pool where the family, which includesa daughter, 8, and son, 5, could play and swim. At the same time they wanted it to look natural.

"Our biggest thing was that we wanted something that would fit into the natural terrain," she said. "We enjoy it year-round."

The Marossys wanted a dark bottom for the pool and opted for one of the newest pool surfaces on the market - Pebble Tec. It's an exposed aggregate-like finish with very small, smooth stones. It comes in various colors.