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Pools of light

Luxury swimming pools provide the perfect opportunity for designers to showcase their creative talents, but working with water is not without its challenges, as Andy Pearson reports

“Residential pools are a real luxury and as a result one is often able to go the extra mile when designing a lighting scheme,” enthuses Rebecca Weir, design director at consultancy Light IQ. The effects of light glancing off water, the simplicity of clean-lined architecture and large uncluttered spaces are just some of the attributes that lighting designers can exploit when lighting swimming pools. Whatever the type of pool, be it private, a fun children’s pool, or even a calming spa, there are numerous possibilities for creative lighting.

Lighting the landscape

Many luxury residential pools are housed in purpose-built rooms designed to provide views out onto landscaped grounds. “The number one consideration for getting the design right is to take account of daylight in the lighting design,” says Autumn Morrison, principal of residential lighting consultant AMDesign. “Be aware of the slant of the sun and the orientation of the pool’s windows and, where possible, build in overhead windows,” she says. Artificial lighting such as LED feature lighting can also be introduced to enhance the experience or to add colour to a scheme.

At night the challenge is to balance the exterior lighting with the interior to avoid the swimmer feeling vulnerable. Ideally the designer’s remit should include lighting the garden outside the glazing. “Lighting the landscape to create focal points beyond the pool environment helps draw the eye outside at night, breaking the black hole effect that an undressed window would otherwise create,” explains Light IQ’s Weir.

“Concealed lighting is a great way to light swimming pools because it eliminates glare” Autumn Morrison, AM Design

For subterranean pools, with little or no daylight, the challenge is to vary the ambiance during the day. Because pool rooms are often simple, uncluttered spaces, the architecture often dictates how a space can be lit. A dropped ceiling or a shadow gap can be used to conceal fittings to flood a space with light, creating the illusion of daylight streaming into the room. “Concealed lighting is a great way to light swimming pools because it does eliminate glare,” says Morrison.

Setting the mood

Mood lighting is even more important in a subterranean pool to differentiate between daytime and night time. “It’s not as simple as just dimming the lights,” Morrison says. According to her, if the owners have a young family, often they will want it bright and cheerful during the day then, when the kids are out of the way, it can have a calmer, more subdued mood. “A lot of pools have lounge areas – I like to put a pendant fitting in this area to give a nice warm glow,” she says.

Glare from artificial lights can be an issue for swimmers, particularly those swimming on their backs staring at the ceiling. “You do need to light the ceiling, otherwise swimmers will be staring at a dark void, but you cannot put lights over the pool because you will not be able to access the lamps,” Morrison warns. One solution is to use fibre optics to speckle the ceiling with light-like stars; the surface of the pool will add to the effect by mirroring the lighting above. “Other ways to avoid glare are to use indirect lights such as a discrete architectural uplighters or wall downlights,” she says.

Colour code

Designers also need to be aware that lighting a pool changes the pool’s colour. “A white pool when lit will appear a pale aqua; a dark blue pool will seem almost pale blue when lit; and a dark slate pool will appear almost a green colour,” says Lighting Design International’s Sally Storey.

One recent development is black swimming pools. Lighting Design International designed the spa for the Corinthia Hotel – which has a black pool within a room with walls finished in black marble. “It allowed us manipulate the space and totally control the mood,” explains Storey. Using fibre optics allowed fibres to be set into the bottom of the pool. “These emit light through the water onto the room’s low ceiling to create wonderful rippling patterns,” she says.

She says this worked well in the spa because customers used the pool as a place to relax. However this solution would have been distracting in a pool for serious swimmers.

For safety reasons it is also important to ensure the steps in black pools are well defined. The biggest safety issue, however, in lighting pools has nothing to do with the colour of the pool but in supplying electricity to the lights. “One of the biggest challenges is in achieving code compliance,” warns AMDesign’s Morrison. In the accompanying box: water and electricity don’t mix, the Electrical Contractors’ Association has highlighted some of the main electrical considerations in the box below.

Water and electricity don’t mix

Giuliano Digilio, head of Technical Services at the Electrical Contractors’ Association offers some simple tips for achieving a safe pool lighting scheme.

If the pool is for a domestic project, it will be subject to Part P of the Building Regulations, which deals with electrical safety.

Using extra low-voltage lighting products is safer as it reduces the risk of shock – so select them where possible.

Make sure any fixtures and fittings, in addition to the light, have an Ingress Protection (IP) rating suitable for the area they are going to be installed in.

Don’t forget that once the lighting is installed, it will require maintenance. Where possible, try to avoid placing lighting directly over the pool if there is no access from the roof – otherwise, powered access will be required to reach the lighting. This will take up time and money in the maintenance budget.

Similarly, any lighting submersed within the pool can only be accessed by draining the pool. Picking light sources with longer lifetimes can reduce how frequently you would need to carry out this kind of maintenance.

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