Feature article

Stunning Backyard Swimming Pool Design Ideas

Explore stunning backyard swimming pool design ideas from compact plunge pools to luxurious infinity pools.

31 May 2024

Whether it’s an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, a compact plunge pool, or an above-ground backyard pool, the options are endless when it comes to designing the perfect sanctuary for a quiet dip or an entertainers’ showstopper.

Here are a few of New Zealand’s best. Think sculptural pool cabanas, trapezoidal city pools, and everything in between.

The beauty of a concrete inground pool is that it can be built to fit any site. This two-storey Beach Haven home of sharp geometries by Milieu is designed around a trapezoidal plunge pool, over which the upper level is cantilevered. Image: Jessica Chloe

Above ground vs in-ground pools – what are the best options?

There are any number of answers to this question, however, the obvious factors that will govern your pool design ideas are: budget and site. If budget is paramount then you’ll be best served by choosing an above-ground, vinyl-lined swimming pool as these range in price from around $5000 through to $20,000 depending upon size, customisation and installation (not including any excavation works or decking etc).

If you’re opting for an in-ground pool, then you have two choices — a pre-cast, fibreglass pool or a concrete pool. Being constructed off site means fibreglass pools can be easily and quickly installed — in as little as one week depending on the weather — making them the more timely of the two options.

Like pets, concrete pools are for life, not just for Christmas, and as such they require more of a commitment in terms of construction, easily taking up to several months to complete. However, once in place they will provide many, many years of enjoyment.

This 20m-long inground pool complex features a covered pavilion and spacious lounging areas. Image: Sam Hartnett

Fibreglass vs concrete pools – what are the pros and cons?

Given their smooth, gel-coat surface, fibreglass pools are generally easier to maintain than their concrete counterparts, meaning ongoing costs can be lower. A potential downside to fibreglass pools is their lack of customisation as they are usually available in a somewhat limited range of shapes and sizes. However, if your site is itself limited in size, then they are an ideal choice. In-ground fibreglass pools run anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000, depending upon size, customisation and installation.

Concrete inground pools are a popular option because they can be tailored to fit pretty much any site, are structurally strong and visually stunning, thanks to the myriad finishing options available including infinity edges and pebble or tile interiors. However, on the downside, concrete pools are the costliest of the three options, coming in at around $50,000 to $200,000, depending upon size, customisation and installation.

Maintenance, too, of concrete swimming pools can be more involved than that of fibreglass swimming pools. The porous nature of concrete means that organisms such as algae can more readily take a hold on the pool’s surface, requiring close monitoring of water quality.

The Stoked Stainless Plunge Spa strikes a perfect balance between pool and spa for areas where space is limited.

Pool designs for compact sites

When space is at a premium, a compromise between a large pool and a compact spa can be an option. Enter the plunge pool – not quite a pool and not quite a spa, the Stoked Stainless Plunge Spa strikes a perfect balance between the two with a piece that embraces the art of relaxation outdoors.

Whether an icy dip or the indulgence of a hot soak — the contemporary plunge pool has evolved in leaps and bounds from its humble origins.

“Once associated solely with bracing cold water, the plunge pool is now a coveted outdoor item, allowing people to easily immerse themselves in therapeutic healing or relaxation in the privacy of their backyard,” Stoked Stainless’ Mike Daish tells us. Stoked Stainless has spearheaded the development of the plunge pool in Aotearoa with its range of design-led above-ground plunge spas.

This transparent pool was designed by G2 Studio for an Auckland home as a striking visual feature linking home and pool house. Image: John Williams

Creative garden pool designs ideas to create the wow factor

There are infinite possibilities when it comes to pool design. Whether it’s a circular tiny pool, a container pool, or an entirely bespoke solution such as a transparent pool. Pictured above is an above-ground pool designed by G2 Studio and BH Construction in which a 9.5-metre-long, 1.5-metre-high, 1.4-tonne piece of clear acrylic was used as the side of the swimming pool.

A party cabana and sculptural pool fence designed by Rogan Nash Architects become the showstoppers in a Cox’s Bay home. Image: Simon Devitt

The backyard pool house: Designing the perfect pool cabana

Pools are a significant investment, so it's fitting then that the pool house or cabana, along with the landscaping, is designed to enhance the overall poolscape.

In the sculptural pool pictured above by Rogan Nash Architects, the intention was to create a crowd-pleasing folly at the back of a newly levelled lawn. Faceted walls of glassfibre-reinforced concrete panels float above the pool like a carefully crafted iceberg – their reflection in the water doubling the impact.

Kaynemail architectural mesh is used on the exterior of this pool house, designed by Johnston Architects and Bespoke Interior Design, juxtaposing concrete block and echoing the modernist design language of the main house. Image: Paul Brandon

When it comes to connecting home and pool house with a design language that offers cohesion between spaces, Johnston Architects and Bespoke Interior Design utilised the existing design language of a mid-century modern home in Remuera, and set about redesigning a pool house and creating an outdoor room, resulting in a trio of interconnected areas spanning indoors and out. Here, the pool becomes part of a wider setting, where a sense of playful elegance is expressed throughout.

A natural pool has the added aesthetic benefit of looking like a natural part of the environment. This pool, by Natural Pools NZ offers an inviting place for a dip with edges that merge into the surroundings.

Living and natural pools – taking a leaf out of nature’s book

The reason we even have swimming pools is down to millennia of swimming in streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and oceans and wanting to create that in our own backyards. So, with that in mind, why look any further than nature herself when it comes to looking after and maintaining our swimming pools.

There are two types of swimming pools that mimic nature — living pools and natural pools. You may be forgiven for thinking that those names sound interchangeable but there is a difference between the two.

A living pool uses biofiltration — much like any other ‘organic’ body of water — rather than chemical treatments to regulate water quality, usually in the form of bio and phosphorous filters that purify the water, keeping is clean and ‘living’.

A natural pool, while also an example of a living freshwater system, incorporates a regenerative zone of aquatic plants that serve to filter and oxygenate the water. Fish can also be added to a natural pool to help keep insects under control and to add a unique swimming experience.


HOME Magazine
HOME Magazine


Since 1936, HOME has showcased New Zealand residential architecture; homes that are designed to inspire, challenge and delight, by the country’s best architects.

In every issue we invite our readers into these homes, telling their owners’ stories at the same time as explaining how these remarkable buildings came to be.

Simultaneously, HOME celebrates New Zealand’s best design, interiors and landscapes – every element of the places we call home. It explores the wealth of creative talent that exists in New Zealand and our evolving built environment.

HOME is a highly collectible and beloved part of people’s lives; at once contemporary and timeless, thoughtful and stimulating.