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Here’s some expert advice for making an old pool beautiful again. Plus, my best tips for all the right colour choices for pool materials and landscaping to create the most classic and timeless pool whether you are improving your existing pool or adding a new one.

The Spruce (love how the plant material matches the pool) 

I recently received this question from a reader:

I have a pool that needs help: 911 in fact. I searched Maria’s blog and did not see any posts about working with concrete problems and minimizing eyesores such as this.

The patchwork in the second photo is exactly as it looks, freshly pressure washed. There’s about 10 different colours/ages of concrete surrounding this pool!!

I think it’s a really interesting problem that must be facing millions of homes with pools.

I can also take more pictures, including what the pool deck looks like now after the caulked cracks and divots with a “paintable gray caulking”, which basically shows up as white! Egad.

When I read this question, I knew immediately that the first person to consult on this project was MaryAnne White my virtual landscape designer, who has worked on MANY projects for readers of this blog.

Since my client inherited the pool we’re just going to say it like it is for the benefit of everyone else reading:

MaryAnne’s take on this was the following:

“This is an outdated, low-end pool that was made by a pool company without any design or consideration of details. It needs a better liner choice, needs coping, new interior steps, new concrete pour, and planting so you don’t feel like you are sitting in the driveway.”

Here are a few photos of the pool:

Obviously, the least expensive way to handle the patchy concrete is to paint it the colour of concrete. I dedicated Module 4 of my Masterclass for Exterior Colour Selection to this versatile, most neutral shade of green-grey (the colour of natural stone).

Don’t use a can of porch paint – it’s blue grey, not the colour of concrete

Remodeloholic (How to Paint a Concrete Patio)

The worst thing to do would be to buy ‘off-the-shelf’ porch and floor paint which is a blue grey (above). I have seen many concrete steps, patios and garage floors painted in this shade of grey which makes no sense because as soon as it starts to chip, you see the green concrete underneath it.

If it matches your decor, that’s fine, but in general, that’s not what most people are trying to do.

This image (below) is where you can see the many places the concrete has been patched.

My reader also disliked the colour of the pool liner, this is MaryAnne’s advice:

Which pool liner is best?

The white fibreglass steps should be replaced with concrete steps and then the liner goes over it.

Other than the location of the pool, if purchasing a vinyl liner, you should be aware of certain facts.

Avoid a Printed Tile Border

Make sure you choose a liner that does not have a printed tile border. This often looks tacky and fake (below).

Choose a Pebble Print

In terms of colour and style, choose a pebble print, similar to this one (above), but without the printed accent tile.

Consider the Colour of the Reflection

And, no matter what the pool is made of, whether it’s Gunite or vinyl, it does reflect the sky. 

If you’re going to choose a vinyl pool, it won’t be the exact colour of the vinyl because the colour of the sky will be included in the reflection.

You want your plastic printed liner to LOOK as close to Gunite as possible.

How to landscape around your pool

This was the new landscaping plan MaryAnne designed:

Landscape and pool design by MaryAnne White 

A note about pool companies

If you’re doing anything outdoors like landscaping or installing a pool, you have a limited window. The further north you go the more limited the window of time when you can install plant material and pools!  

They have 8 months to get it all in, and in the North, you can only plant 4 months out of the year because it’s too cold.

Therefore, most pool companies want to get in, get the job done, and get out!

It’s the same with cabinet guys. If you order cabinets without a designer, the same thing will happen. Keep that in mind next time you decide you’d like to save money on the design plan. A design plan can make it beautiful vs. ‘meh’.

Four steps to a more beautiful pool

  1. Drains, returns and skimmer boxes,  should match the liner. They have white, grey, light blue and dark blue options. Just make sure you choose the right one to coordinate with your liner.
  2. The lights should be on the same side as you’re sitting, this way they don’t shine into your eyes at night.
  3. The skimmer boxes should also be also on the same side that you’re sitting so you’re not looking at the muck.
  4. MaryAnne recommends travertine or bluestone coping (seen below) to coordinate with a concrete pool.

Other ways to make your pool prettier

If you can’t re-do your pool, there are other ways to distract the eye and make it prettier:

Every pool needs a big swan or a peacock to float around in the pool, especially if you’re looking down at it from your house all day long. Get them here.

Peter Murdock via House Beautiful

Match the pool liner to your decorating

This is one spot where neutral will not be fabulous.

It will look so much better if you match your decor to your indigo blue or turquoise pool rather than just plunking down standard big-box charcoal furniture. Remember these chairs?

CNN Traveller

Pottery Barn | Wayfair


I disliked my patio A LOT when we moved in 9 years ago, but my landscaping was way more of an emergency than replacing the deck. So I decorated it instead. Now I really don’t notice the patio.

Over to you my lovelies! Are you working on a pool project this year? Post your questions in the comments!

If you’d like help designing your landscape, patio, or pool, contact MaryAnne White here.

To learn how to choose colours for your exterior,  join my Masterclass here.

I have 25 spaces available for my Specify Colour with Confidence virtual workshop coming up June 18-19, those on the waiting list will receive an opportunity to register first tonight. Get on the list here.

Related post:

Professionals Know When to Avoid the Obvious

Rules are for Amateurs, Exceptions are for the Professional

How to Make a Plain Exterior Fabulous? Design a Garden

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  • Maria says:

    If you paint the ceiling in an indoor pool, will it reflect colour in the same way as the sky?

    • Lynn Wilhelm says:

      It’s actually not the reflection of the sky that makes a body of water appear blue (at least not mostly). Water absorbs red light and reflect blue from light (usually the sun) not the sky.
      Water appears blue for the same reason the sky does. Bodies of water can be greenish too because of stuff in the water.
      The pools where reflection really matters are those with black interiors. That’s when you notice the reflection more than the color of the water. (Note: Black pools can be hazardous, especially with kids–it’s very hard to see the bottom.)

  • Shelley says:

    Thanks for this!! It is a wonderful gift to be able to see exactly how to solve this problem!! I live in Florida where we have sooo much room for improvement in pool area staging!!

  • Diana says:

    It’s best to keep the pool liner a light color. Here in Virginia we have snakes and prior to going in the pool we always check for big ones and little ones.

  • Hello Maria! We put a pool in two years ago and boy were we glad last summer! We live in Texas and you basically can’t be outside in the summer unless you’re swimming. With Covid it gave my son a refuge. Since I’m a color expert I considered the reflection of the sky in my tile and pebble liner choice. And also the color of water. Water when collected in a large vessel like a pool has a greenish cast. I have had friends install pools with beautiful gray blue tile and quartz liners and when filled with water the border tile seems to clash with the pebble finish below the waterline because the water is giving it an aqua tinge. I don’t know if this is the chemicals we put in our water in Texas or just what water does in a big pool. During the freezing Texas endured we had to fill our bathtubs in case we lost water and I noticed it in my white bathtub as well. Aqua tint. So I would say for those choosing liners to consider the aqua cast that water may have as well as the reflection of the sky when choosing.

  • Stacy White says:

    What is the recommendation or “rule” on the waterline pool tiles in a concrete pool? I am remodeling mine and overwhelmed by the millions of choices.

    • Lynn Wilhelm says:

      I like plain tile at the waterline. But it really depends on the overall look of your pool and landscape. Don’t let those fancy tiles distract you, just like interior design, keep the overall look in mind.
      Be sure to note the dimensions of the tile strip your installer includes in their proposal. Sometimes it’s not enough to go above and below the water line (that line can depend on other pool features.

    • Kj says:

      Stacy, basically you pick waterline tiles that contrast with your pool finish and your coping, waterline tiles that match your coping or waterline tiles that match your pool finish. When we remodeled our pool we looked at tons of pool photos online and decided that we liked the look of waterline tiles blending into the pool finish color. We ended up using buff leuders limestone coping, 1×2 arctic glass tile in lagoon (set on gray thinset with light pewter grout) and french gray pebblesheen. The waterline tiles exactly blend with the pool finish which is what we wanted. Are you replacing the coping and finish in your pool too?

  • Shannon Nembach says:

    Great post Maria! Here in Southern California I have seen many pool builders not consider landscaping and the final esthetic of the completed yard. They slap a pool in a subdivision backyard with no regard to the surrounding plant material and how it all ties together. In general our houses are much closer together and have smaller yards. The pool is often built so close to the back fence there isn’t room for plantings and the final project looks bad. Your neighbor’s house is right on top of yours and you now don’t have room to create privacy with planting material. If the pool was just placed farther away from the fence line, and a little smaller, it would result in a much more pleasing final product. I think many homeowners want a bigger pool and the plantings are an after thought. I used to do landscape design and would get called into do planting design after the pool was installed, not good. It’s much better to enlist a landscape designer at the beginning of the project to work with the pool installer. Another thing to think about when landscaping around a pool is not using flowering material immediately adjacent to the pool edge. Flowers bring bees, bees fall in the pool, bees sting swimmers. I love bees, but not in the pool.

    • Lynn Wilhelm says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve done some great designs with pools, but trying to fix problems after the fact is very difficult. Sometimes just a few tweaks to the pool design and location make a boring back garden into a great garden space!
      I’ve also been able to convince homeowners that a larger pool just isn’t worth it. I don’t think I upset many pool installers because I usually suggested more high end pool features at the same time.

  • Lynn Wilhelm says:

    This home definitely deserves a better pool! As MaryAnne said, the problem isn’t the patchy concrete, it’s the entire layout of the pool and it’s relationship to the home and the rest of the landscape. MaryAnne’s plan would be a huge improvement but I’d like to add a few comments.

    If there’s room, consider extending the entry steps the full width of the pool. The look would be worth it, even if it was necessary to eat up a few feet of the pool. Consider doing away with the deep end. Many residential pools are now built without one so users can enjoy pool games more. Plus a deeper pool takes longer to heat up in the spring (in the southern US, this might make for a pool that’s too warm!). Be sure the new pool coping is cantilevered over the edge of the pool. The liner edge and attachment can then hides under the coping, better mimicking a concrete pool. If a stone coping isn’t in the budget, a more architectural use of concrete can look just as nice.

    I’d install heavier planting outside the fence on the driveway side of the pool if possible. I can’t tell which direction the garage is, but unless it’s on the Southern side of the pool some of the trees should be those that grow to at least 20′ tall–the farther they are from the pool, the less they’ll shade it. Flowering trees are great, but they may end up drawing the eye right to the garage instead of distracting the view–the pink shrubs illustrate this effect. A green “wall” of plants that would completely screen the garage doors could work. This wall should be as close to the driveway as possible allowing for a layered mosaic of plantings (including small growing flowering trees) between the pool edge and the green wall. If some lawn is needed for access to the back yard, then make it as narrow as possible and not visible from the pool.

    Having the plantings continue on both sides of the fence whenever possible helps make the fence disappear visually. It’s not that the plants need to grow through the fence, just that the groupings of the same plants are partly on both sides of the fence.
    I’m not sure what view the plan indicates, but if it’s not something to emphasize, then extend the view with a focal point outside the pool. This could be a very ornamental tree or a structure.

    If the hot tub stays, it would be great to either move it around the corner or outside the fence. The latter is better because it’s closer to the back door for quicker access in chilly weather. Planters near the dining table would help soften all that concrete. Creating separation between the table and any utilities or storage space in that area could be done with a planter and trellis.

  • Ryan says:

    We are putting in a pool right now and I’m hoping I made the right color decisions. Due to the big C there are really very few choices. Over half the liners were out of stock. I went with my third choice and it is pebble like with no border at the top. Believe me, they had plenty of back stock liners with dolphins and brown “tile” !! Hopefully we get a pool before summer is over as it gets very hot in eastern WA.
    Thanks so much for this article, I’ve been feeling a bit lost because there isn’t a lot of good pool advice out there.

    • Ryan says:

      PS: Also, any thoughts on covers?

      • Lynn Wilhelm says:

        Automatic covers are the best! You can hide the track under the coping–but I recall that it’s trickier to have a hidden cover with a liner pool.
        Over the top covers aren’t too bad you just see the tracks in the decking.
        Good luck with your pool installation!

        • Ryan says:

          Thanks- we are doing the auto cover and I have chosen their gray color. I’m hoping my backyard isn’t too depressing in the winter with all the grey decking, rocks, and patio. Maybe beige or blue would’ve been better!

  • Kelly W says:

    I’m not much of a pool person but I learned so much from this post!

    We are looking for a house in southern Ontario near our kids, and so many have pools without any thought for shade, or beauty. And the number of back yards that have ZERO trees makes me want to cry. So in a crazy market, the choices are slim pickins on already slim pickins…

  • Without getting it the physics of water reflection and color waves it is both the reflection of the sky as well as the blue color waves being bounced back.
    Why you can watch the clouds role by and why Narcissus saw his reflection in the pond. The best advice I can offer is to ask the pool installer if you can look at a few liners choices already installed. I never suggest purchasing masonry or liners of any sort from a catalogue.
    The pool sketch was a quick fix suggestion. There are many more options as Lynn has suggested. Unfortunately this install was not really thought out.
    As to auto covers here in the north east they add an additional $10,000 to $15,000 to the cost of any pool.
    They also create an additional height to the first step down because of the track installation. Not the best for little ones or old knees.
    If doing a gunite pool unless you are madly in love with a certain tile an just have to have it for your maybe retro pool, I would suggest a simple tile,be it an actual stone or facsimile with no print. If doing a stone coping ask to see tile samples that match the stone. You will end up with a high end timeless look for the same cost.

  • Juli says:

    What BM paint color(s) look most like concrete?

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