—Ideas to enhance traditional style or add contemporary flair
Among the most familiar and iconic swimming pool styles, a Roman pool remains a popular option for homeowners looking to give their backyard a dash of classic panache.
Today’s Roman pools include an array of decorative features and materials that put a contemporary spin on the traditional shape. Better yet, you can modify the Roman shape in a number of visually intriguing ways.
ROMAN POOLS VS. GREEK POOLS
Let’s begin by clarifying exactly what a Roman pool shape is—and what it’s not. Confusion is widespread because the terms Grecian and Roman are used interchangeably when they’re two distinct pool shapes.
To achieve a Grecian, take a rectangle, chop off its corners, and voila: You have a simple, hard-edged silhouette that’s indicative of the Greek’s linear and minimalist approach to architecture.
Perhaps due to the Grecian’s understated simplicity, few are built. When they are, the shape is usually modified for greater visual interest.
For example, the shape may be a “half-Grecian” with only two of the four corners receiving the blunting treatment. Or, the blunt corners might be replaced with an inverted curve, or, even with a more complex configuration.
Now, their Italian neighbors tended to be more curvilinear and elaborate in their ornamentation.
Instead of the Greek’s blunt ends and corners, the Roman version features 90-degree corners and its primary distinguishing feature: arches!
So, when you hear someone refer to a pool shape as ‘traditional” or “classical”—or even “Greek” or “Grecian”, the odds are it’s really a Roman.
ACHIEVING CLASSIC STYLE—AND MORE
Whether you are considering the standard Roman shape or a modified version, a skilled pool designer. can suggest appropriate features and design elements.
Let’s take a look at some ideas to elevate the formal aesthetic of your Roman pool. (And yes, many of these options will work equally well on a Grecian.)
Mosaics and Tile Treatments
Tile mosaics are a mainstay of ancient Roman pools. Today, you can find original hand-laid tile creations in ultra high-end pools.
Fortunately, for mere mortals with real-world budgets, affordable options are available. A favorite approach is to capture some mosaic inspiration with accent tiles.
Your builder can include any kind of tile in the center of or along the border of the top pool step, a tanning ledge, or bench/loveseat.
The facade of the spa also provides a backdrop for some classic tile accents
Capitalizing on the Arch
One way to take advantage of one or both of the pool’s arches is to nest a feature into it.
On a traditional Roman shape, you can see one or both of the arches on the end of the pool. On a modified version, use the third (or even fourth) arch that’s being added to one or both of the pool’s long sides.
One favorite use is to position a custom spa into the arch. Typically, the spa shape will be a semi-circle.
If the spa is configured to sit roughly half inside the pool perimeter and half outside, a full circle shape—or a hexagon or quatrefoil—will also work beautifully,
Another technique is to use the interior space formed by the arch for a bench or a tanning ledge. You could also use only a corner.
This interior niche could also be the perfect spot for a ledge to highlight a statue or water feature on raised bond beam (wall). Or, you could even fit a small swim-up bard into the arch.
Ancient Roman baths featured long stadium-like step configurations known as “ziggurats.”
These steps would often extend the entire length of the structure, and bathers used them as much for lounging as they did for entering and exiting the water.
A large step treatment is a great way to integrate the Roman design tradition while also creating a fun, welcoming spot to linger in shallow water.
You can take a fresh to the steps’ design, curving some or all of them or enlarging the top one to serve double duty as a tanning ledge.
Urns and Statues
Rome is famous for its sculptures of gods, heroes, and mythological creatures. So, incorporating classic figurines will always fit a Roman pool and beautify the poolside setting.
Choose subjects for the statues that complement the Roman aesthetic. Think Neptune (Roman god of the Sea), period figurines, or stately lions.
For a very affordable option, hit a home & garden store for a couple of 12 to 36-inch tall resin or plaster urns in the classic design. You can leave them empty or fill then with small plants or flowers, and place them around the pool perimeter.
Incorporating columns into building facades is arguably the most recognizable feature of classic design.
Columns appear in Roman-inspired landscape design as well, often representing the ruins of ancient buildings with sets of columns that support nothing—but look great doing so.
Adding decorative concrete columns around a Roman pool is a timeless look that adds a dramatic vertical dimension to exterior spaces.
Even placing a few affordable
Hardscape: Walls, Pilasters, Bridges
Raised pool walls are commonly used to add a Romanesque flavor to pool designs. The tile-clad wall will provide a background for water features such as scuppers, spouts, and cascade falls.
Pilasters and planters are also superb compliments on a Roman pool. The uniform shapes amplify the formality of the pool and add architectural interest to the scene.
You could even splurge on a “stone” bridge across the pool (that’s actually build from concrete and finished to stimulate stone bricks.).
Although, Rome is also home to some of the world’s most iconic fountains, a multi-tier, free-standing fountain—even a small one—is not practical for most mid-range pool projects.
However, a terrific alternative to an elaborate fountain is simple. One or more fountains on the entry steps, tanning ledge, or inside your spa.
If you have more budget to work with, you can ask your designer about a feature called a fountain “pen” “shelf or enclosure small, walled-off space dedicated to house several fountains.
Fire and Water bowls
Also called water pots, these decorative, high-ticket options come in variety of styles, shapes, and finishes.
They can be plumbed for water or for gas lines. Higher-end versions are fabricated to provide both elements for double the drama.
On Roman pool, go with a round-shaped bowl vs. a modern, angular square. is the best choice.
When it comes to the finish, forgo copper and matte for a rough concrete finish that says “antiquities.”
Arching Water Features
Other kinds of water features such as. bubbler fountains or wall-mounted cascades, spouts, or scuppers—make excellent accents on a Roman pool.
But in particular, one category of water feature hits a home run for accentuating the symmetry of the Roman pool shape and its arches: curving deck jets or laminars.
Your builder can place a pair of these graceful water features on one or both sides of the pool, or, install a set of four to punctuate each corner of the pool.
One of Rome’s greatest innovations was heating water using a complex system of furnaces, ducting, and chambers beneath raised floor structures that contained the baths.
Today’s inground spas are the modern incarnations of the ancient baths. Incorporating this hot-water amenity into your pool design pays homage to the Romans while providing an indulgent form of relaxation that’s been enjoyed for centuries.
A circular or semi-circular shape is often the best spa shape to complement the Roman pool silhouette. However, depending on the shape of the Roman and the placement, most any shape are possible.
(Exception: Any organic, free-form circular or triangular shape that look as if the shape was “melting” and losing its form. These asymmetrical options are a perfect match for a tropical lagoon, but not for an elegant Roman. Design.)
A skilled designer can incorporate another symmetrical shape such as a square, rectangular, or octagon. They can also modify one side a square or rectangle by making it an outward curve to echo the line of an arch.
Classic gardens are designed to harmonize with the geometry of the architecture.
Linear, box-style plantings arranged in axial patterns are more consistent with the villas of the Roman Empire, far more so than less disciplined, more naturalistic planting schemes.
Many Roman pool settings include iconic plants such as cypress, olive trees, and grape vines. Arbors, pergolas, gazebos and allées (a straight path lined with trees or large shrubs on both sides) are also common in the garden
Although there are many variations and possible design details, it’s useful to keep in mind that pools in this genre are best placed on properties using the same design tradition.
Classicism, be it Greek, Roman or both, creates a distinct impression and cultural association that can be badly out of place in the wrong setting.
Ultimately, you want to avoid design elements that are not consistent with classicism.
Those insults might include naturalistic rockwork and waterfalls. Tropical or lagoon-style appointments and landscaping will also fail badly trying to harmonize with a Romanesque outdoor setting.
That said, with the touch of a skilled designer, it is possible to insert some contemporary elements into the scene with materials such as glass tile or features such as laminar jets.
Although not for every pool owner or property, the design traditions of Romans—and the Greeks before them— can still be used to create settings that are truly ageless.