Aug 5, 2011

Freeform Pools: curvaceous and glamourous!

 Have always loved the graceful lines
of freeform swimming pools...
the most famous of which is probably
in the Donnell Garden,
by the celebrated 20th century
landscape architect Thomas Church.
The curvaceous edges mimic the
rolling silhouettes of the landscape beyond.

But let's go back in history to 
discover how freeform pools first appeared 
in landscape design,
which wasn't really so long ago actually!

And as for swimming pools themselves....
It's generally believed that the very first pool 
was built in Pakistan, around 2600 BCE.
It was rectangular & lined with bricks.

Then, in both Ancient Greece & Rome
pool-baths became extremely popular.
This is the Great Bath at Bath in England.
During the Victorian Era in Britain,
bathing became an extremely popular pastime.
The Arlington Bath Club in Glasgow {1870}
features the beautiful ironwork
of the time in these delicately patterned trusses.
I could stare at this image all day!
It's almost more like a church design,
except with water for the floor.
But the first non-rectangular or curved pool
was thought to be the extraordinary one at Pickfair, 
the Beverly Hills home of 
Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks.
Built in 1920, it was large enough to row a boat,
with the gently curving concrete sides 
constructed as a lapped edge.
Richard Neutra was playing with curved pools
in his 1935 Von Sternberg House,
in a modern interpretation of a moat.
But it was the completely radical design 
by Thomas Church in 1947,
for the Donnell family in California,
which was the first true free-form or kidney shaped pool.
As art & island, 
the white sculpture by Adaline Kent 
perfectly mirrors the organic lines of both 
the pool and the vista. 
The Donnell pool came to represent the quintessential 
Californian Modernist indoor-outdoor lifestyle, 
and it began to appear in various forms 
around the world.
Like this one in Italy.
"Black Tie Evening" photographed by 
Slim Aarons in Portugal 1973.
Riviera Hotel at Palm Springs.
Inspired by nature and her beautiful organic lines,
the freeform pool has had a short but colourful history.
And something tells me it's not over just yet!

Do you like freeform pools, 
or do you prefer rectilinear ones?

Images 1/2: unknown photographer, Donnell Pool by Thomas Church
/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11/12: unknown/13/14/15/16/17/18/19/20/21/22


  1. Emily@thebeetleshack5/8/11 12:28 PM

    oh, after reading the title i thought this post was about me! ;)

    xo em

  2. Rachel {Da Paura}5/8/11 1:02 PM

    WOW absolutely loved reading more about these amazing pools...  I'll take them all.  :)  xo

  3. Me too Rachel! And your gorgeous clothes would look fabulous beside them all, I reckon. 

  4. Beautiful pools - really interesting history too, ten points to you BF! I love a free form pool, however would be very happy with either. x Sarah

  5. Glad you enjoyed the history lesson Sarah! I was researching them because I have been working on landscape design for a 1960s house with a kidney pool, so I thought I should share my discoveries. And man oh man, were they representative of glamourous times! 

  6. Hmmm... Well I am not sure now

    I used to only like the rectangle but now I have seen all of this beautiful research and explanation above and I may be a swinging vote :)

    either way I love a good 'flattering" (need the flattering") swimming costume and I love a clean pool anytime :)

    have a great day


  7. Thrilled to have put an alternative viewpoint out there to lure you over to the dark side Loulou! 

  8. Jane and Lance Hattatt5/8/11 4:48 PM

    Hello Virginia:
    This is a fascinating post dealing with a subject to which we have never given very much in the way of thought. And whilst we should never wish to have a swimming pool, it has to be said that the Church pool is very splendid and must surely have been very revolutionary in the years immediately after the War.

  9. Yes indeed, interesting observation that it was just after the war. An extraordinary time in architecture, so not surprising that landscape architecture was also dynamic in design. 

  10. Hello Virginia - love these awesome pools - make me wanna jump right in, however i LOVE the swimsuit in the 3rd picture - that is one amazing piece:) Have a great weekend sweets,
    A xxxx

  11. Kelly Green6/8/11 9:30 AM

    Love all your thoughts on the curved pool. Your pics are delightful and thank you also for the wondeful history lesson! Oh, to be able to row in ones own pool! KG xx

  12. Sarah Klassen7/8/11 4:03 PM

    Hello Virginia,

    These are quite fascinating, and I must admit, right away I am drawn to a curvy pool over a rectangular one... however, I do like rectangular ones that are set in the ground and appear more like a pond—simple as can be!

    What an informative and interesting post—I had no idea of these baths...

    Hope you are having a fabulous weekend :)
    xx, Sarah

  13. Claudia Lane7/8/11 4:47 PM

    How glamourous...LOVE!

    Claudia xo

  14. robinsonheather8/8/11 2:16 AM

    Well, I do believe the curves are winning out--but I am CERTAIN that I wish I was as glamorous as the ladies with their bikinis, hats and champagne!!

    A wonderful post, Virginia! 

  15. Rachel Callaghan8/8/11 9:25 AM

    These pools are gorgeous! Great info. I think I prefer rectangular pools, but as always the most important consideration is the site and the client. These pics show us how classy the pools can look if done well. And love the brave designers who first took the plunge, so to speak!! Rachel

  16. Couldn't agree more Rachel. The site, the landscape, the architecture and the client are all important in the influence the overall shape.

  17. I think for my own place I prefer linear pools, but these images have got me thinking. How gorgeous, organic and super stylish are they. I think they look best when there is lots of space around them and the landscaping works with the shape. Also, not limited or spoilt by restrictive pool fences which just ruin the overall look. Those images of the girls in the bikinis are delightful and remind me of photos of my mum in the 60s who looked just like that when she modelled in Jamaica. 


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