When looking at luxury pools from around the country, we’re always looking for pools that break outside the paradigms of the norm. The pool we’re highlighting here is a perfect example that redefines what cajun comfort is supposed to feel like in Louisiana. Gone are the days of traditional brick coping and white plaster interiors. These days, sophisticated homeowners are definitely looking at something a little more high-end.
Brandon Miller is an award-winning designer from Breaux Bridge, LA that understands this shift in mentality. He has been slowly making a name for himself in the Louisiana market over the past decade and has his fingers firmly on the pulse of what the client wants. Coming from a family of pool builders, Miller was immersed in the world of pool construction from a young age. Following his uncle on various job sites, Miller picked up the trade early.
Picking Up The Pool Installation Trade
“I got in the field of installing fiberglass pools with my uncle,” said Miller, “I watched how he did things and shadowed him as a kid. As I got older, I was put in the role of doing things and during the summer months I’d be doing plumbing, installing, and so forth.”
After graduating high school, Miller went to work for his uncle full-time. He spent the next year of his life installing pools. At the same time a young man, he saw his peers making great money in the booming oil industry.
Facing a recession, and little opportunity, Miller felt he might be missing out on a better life and switched roads a few times in his career path. From working in the oil fields to being a captain running boats, Miller tried his hand in a few different vocations.
Ultimately, the recession ended and Miller would return to the pool industry once again in 2010. “My wife and I thought we should start our own pool company,” said Miller, “at the time, there wasn’t nearly as much competition as there is now. Seems like everybody is trying to be a pool builder these days, but back then there was only a handful. We contacted Leisure Pools which is the manufacturer that had been dealing with my uncle for years. At the time they didn’t have a permanent dealer in this area. Being that I had a relationship with my uncle, they opened their arms to me.”
Hurdles Getting Started
However, it wouldn’t be that simple. On the tail-end of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Louisiana would experience the Deepwater Horizon explosion which killed 11 people and released the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The impact to fisheries, tourism, real estate would have an economic impact in the billions. While technically in the pool business, making that first sale would prove to be a challenge during that time. “We had started this business but hadn’t sold our first project yet, so I went back in the oil fields and just used my captain’s license to try and make more money in preparation for that first sale.”
Getting That First Pool
That first sale would inevitably come, and the rewards for persevering would be worth it. The homeowner wanted a fiberglass pool with a tanning ledge similar to a resort pool they had been to in Mexico. It was a unique challenge because back in 2011, fiberglass pool shell manufacturers didn’t really have as many tanning ledge models available. “I looked at the couple and said, ‘I think we can make it happen’. We went on to win the Masters with that project and the rest is history,” said Miller.
The path to becoming an award-winning pool designer had taken years, but as Miller progressed into more high-end custom pools, he became a top builder of luxury gunite pools. These days he works with some of the most discerning homeowners in his local area. Miller has become an expert at helping homeowners envision and actualize their dreams of the ideal inground pool and outdoor living environment.
Needs & Wants in a Luxury Inground Pool & Backyard
When a homeowner wants a luxury pool, quite frequently Miller is the one they turn to with their vision. “What I tell customers is, come to us with some ideas. We want to know the things that they like when they’re looking at pictures (online). Things like fire (features) or a tanning ledge. They may like a sunken seating area, but just come to us with a list of a few things that you like,” said Miller, who described his process with clients on establishing their list of must-haves for a resort-style pool.
When trying to price cost a luxury pool and outdoor living environment, much of that comes from identifying the size and type of pool being built. This is in conjunction with the features, amenities, and materials being requested by the client.
“There’s a list of the must-haves and a list of the wants. It’s easier to take away than it is to add on, so we’ll typically design something over the top and then we let their budget dictate what we do. It’s just easier I find than trying to upsell them.”
Cajun Comfort – Brandon Miller on what luxury homeowners want
We asked Miller what features homeowners are requesting the most in a luxury pool these days. “Fire and water, without a doubt,” said Miller, “It’s what I’m being asked for over and over and over. Everybody wants fire and water. Whether it’s just a firepot or a firepot with water coming out of it, they want it. We actually just did a fountain with the fire feature in the water so the fire was burning on the water. Fire is definitely one of those must-haves for people.”
A Track Record for Award Winning Pools
With a track record for building award-winning pools, Miller is no stranger to collaborating with some of the elite in the industry when it comes to satisfying his client’s goals for an over-the-top backyard. That clearly is the story here, with his latest project which is turning heads and helping set a new standard for luxury outdoor living in Louisiana.
“This project was actually a repeat customer,” said Miller, “ten years to the month from when we finished their last project we had started this one. We stayed in touch through the years. They said they were going to build another house and that we’d have the opportunity to build them something cool again.”
The homeowner gave Miller and his team free range to come up with a unique pool design that would wow them. The client had established they would be in their forever home and that they wanted something that truly catered to their lifestyle.
“The first one was really an over-the-top project at the time. It had that huge fiberglass pool with the tanning ledge, so they really thought outside of the box on the first project,” said Miller, “the second project was just really taking it to another level to do something on the gunite side where the design is really free.”
Consulting With The Elite of the Pool Industry
For the design of the project, Miller opted to bring in award-winning pool and outdoor living designer Shane LeBlanc. “Shane knocked it out of the park on the design and our team really it out of the park on the construction aspects of it,” said Miller, “I wasn’t going to shortchange them on the design. Shane’s a Louisiana guy and I’ve always admired his design work.”
“All of the decking is porcelain, we didn’t want anything traditional,” explained Miller, “we just took it a step further because we didn’t want any coping overhung. It was a real challenge with elevation changes. We had to get really creative with making sure water was going to shed away from the patio.”
A Deeper Dive into this Cajun Queen
Yards that look this way are atypical for Lousiana which has very flat topography. This would mean getting creative for the construction of the sunken seating area.”We were fortunate enough that the sunken seating area of the pool had enough fall from the house pad being built up high enough. We were able to get drainage out to it without having to have some kind of pump – it’s just gravity fed.”
“On the design we have a vanishing edge wall. Once again, our yards are flat but were able to cut down some of the yard where if you’re in the house looking out at the pool area, the line of sight doesn’t let you see the catch basin,” said Miller.
It’s subtle nuances like this which are well-thought-out design elements demonstrating forethought into what the overall client experience would be. “On the walkway pedestals, we bounced around all kinds of ideas. “
“Keefe Duhon from Concrete Evolutions molded all of those concrete steps like a shoebox lid,” explained Miller, “it’s all one piece and mortared down so there are no grout joints or lines. There is an anti-slip texture on top of them so whenever they’re wet there’s grip to them. They really did a fantastic job.”
Convenience and reliability is a big factor on a project of this scale, as is ease of maintenance. “The equipment on the pool is completely Hayward,” said Miller, “there are multiple filters and pumps, heaters, and cooler units. The OmniLogic controller is really is user-friendly for them. As detailed as the project is, we had it programmed so that at a single push of a button on their phone it could do whatever they want.”
For the construction of the pool, Miller made the decision to bring in industry experts to help him achieve the functionality he was looking for in this custom build. “I follow a lot of the guys on Ask The Masters on social media and brought in Paolo Benedetti to do the hydraulics on the pool. It’s just spot on,” said Miller, “he and I spoke a few times, and first they did the construction drawing for us, and then we went to them for the hydraulics. It was just awesome to work with him.”
Benedetti of Aquatic Technology consults on high-end projects all over the world is one of the foremost respected experts in the pool industry. “Even though they were in California and I was in Louisiana it was easy, everything they provided was detailed where I never had to go back and ask questions.”
Drawing inspiration from what the experts on Ask The Masters have accomplished, Miller was eager to bring professionals who could help elevate this project to what the homeowner wanted their backyard to be. “Following and watching a lot of those guys and what they do on the west coast is just what the homeowner wanted in Louisiana and I think it worked.”
Having the right talent to design and build the project as well as the right budget are essential in delivering a truly custom-tailored backyard. “Our overall goal with this project, was to do something that hadn’t been done in the Lafayette market or hadn’t been done to that scale,” said Miller, “lucky for us, the clients were on board for all of that and made it really easy.”
Wanto learn more about this project? Listen to our entire interview with Brandon Miller of Cajun Pools & Spas on the Pool Magazine podcast.
Pool Design Trends With Kelly O’Leary
As we move well into the 2020’s era of outdoor living design, customers value a more modern design aesthetic in the backyard. Pool design trends are changing rapidly. Homeowners put a premium on a well-designed and contemporary outdoor living area. Moreover, they’re looking for ways to be able to utilize the backyard as a multi-purpose space for entertaining.
To speak more on the subject of what today’s homeowners want, we reached out to up-and-coming custom pool builder Kelly O’Leary of OLeary Pools & Design in Houston, TX. In a very traditional market known for freeform lagoon-style pools, O’Leary says that today’s homeowners in Houston are looking for something else. Consequently, he’s noticed a trend emerging as a growing number of homeowners have begun looking for designs that complement the aesthetic of their modern home and lifestyle.
Pool Design Trends Shifting Away From Freeform Pools
“We’re shifting away from those traditional kidney bean-shaped pools with rock grotto waterfalls that have been more predominant in this area. Those are just done over and over again,” said O’Leary, who is working with clients willing to push the envelope.
“We started to really get clients that were more accepting of contemporary designs and things they haven’t seen before and it began to evolve,” said O’Leary, “you’ve seen it in a lot of the industry. Social media is helping propel that. We see things now at the speed of light. The design changes and trends shift really quick.”
Furthermore, he suggested that professionals monitor places like Instagram and Pinterest in order to stay in touch with modern design trends. “If we’re not always thinking about what’s next and what’s new we’ll get stuck in a rut repeating the same design and have various clients with the same exact pool.”
Some of the more modern and contemporary pool designs featuring infinity edges with weir walls simply aren’t found very often in Houston. The topography of the city itself is very flat so builders look for other creative ways to incorporate sophisticated elements into their designs.
Modern touches like perimeter overflows and raised infinity edges make the pool appear like a sheet of glass. It’s those types of contemporary aesthetics that are a 180-degree approach from the predominantly lagoon-style pools found in many high-end homes throughout Houston.
Many of the contemporary design aesthetics featuring modern shaped geometry can already be found throughout California and Florida. That these pool design trends have been slow to catch on in places like Houston is something that has begun to change says O’Leary.
“It’s been a learning curve to be able to push new things. Over the past few years, we still have clients that say ‘we love that but not for this market’ or ‘that’s beautiful but may not be right for Houston’.
Austin is a good example, there are some great landscape architectural firms and pool builders there doing really modern things. The architecture of the homes there is very modern and we’re beginning to see that start to bleed into our market here in Houston.”
“Introducing that to this market is a double-edged sword though,” said O’Leary. Much of the architecture in Houston leans toward more traditional Farmhouse, Ranch, Tudor, and Craftsman-style homes. Consequently, finding modern design trends that best suit those style homes and backyards can present a challenge. This is particularly true with homeowners looking to incorporate elements that don’t necessarily suit their outdoor living environment.
“We come across that in the design sometimes, all the details and materials are thought through. Then they begin to change and add things. Once all of their design changes are made it can begin to resemble the yard from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘,” said O’Leary, who told us a story of run-away change orders during the materials selections phase of pool construction. This contributed to a customer submarining their own design with superfluous elements that detracted away from the intended design.
It is something O’Leary has learned how to avoid from happening. Preselecting and limiting the available options on the menu gives clients less to consider. Given too many design choices, customers can easily mix and match elements that don’t necessarily cohesively gel together.
Introducing modern and contemporary themes seems a question of striking the right balance. Still, O’Leary has become adept at designing backyards that are bringing in contemporary elements that still find a congruent harmony in Houston’s more traditional-style homes.
Drawing inspiration from other designers and well-known landscape architects has continuously helped O’Leary up the bar in terms of the backyards he is building. Collaborating with elites like Randy Angell seems to be the next evolution in the up-and-comers path.
“Being able to work with him is very exciting because he’s one of the best at what he does,” said O’Leary, “it’s quite a bit different because we don’t typically get large master plan projects on that scale.”
Although he envisions more collaborations such as that in the future, Kelly O’Leary is still making a name for himself in a market inundated with high-end pool builders. He has begun to distinguish himself by working with high-end materials and larger custom luxury pool projects.
Stepping outside his comfort zone and taking on more custom work is also helping distinguish him in the eyes of his peers in the industry. On a recent project that caught our eye, he brought in Mosaicist, Ray Corral to design and install a glass mosaic tile interior finish. Certainly, his work has begun to hit the stride most builders take decades to achieve. It’s making Kelly O’Leary one to watch.
Listen to our entire conversation about Pool Design Trends with Kelly O’Leary on the Pool Magazine Podcast.
Photo Credit: Jimi Smith Photography
Pool Builder: OLeary Pools & Design
The Next Generation of Rising Stars in San Antonio
There are a few rising stars in the pool industry that are definitely setting a name for themselves. One powerhouse couple that stands out and is establishing themselves as the next generation of elite pool builders in San Antonio, is JC and Daniella Rodriguez.
The couple recently appeared together in Pool Pro Magazine’s 30 Under Forty issue with JC Rodriguez being featured on the cover. Their new pool construction firm Element Pool Company has been creating a reputation in their local market for designing beautiful outdoor living environments and exquisitely crafted inground swimming pools.
“It was a surprise to be chosen for the 30 Under Forty, we both made it and in fact, Dani was recognized as ‘Rookie of the Year’,” said JC Rodriguez. “I laughed out loud when I heard I won and said ‘no way you’re kidding me’,” said Daniella Rodriguez, who said she couldn’t believe it when she heard the news. “Sure enough, I opened up the magazine, and there I was. It was a real honor,” said Rodriguez.
This type of acclaim is helping establish a footprint for the new firm in a crowded market inundated with pool construction companies. The recognition that Daniella Rodriguez received is an equally encouraging sign that signifies women have begun to claim their rightful place in a largely predominantly male industry. Alluding to this, she agreed, “We have to make elbow room in the industry in order to make a name for ourselves, so I was really happy to step up to the plate for all of us,” said Rodriguez.
Rising Stars Make a Dynamic Husband & Wife Team
It’s exceptionally rare to find a couple working together in the field of pool construction. In this regard, Element Pool Company is something of a rarity. The pairing of their skillsets appears to provide a well-nuanced balance that customers in their market seem to greatly appreciate.
At the first point of contact, Daniella often leads off the conversation with customers. “Dani navigates them and helps provide some of the introductory information. We let them know that we’re a little more custom than your drop-in fiberglass pools or cookie cutter concrete swimming pools,” said JC Rodriguez.
Approaching Things Differently
“It’s such a large market in San Antonio and there is so much competition,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of the top builders in the United States are in this area. Huge companies that build hundreds of pools a year. We wanted to make a name for ourselves and realized that a lot of that came from the relationships we’re building with the customer. We saw that we could distinguish ourselves in this regard versus making it a one-off project. Establishing that long-term relationship with the client is what our company is based on.”
Turning Customers Into Brand Ambassadors
It’s this novel approach toward client acquisition that sets Element Pool Company apart in some regard. Establishing that type of strong referral-based business is a strategy that appears to be working for the couple.
For many consumers, a swimming pool may be the single most expensive thing they purchase for their home. For some, it’s the culmination of a dream they may have had for decades. Pool ownership is the realization of a goal for many and a life-affirming purchase. This is why the experience holds as much importance as the end result itself, in terms of converting customers into brand ambassadors.
“We’re definitely cognizant of the fact that this is a major purchase for homeowners,” said JC Rodriguez, “one of the things I tell our customers is that we’re not going to do just one design and say ‘hey that’s the pool we want to build you, take it or leave it.'”
Changing The ‘Order-Taking’ Mentality
In this high-volume environment, many pool companies have resorted to an ‘order taking’ mentality as they try to keep up with demand. This is a practice that Rodriguez says he is desperately trying not to adopt. “During the height of the pandemic there were a lot of companies out here that were just giving over the phone quotes and virtual estimates. To us it never made sense because you don’t understand the necessities of that backyard,” explained Rodriguez.
“Even through the pandemic we were always interested in getting into the backyard,” said Rodriguez, “If the client stayed in the home, we were on the phone with them the entire time while we were back there.
“Our goal is to always understand what the house and backyard are calling for, as well as what the customers are looking for,” Rodriguez explained that it’s much easier to get a true sense of that customers lifestyle and accurately bid a project rather than trying to supply a virtual estimate.
“A lot of customers have been dreaming about building a pool for a long time,” said Rodriguez, “We want to make sure we get it right. Ultimately, they will be living with it long after we’re gone from the backyard. We’ll make a hundred different design changes if we need to. This way, we’re getting the right design at the right budget. The goal is that when they walk outside they’re ecstatic about their backyard.”
Educating The Customer
As the prices for swimming pools continue to rise, one of the biggest challenges Rodriguez says he faces is educating consumers on what swimming pools really cost these days. “I wish we could still build pools for the same price we were building them a few years ago. Your average pool in the San Antonio market is going to be around 15 feet wide by 30 feet long. These days, for a basic swimming pool without any extra bells or whistles, you’re going to be starting at around the $60,000 range and going up from there.”
One of the pools they built that caught our eye certainly isn’t in the bottom of that price range. This pool features an expansive travertine deck, a spa, premium pebble tec interior, ledge loungers (Signature Collection), and exciting fire bowls with sheer descents by USA Fire Bowls.
A separate conversation area at a lower elevation with it’s own smartly appointed fire table was another great feature. These are all subtle nuances that add to the overall experience. Aside from the basic cost of pool construction, all these factors add to the total price of the project and that’s before ever getting to what’s actually in the pool itself.
When discussing some of the higher echelon features that homeowners are looking for in their pool such as LED lighting, pool automation, and dramatic fire features, “homeowners can easily price themselves into the $400,000 range and up”, said Rodriguez.
Quality pool builders can definitely justify the asking price. During the pandemic, homeowners made it clear they were willing to pay top-dollar for a backyard that truly delivers the experience they are dreaming of.
Providing a premium product combined with a great customer experience is what consumers want. With projects like this one, Element Pool Company appears to be delivering just that. This young but talented pool firm is definitely on our radar now and one to watch in the upcoming years.
Listen to our discussion with Element Pool Company on the Pool Magazine podcast.
Additional Photo Credit: PoolPro
Financing a Pool & Outdoor Home Improvement Projects
Pool builders often wonder what the best way to originate and answer questions when a buyer is interested in financing their swimming pool and other outdoor home improvement projects. The answer to this question is always a little more complicated than it seems.
You Should Pitch Financing, To A Point
On one hand, you as the builder want to be as knowledgeable and helpful as possible. Also, it can be advantageous to quote a low monthly payment rather than a high project cost. On the other hand, you don’t want to give out incorrect information or be perceived as giving a “bait and switch” offer. It’s a very similar situation to what companies who offer swimming pool financing deal with daily from borrowers with questions about pools.
The Financing Conversation – Dos and Don’ts
It’s common for people seeking financing to ask about average prices or whether the project seems too expensive, etc. Greg Powell, President of Viking Capital, has worked with pool builders for over 25 years and explained why the only answer to questions along that line is “you should discuss that with your builder”.
“The reason we take this position is to make sure we don’t muddy the waters or give out incorrect information that makes the builder’s job selling the project more difficult. The same applies on the builder’s end when buyers want to know rates, terms, and payments. These questions are truly impossible to answer correctly without having their credit report in your hands and full knowledge of underwriting.”
Estimating Loan Terms & Payments Can Backfire
We live in a world today where everyone believes that they know “my credit score”. They see it on apps, on credit card statements and more. The problem is, that individuals have A LOT of credit scores. There are three major reports, but each has several versions. The scores can vary by 100 points or more depending on which report the lender is using. Also, some loan programs allow for co-borrowers and co-signers which may enable borrowers to have more and better loan options.
This conversation about financing can be very awkward for a builder and it could make matters worse. The worst thing is to assume their score is what they say, guess at a rate and term, and take a stab at a payment. When that borrower then applies for financing, they have a pre-set idea of what rate and payment they are looking at. When credit comes back and it’s not a 780, but rather a 724, that borrower is in for a shock. It would be just like us telling borrowers that an average pool is 50-75k. It’s such a wild guess that it’s better not being mentioned.
Leverage Your Financing Partner
Viking Capital offers builders a quick and reliable alternative to offer their customers. When customers apply with us they are contacted by a loan consultant within a few hours for a free loan consultation. It won’t hurt their credit and there is no obligation to move forward. During this consultation, they are given pool loan options specific to their needs and qualifications. Yes, they’ve waited a day or so, but the loan options they got are accurate and exact. The guesswork has been removed from the equation and the customer will be ready to meet with their builder with a confirmed budget.
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