Why is it so relaxing to lounge near open areas / lakes / pools?
June 14, 2017 6:11 AM   Subscribe

What would it take to make my yard more lounge-friendly like my friend's house who has a pool? I don't want a pool, but I want that happy relaxing resort atmosphere, where people feel comfortable laying out, relaxing, tanning, etc. How can you accomplish that sans-pool? Is it even possible, or does the pool have an advantage from psychology or air temperature?

I've been doing some brainstorming lately about my yard. It's your standard 50x50 yard with a old deck around 1 foot higher than ground level. It's not particularly hospitable in any way.

I guess my main question is, what is it about pools and open spaces that invite relaxation? My friend's yard is about the same size as ours, but they have an in-ground pool. When I go there, it immediately feels like a back-yard barbeque. We've had tons of fun jumping in and out of the hot tub, or tanning, or sipping mixed drinks under unbrellas by the pool.

Is there a biological or physics-related reason why the pool might be more relaxing? Is it my psychological conditioning? Are pools reflecting light or cooling the air in a noticeable way?

Here's the thing though - I don't want a pool. It's a lot of hassle and I know I'd never use it. It'd just be a big body of wasted water. But, I want that feeling of relaxation.

Here's my ideas so far:

1. In-deck hot tub. Cut a hole in my deck, add a hot tub, raise my fence from 4 feet to 10 feet for privacy.

2. Stone patio - maybe it's the solidity of the pool surroundings that give it it's feel. This might reduce bugs a bit too.

3. Overall decor and atmosphere upgrade. Reduce visual clutter, add clever landscaping that would promote relaxation.

4. All of the above with nice, new lawn chairs, nice umbrellas, maybe a built in bar and grill?

But, even with all of the above, (which would be about the same price as getting a pool anyway) I feel like it might not have the same feeling as having a pool right there?

Thanks everyone - would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you've lived with pools, tried to replicate the atmosphere, or anything like that.

posted by bbqturtle to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Um, another potential idea I had was to have a big fountain, ankle deep, not particularly meant for swimming, with a big water feature. THAT might feel close to a pool?
posted by bbqturtle at 6:32 AM on June 14, 2017

Think about all of the senses.

The rippling of water in a pool creates a certain amount of white noise. White noise is known to aid relaxation, so maybe consider leafy, fine-stemmed trees such as Acers, or ornamental grasses that will create a soothing sound when a breeze catches them. Some sort of moving water might go a long way to adding the required sound effects, and it cools the air. For me, what works best is something naturalistic, like a small waterfall emptying into a little pool, built with stone and lots of planting in a way that seems like it might be a natural feature. Some people prefer their water features to be bold and modern, but I don't think that really equates with relaxation.

The pool also reflects light around the yard. What reflective surfaces (static and moving) can you add to create patterns of light? Trees can also be used to provide dappled shade.

Temperature may also be part of it. A pool is somewhere to cool off, making a hot day feel more pleasant. Create areas in full sun, and in shade, that will give people the option of more or less heat.

I wouldn't necessarily erect a 10 foot fence. Unless you have an enormous yard with a lot of empty ground beyond it, a fence of that height is going to feel very oppressive, especially from the inside. You may also want to think about the shade cast by all of that fencing, and the impression it gives your neighbours (that you want to cut yourself off from them). I'd go for a 7 foot fence, high enough to be taller than 99% of passers-by, but no more. Who really wants to peer into your yard, anyway? Well, they might once it gains a reputation as the place to be...
posted by pipeski at 6:44 AM on June 14, 2017 [10 favorites]

Check out Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language. This might help you create an outdoor space where people enjoy spending time. It may be that your friend's backyard has a sense of enclosure, with sitting areas that are well placed to look outwards across the pool while maintaining a sense of shelter and connection to the main house. A lot of suburban backyards have decks which are protrusions into open space, so people feel exposed instead of sheltered. This is worsened if there is no protection from the sun (eg, on the west side of the house in the afternoon in the summer will be Not Fun). Another thing to consider is how guests access the deck - is it off a public space such as the living room or kitchen? Or is it accessed through the garage / down a hallway / only from the outside? It will go unused unless it's an extension of the main house that is a transition space that feels kind-of part of the main house and kind-of part of the outside.

The architectural elements of the space, how you get to it, how it's oriented, how public/private it is and how exposed/sheltered it feels will matter more than furniture / decoration - if you can get this stuff right, you'll be 90% of the way there!
posted by everythings_interrelated at 6:48 AM on June 14, 2017 [15 favorites]

The pool is a clearly delineated space that is clearly for relaxing, and it's cool and probably a little isolated/sheltered from the surrounding space.

You can create the same thing with a kind of outdoor "room" delineated by whatever you like: a beautiful section of fence or wall, some trees, some shrubs, maybe a small arch or other barrier, and an open space in the center of that. The open space can be grass, flag stones, moss (less mowing), or whatever appeals to you. The point is to make it separate from the house and visibly clear, so that when you go there, you are in a separate mental space.

Water features are always a little difficult to maintain, but for me, right now, it would be worth it. It may not be so for you, though.
posted by amtho at 7:11 AM on June 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

A pergola and perhaps a small fountain could go a long way toward making a very inviting "chill" space. A vine-covered pergola has a magical ability to create a space that toes the line between indoorsy/orderly and outdoorsy/natural. It doesn't need to be fancy, just enough room for a small bistro or dining set and a piece or two of loungy furniture. You can use outdoor-rated screens and curtains to increase the shade while your plants grow in, or just forego plants if you're not much of a gardener and throw up several colorful hanging baskets every summer.
posted by drlith at 7:36 AM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe just aim to create a comfortable lounging area that feels decadent and luxurious to give it that resort vibe and make it somewhere people want to lounge and sip fun drinks. Ideas like: sophisticated outdoor furniture that has big (weatherproof!) cushions, an outdoor rug to define the area, a FIRE PIT as a central focus, lots of greenery, globe lights, lanterns etc. Treat it like an interior design challenge for your backyard. Google image search "backyard oasis" and look at the options without pools. There are a lot of beautiful ideas that are about creating a inviting and relaxing space that feels like a treat to spend time in.
posted by oneaday at 7:37 AM on June 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Lighting (for night-time lounging) is critical. Think paper lanterns, string lights. For daytime, take inspiration from Japanese gardens.
posted by Dragonness at 7:37 AM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Pools give you a reason to be outside. What did we do at her house? We sat by the pool, we put our feet in the pool, we sat on the deck. What did we do at your house? We sat in the back yard, and got bit by mosquitos. I would try to create an "event" for your back yard, maybe a chiminea or fire pit, or a piece of lounge furniture that's more exciting than a deck chair, like a swing or hammock or hanging chair.
posted by aimedwander at 7:39 AM on June 14, 2017 [13 favorites]

Hmmm. To me a pool says: innocent fun, good times, hanging out, active relaxation. A fountain/koi pond/water feature says: contemplative, zen, spa. A hot tub says: adult fun of a quasi-sexual nature. If you are chasing the atmosphere of a pool, I would suggest things like a hammock, a grill, volleyball net or horseshoe pitch, place to set up outdoor movies, those street-fair type lights strung overhead, fire pit or chiminea. Flip through Sunset magazine, which seems to do a lot of pictorials of fun backyards, not always with pools.
posted by apparently at 7:45 AM on June 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering if maybe the difference between your friends yard and your yard isn't so much the pool -- it's that her yard has an intention and a purpose, and yours does not. I think the suggestions above that focus on turning your yard into an "outdoor room" through landscaping and maybe a water feature would make a huge difference in how intentional your yard feels, and would thus feel relaxing and pleasant.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:13 AM on June 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: All of these suggestions to make over your backyard sound great but none of them will be as relaxing as a pool imo.

I think you are discounting pool use as a major reason why people love to go over to houses with pools. People love to take a dip in the summertime; people pay hundreds, thousands of dollars to stay at places with pools. But I agree that even absent swimming, yards with pools are more inviting. I think because they are dedicated to summer fun and relaxation.

Is there a biological or physics-related reason why the pool might be more relaxing? Is it my psychological conditioning? Are pools reflecting light or cooling the air in a noticeable way?
I know this isn't the scientific reason you're after but I think it's the water. People love to be in and near water.
posted by kapers at 8:47 AM on June 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

A pool gives you something to watch and a potential something to do. It brings focus. It shimmers. It's cool when you are hot. Think about a campfire when camping or a sports game (playing or watching). In my summer backyard we have a lot of birdfeeders in various places and a bunch of little "areas" for seating. So you can sit on a deck chair in the sun if that's your thing, in a porch swing thing or on some wicker furniture. There's a koi/frog pond further back. Each place has little "vistas" where you can see bird feeders and look at some nice plants/views. We have a lot of birds and a lot of plants.

With your situation I think I would make the deck nicer, with some areas, like lounge chairs in one spot, maybe table and chairs in another. Plantings and, as people have said, really nice lighting. Have some indoor/outdoor utensils and really make it like a kitchen/bar outdoors. Ice bucket with sodas, drinks with parasols, a nice small grill, smores fixings, whatever. Some of it depends on what sort of things you like to do. I'd steer away from hot tubs unless you've really always wanted one. They are a lot of maintenance and work well in some cultures and not at all in others.
posted by jessamyn at 8:53 AM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here is one reason why the pool is relaxing. It creates negative ions. Your fountain idea would do the same. I've long wished for the time to build a little waterfall in my yard for the same reason.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:37 AM on June 14, 2017

A pool provides an actual and a psychological focus point for relaxation. It's a separate physical zone; it's a separate physical element; it's an activity. I don't think you can achieve the same level of outdoor appeal without it.

A large water feature like a fountain big enough to dip feet into (with a lovely stone bench around it for sitting on? Maybe something like this?) or a koi pond would go some distance towards the escapist focal point of a pool, although not all the way.

A beautiful fire pit, particularly if it is sunken and hardscaped in like this can provide some of the same "we are here to have fun in a separate place from our usual routine" vibe, but only in the evening.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:50 AM on June 14, 2017

I'd say hammock and tiki torches. Maybe a little bar where you can make fruity drinks. Nice shady spots strewn around. Palm trees, if you can? Or potted palms. Maybe create some little pathways leading to features like a pleasant bench in the shade, or a little waterfall. Basically, try to make your yard feel like Hawaii, sans the body of water.

There's so much baked into why pools are awesome: the aura of relaxation and leisure, luxury, the promise of cooling off on a hot day, the essence of summer, childhood nostalgia, etc. Hard to compete with that!
posted by imalaowai at 10:23 AM on June 14, 2017

For design aesthetic, peruse design sites/pinterest for rooftop patios. It's a similar set of parameters: semi-private space, meant for socializing/entertaining, with a fairly defined boundary. It's an outdoor room, like others have said. It does help if you have some way of symbolically suggesting two walls or three corners (I think that's what you get from a lot of pool areas, usually with landscaping but sometimes hardscaping or patio/pergola/outbuilding) with planterboxes or maybe some solar lampposts (or DIY that with posts and solar lighting, cemented into planter pots or into posts you've sunk or mounted to your deck). You can also quickly delineate a room with a corner sofa.

Outdoor rugs do a great job of creating a room. (Note: if you look on Amazon, you'll see some outdoor rugs and some "RV/camping mats" which are a woven plastic. They're actually pretty great, I have one on my patio, but you may prefer a higher-end sisal-blend rug. You can always start with the cheaper mat and decide to upgrade later.)
posted by Lyn Never at 10:25 AM on June 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

We don't have a pool but made our yard into a very relaxing space.
Random ideas that worked for us:

- throw out clutter and ugly plants and install comfy seating area which has a good view of you yard's fun feature(*) but it also a bit protected - ours is right next to the neighbor's wooden fence. Comfy chairs and umbrella are a must.

- you need green and/or water. It's a physiological thing. No need for super fancy landscaping.

- we have a palm tree and the neighbor's very large trees for white noise effects. I recently hung a bamboo windchime too which definitely increases relaxing vibes! (Works much better than I thought it would - I bought it for the optics but the sounds are even better!)

(*) fun feature: this gives you a reason to be outside in the first place (comparable to the TV indoors). So it should be something that you can watch without requiring action from you. Since we have kids, we put a sandbox and a (wooden) playhouse. You could put a birdfeeder, a fountain, a fishpond, a butterfly garden, a fire pit, a waterfall...watchable from your seating area.
These elements worked well for us. Good luck.
posted by The Toad at 11:28 AM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lawn to me says active: throwing a frisbee around, volleyball or badminton, or on a smaller scale, croquet or bocce.

Patio with a pool says relax: lounge in the sun, take a dip, chat. It's also cleaner and more comfortable - unless you have really lush, even grass, it's much nicer to go barefoot on a smooth patio, and lounge on a chair instead of on a towel on the ground.

If you want the relaxing vibe, you need a clearly defined place for lounging, with optional shade, comfy furniture, etc. Ideally have some kind of focal point.

If you want the pool vibe without an actual pool and are willing to put some effort and cash in, may I suggest a large, Moroccan style fountain? You can make it with a bench around that people can sit on and cool their hands and feet in. It will look great, provide a visual focal point, and make some soothing water sounds. Think of how relaxing the Alhambra or Moroccan riyadh courtyards are:

One, two, three, four.
posted by foodmapper at 12:37 PM on June 14, 2017

How about a backyard creek? Honestly, I don't think you have to have a water feature in order to have an inviting and relaxing backyard but it doesn't hurt. Also, in theory you want a yard that acts like a series of outdoor rooms rather than one big open area. Sunset magazine has 18 examples of inviting outdoor "rooms" and only one has a pool. Your yard can totally become wonderful and not necessarily for a ton of money.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:42 PM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think that part of what's going on is that (at least in the US), people are trained from a young age that "pool = relaxing summertime fun!" Kind of like you already KNOW that camping dessert is going to be s'mores. It's not that s'mores are the only dessert worth having when you camp, it's just part of the fabric of American life. It feels right. Like hanging out at a pool feels right. I don't think you can substitute. You can plug into a different US cliche-- hammocks are for solo relaxing, streams are for wading in, screen porches are for summer picnics (or whatever rings true for your history). But you can't pick apart the qualities and make a substitution. I don't think it works that way. Source: my backyard has a hammock for relaxing, a stream for wading, and a screen porch for...well, for storing garage clutter overflow, actually. 😳 When we want to hang with friends in the back yard, we invite them for a bonfire, because you sit outside with friends around a fire. It's just What You Do.
posted by instamatic at 5:52 PM on June 14, 2017

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