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10-year logoBy David Tisherman

‘In my observation,’ wrote David Tisherman in his Details column for the August 2006 edition of WaterShapes, ‘steps tend to be afterthoughts and are seldom fully considered.  But I’ve always taken them seriously because I see them as prime gathering places where people sit, move in and out of the water and in general spend a great deal of time.’  

‘Children also jump from the steps into the deeper water and parents are often found conversing on steps or helping small children become comfortable in getting wet.  I can think of dozens of other basic, human-scale reasons why steps are important and why I treat them with respect.’  He continued:  

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‘Typical step treatments appear on one end or in one corner of the pool, but these generally do little more than provide internal obstructions.  Think about it:  In a typical configuration, the steps are either oriented so that they extend into the pool itself, thus getting in the way of those who would exercise or swim or play, or they’re in a cove that extends beyond the natural perimeter of the pool, thus disrupting the visual effect.’

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‘My preferred step treatment – one that works beautifully in rectangles . . . – involves running a series of graduated, bench-like steps along one side of the pool in a way that works with the water’s depth.  In other words, the steps are both benches for seating as well as points of entry and egress.’

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‘[Let’s say a] pool ranges in depth from three-and-a-half-feet deep on both ends extending down to a four-and-a-half-foot depth in the center.  The step/benches start out in about a foot of water on either end and descend in tiers toward a depth in the center of three feet.’

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‘The advantages to this configuration are several.  First of all, it offers no obstruction to the length-wise flow of the pool.  The steps are off to the side, which makes more of the vessel usable for exercise and playing games.  Children or adults can sit comfortably on the side or jump into the water from any point along the length of the pool.’

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‘Second, it transforms one entire side of the pool into a lounging/socializing area, blurring the transition between deck and water.’

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‘People sitting inside the pool or those relaxing with their feet dangling in the water can easily move one way or the other without having to move to a corner or end of the pool where the steps are located.  In this way, the lengthwise steps increase the functionality of the water from both socializing and recreational standpoints.’

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‘Third, this configuration eases access into and out of the water.  This is where [a] slightly raised, double-sided bullnose coping comes into play.  . . .  [The] coping creates a lovely visual boundary, but it also acts as a handrail for people moving along the steps that obviates using prefabricated hand rails.

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‘Moreover, it makes the entire length of the pool a place where older people who might need to move carefully can descend into or rise from the water with a sense of safety and security.’

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‘By combining this step treatment with [a] thermal ledge by the spa,’ David concluded, ‘we’ve woven the interior spaces available in the pool and spa together into a composition that’s easily accessible, maximizes opportunities for social activity, relaxation and play and gives us a perfect place to put lights.’

Does your own philosophy of step design align with David’s?  Or have the past ten years seen other approaches to step design that make more sense to you?  Please share your thoughts on this subtle (yet crucial) design detail by commenting below!


David Tisherman is the principal in two design/construction firms: David Tisherman’s Visuals of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Liquid Design of Cherry Hill, N.J. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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