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"A pool," says Sonny Perna, "is no longer a slab of concrete with a water hole in it."

Remember the good old days of 20 or 30 years ago when land was cheap and lots were large? There was room for both grass and a pool in the back yard. Pools came in three shapes: rectangles, circles and kidney beans.

Fast-forward to the present, when homesites are smaller and more expensive. "We're getting away from the 30-by-15-foot flat rectangle," says Perna, a Jupiter-based landscape architect who designs pools for Arthur Rutenberg Homes. Now, he says, designers and home buyers see the pool "as a design element." And it's "not the kidney shape," he says. Instead, it's an irregular shape that may repeat the angles of the home's roof. The house is likely wrapped around the pool so the residents can step directly out to the pool deck from several rooms _ typically the family room and master suite. Often the pool is the view or focal point of the home.

Here's what else is new in pools, Perna said at the annual conference of Rutenberg franchisees and suppliers last week in Palm Beach:

+ No more sliding boards or springboards. Pools aren't large enough to accommodate them, and they're unsafe in a residential pool.

+ Shallower pools. They're likely 3 to 5 feet deep, not 6, "so everybody can use the whole pool," Perna said, and so swimmers can play volleyball or other games. Shallower water is safer if kids accidentally fall in the pool, he said.

+ Since there's no room on today's smaller lots to build out, look for pool details that go up: a raised spa, for example. That may also allow room for an area for swimming laps, away from play areas.

+ Different ways of getting into the pool. In pools of yesteryear, you lowered yourself down a metal ladder with handrails. (Or you held your nose and jumped in.) Now, you may walk down a shallow slope into the water in what's called a "lagoon pool," or push yourself off a shallow step, called a "swim-out seat."

+ Sunshelves. These are 3-foot-wide shelves 1 inch below the water surface where swimmers can lounge in the water while they sunbathe.

+ Greenery. Planters around the pool provide shade and soften the look.

+ Bells and whistles. Fiberoptic lighting, waterfalls, fountains. Perna said he's even seen one system that creates clouds of fog around the pool. "The only thing that changes" in various price ranges, he said, "is the price of the toys."

The trend overall is toward a merging of indoors and outdoors, Perna said, with the pool area perceived as an outdoor living area. "It's like a Moorish garden," he said. "It's cool, it's wet, it's an area they can enjoy."

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