Customized Spas Making Big Splash

For many Floridians, having a refreshing, man-made body of water in their backyard is no mere amenity. It’s a Florida lifestyle necessity.

Over the years, the needs would include more elaborate pools with more sophisticated bells and whistles and increasingly lush landscaping.

But the fastest growing segment of the backyard waterscape business is spas, according to the National Spa & Pool Institute. There are now more than 6 million spas and hot tubs in the (contiguous 48) United States – 10 per cent of them in Florida. Only California has more.

“Almost everyone today wants a spa with their pool,” says Jim Holloway, vice president Holloway Pools Inc., a Tampa-based builder of classic, concrete pools and spas. “Ten years ago, we hardly saw any. There are even folks who only want a spa.”

The explanation is easy, says Laraine Hancock, a yoga instructor who had Holloway build a stand-alone spa – with accompanying, bricked-over patio slab — in her South Tampa backyard.

“We don’t have kids, and I’m not into swimming laps,” explains Hancock, 58. “It’s therapeutic; it lends itself to entertaining; it’s relatively low maintenance; and it’s the aesthetic centerpiece of our backyard.”

Hancock could be Exhibit A for the surge in spa popularity, says Wendy Parker, the director of marketing for the Florida Swimming Pool Association.

“Baby boomers have more disposable income than any generation before,” she points out. “A priority is creating backyard living space. For that, a spa works wonderfully well. Some like the feel of a resort. It’s more for adult entertaining. Often they’ll add grills and barbeque islands.”And a lot more. Spas with custom art work can easily cost at least $50,000.

“Spas now have every accoutrement you can imagine,” says Parker. “It can get very personalized. It’s way beyond cup holders.”

Indeed, it can range from electronic controls that work from a cell phone, fountain-type statuary and variations on a lighting theme to murals, foggers, oxidizers, sound systems, therapy jets, below-the-water-line tiles and 24-carat gold step edges.

In fact, spas can now be customized with glass tiles containing digital images. As in corporate logos, family photos or commercial aquatic scenes.

“As long as an item isn’t copyrighted, we can print it,” says Phil Williams, the owner of Seminole-based Tilesque. “There’s certainly a market for custom looks. We’ve seen exponential growth the last year or so.”The myriad of aesthetic and comfort options also has created an inevitable niche: design consultants. Their advice is a lot more than “Just add water.”

“The visual element is much more important today, and many contractors don’t have the time to spend on design,” says Brian VanBauer of Miami, perhaps the state’s pre-eminent designer. “We do lots of stand-alone spas. Space is at a premium. Smaller lots. Zero lot lines or townhouses. A lot of aging baby boomers with aches and pains.

“Probably two thirds of our projects involve some sort of covered area outside,” adds VanBauer, whose international clientele includes the Tampa Bay area. “Cabanas, trellises, gazebos. You have to focus on the clients’ needs. They’re all different in their own way.”

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