A Los Angeles-based eco interior designer does her part to transform outdoor design—one saltwater pool at a time
When Lori Dennis was four years old, she received a gift that determined her career and changed the course of her life: a set of sheets. But these weren’t any ordinary bed linens.
“I was living in San Diego with my mother, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I had a room that was basically a cot with no art and no accessories,” says the former stockbroker-turned-eco designer, who studied interior design and architecture at University of California, Los Angeles before opening her eponymous firm in 1998. “My aunt sent me a set of Popeye sheets. The sheets were so vibrant, with shades of blue, black-and-white and yellow,” says Dennis. “They brought me so much joy and really showed me how things can impact a space.”
For the Los Angeles–based designer, author and environmentalist—who penned the book Green Interior Design, appeared on HGTV’s Real Designing Women and is debuting a new line of sustainable rugs for Jaipur this fall—using eco-friendly materials and resources is equally as important as making a space look beautiful. “Being green has always been a philosophy in my home growing up, with respect for the planet and the land,” says Dennis, who has worked with landscape designers and clients on more than two dozen saltwater pool projects, such as a saltwater infinity edge pool framed by sandstone pavers and antique vessels that double as fountains for a home in Palm Springs.
Dennis explains that deciding upon a saltwater pool versus a chlorine pool involves essentially the same cost and similar maintenance, and the health benefits of salt make it a no-brainer. “Chlorine is pretty nasty stuff,” says Dennis. “Your skin is your largest organ, and with chlorine, you’re absorbing it into your skin. Saltwater is not a 100 percent solution, but it’s a lot better than a straight chemical pool. The best thing is to have a standard pool with algae, but at least with saltwater, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Now, saltwater swimming pools are also popular options for resorts and spas throughout the world. According to Cary Collier, principal of Blu Spas, Inc., an international spa design, consulting and management firm, saltwater is a much healthier choice. “The difference is really simple. You don’t have the vapor smell of a chlorinated pool, and there’s no eye burn or swollen eyes, and it’s softer to the skin,” says Collier, who has worked on more than 250 spas and resorts including Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa in Bali and Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, VA.
He also stresses the importance of proper maintenance of a saltwater pool to avoid deterioration of surrounding outdoor materials, and finishes of tile, stone, and even fabric and metal fittings of lounge chairs. “I can’t think of one project that we are doing with a chlorine pool, and we adamantly don’t recommend it,” he says. “We really don’t see a straight chlorine pool as the right way to go. To me, hands down, a saltwater pool is a much better experience.”
The Outdoor Eco Cheat Sheet
Tips for maximizing time spent outdoors
Create a cherished outdoor space
“Set up a dedicated space where you can go outside and get fresh air,” says Dennis. “Whether you live in a climate that’s warm or cold, create some kind of covered awning or pergola, and make it an area that’s usable and extends your living space. Even in cities with cooler weather, you can create a covered patio with radiant floor heating and firepits. Grab a blanket and a glass of wine and go outside. Who doesn’t love that?”
Choose fabric wisely
“Make sure you get indoor/outdoor fabric,” says Dennis, “and that your outdoor furniture is really meant for outdoor. Phifer (phifer.com) is a fantastic source. It’s 100 percent recyclable, PVC-free and made from a post-industrial waste byproduct. It’s highly durable, antimicrobial, stain-resistant, fade-resistant, easy to clean and quick to dry. And, to clean the fabrics, I like to use a scrub brush and Dr. Bronner’s soap. It’s just the best, and it’s completely non-toxic.”