For Condos, Laps of Luxury



Gerard Arriola and his wife, Janie Phee Eng Choon, discuss colors at the swimming pool deck of the One Devonshire condominium in Singapore, where they supplied the pool mosaic tiles and materials. Ying Yi Chua for The Wall Street Journal

The couple used glazed mosaic tiles from Japan for this water feature at Singapore’s One Devonshire condominium. Ying Yi Chua for The Wall Street Journal

The first thing swimming-pool tile specialist Gerard Arriola tells clients: Tiles never look the same in water as they do on land. “It’s rather difficult to foresee the effects of the pool-water color by just seeing the tile,” Mr. Arriola says. “Other elements like lighting, location and shadows are crucial factors in the outcome.”

Pools at Singapore’s Paterson Residence development. Belt Collins

Mr. Arriola and his wife, Janie Phee Eng Choon, who are based in Singapore, own Ceramica 28, which supplies high-end swimming pool tiles. Typically, they work on 16 to 25 pools a year for private homes, condo buildings and hotels. They provide tiles for the homes of executives in cities like Phuket and Kuala Lumpur. They sourced the tiles for the private penthouse pool at the Marq, a luxury condo building in Singapore where Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin reportedly lives. They designed a resort pool of more than 90,000 square feet in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

To determine what factors might affect a pool’s color, Mr. Arriola and Ms. Choon study architects’ drawings, the angle of the sun, the pool’s surroundings and anything likely to cause shadows. If the pool is partly in the shade, the couple may decide to use a lighter tile to ensure the water doesn’t look too deep or too dark. For a pool surrounded by greenery, they may use a light-gray tile that, from afar, looks green because the water reflects the color of the trees.

The pool at Cairnhill Residences, a condominium development in Singapore. Ceramica 28 supplied the ceramic tile mosaic. Belt Collins

In the cliff-side vacation home of an expatriate in Phuket that overlooks the ocean, for example, Mr. Arriola and Ms. Choon supplied rectangular gray tiles of varying shades to make the 3,000-square-foot pool look like it blended with the dark-blue ocean. The materials cost around $28,000.

The couple supplies tiles in about 300 shades and a variety of materials, from ceramic to Spanish mosaic glass. Most of their tiles come from a factory in Japan that sprays custom glazes onto clay and then fires them in kilns. It typically takes about three or four months for the tiles to be ready for a given project; installation then takes three to six weeks.

Their prices range from about $40 to $95 a square meter. Rectangular-shaped tiles cost more than square tiles because fewer tiles can be fired in the kiln at the same time. A pool of about 10,000 square feet, for example, could cost anywhere between $40,000 and $95,000.

One of Ceramica 28’s most expensive designs is called the sea finish, which makes a pool look darker from afar and lighter up close, as the ocean does. To get this effect, at least three colors are blended together, with each section of tile gradually becoming lighter. “It’s expensive because there’s a lot of manual work to it,” Mr. Arriola, 60, says.

Glazed mosaic tile samples at the Ceramica 28 showroom in Singapore. Ying Yi Chua for The Wall Street Journal

Ms. Choon, 57, previously sold building materials and the couple decided to start Ceramica 28 as a material-supplies company in 1988, when construction in Singapore was booming. A few years later, they decided to focus solely on swimming pool tiles because of increasing demand.

The one thing the couple typically advises against is patterns in pools for private homes—even though such designs can command triple the price of a solid-color tile. “How long do you want to look at that pattern every day?” Mr. Arriola often asks his clients. “A pool can last you 20 years or more.”

Write to Alyssa Abkowitz at

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