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Exercising Sense

200502MF0By Mike Farley

If there’s one thing we all know without any question, it’s that nobody is getting any younger.  In fact, if you read any of the demographic information available these days about the “graying” of the Baby Boom generation, it’s clear that our entire country is becoming older en masse.

During the past year, I’ve experienced for myself what this means to us in the watershaping trades in the form of a dramatic uptick in the number of clients, most of them elderly, who have approached our firm looking for swimming pools primarily for the purpose of aquatic aerobics and other forms of water exercise.  

For the most part, these prospects and clients have made it clear they would not otherwise be interested in purchasing a pool:  They need it, they say, to pursue therapy for a range of physical conditions and ailments.

With that trend in mind (and anticipating the needs of my own aging frame as well), I decided to

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Flames On

Outdoor Kitchens-FinalBy Mike Farley

Back when I was first getting into the pool/spa industry, I clearly remember trying to find books that would help me get started.  Boy, were the pickings slim.  At that time 15 or so years ago, there were only a couple of books that focused on pool design, and neither one was particularly helpful (so I’ll resist naming names).

Fortunately, those days are long gone, and now we find ourselves with a good supply of periodicals and books that offer watershapers a wide array of great ideas.  

Recently, I felt a strong sense of déjà vu:  I’d set out looking for information on outdoor kitchens and fireplaces and could find only a handful of basic and not entirely helpful publications – this despite the fact that it’s no secret that outdoor cooking/dining areas (and their cousins, outdoor fire amenities) have become more and more popular in the last few years.  

It came as no surprise that

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That's a Laugh

200612MF0By Mike Farley

We all have our different strengths and weaknesses and know that there are certain areas in which we can all improve.

In my case, I’m good at the technical side of watershaping, but I’m much less accomplished in the client-relations/“people skills” department.  I’ve made concerted efforts through the years to seek resources that can help me grow in this area, and my latest book selection is part of that personal quest.

Not long ago, I took a twelve-point quiz that’s designed to test whether or not you have a good sense of humor.  I’ve never been a big one for telling knee-slapping jokes and I’d describe my sense of humor as “dry,” but I certainly like to laugh and I’ve always considered myself as being someone who enjoyed things on the funny side.  When I took this test, however, I scored a perfect zero out of twelve, so by this assessment it seems I have no sense of humor at all.

Working past this odd humiliation, I began thinking about this

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En Espanol

200611MF0By Mike Farley

It’s a plain fact:  In many regions of the United States these days, the vast majority of construction laborers speak Spanish.

That’s a big deal because, as watershapers, it is our responsibility to convey the design mission for our projects as well as all-important client wishes to these talented craftspeople – not to mention the basic, general communications that come with managing the work of individuals and small groups of people.

Where I work in Texas, this is the simple reality – and I know it’s true as well in California, Arizona, Florida, Nevada and many other parts of the country.  As a consequence, I think it makes sense for those responsible for guiding the overall efforts of these workers to be able to communicate with them in their own language.  After all, these are the folks who are installing the details we’ve so carefully designed and engineered.

For my part, I’m trying to elevate my communications skills by

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Packaging Your Finest

200610MF0By Mike Farley

One of the greatest contrasts I’ve found between watershapers from the pool and spa industry and watershapers with backgrounds in landscape architecture is the way representatives of the two groups handle their portfolios.

Landscape architects are taught that the way they present past work has everything to do with their ability to market their current design services.  In the pool/spa industry, by contrast, designs are still rarely paid for and instead are offered as a means to winning a construction contract.  In this context, portfolios tend to be far less sophisticated and generally cover examples of the company’s work rather than that of an individual designer.

That situation is (thank goodness) changing on several fronts, and it seems an opportune time for watershapers in general to step up in sophistication and focus on

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A Natural Transition

200609MF0By Mike Farley

Did you know that there’s a strong trend toward creating ponds that are made for swimming in Germany and Austria?  That revelation came by way of a terrific book I just finished – Natural Swimming Pools:  Inspiration for Harmony with Nature by Michael Littlewood (Schiffer Publishing, 2004).

Littlewood is an American landscape designer who moved to Europe several years ago and has since become involved in the design and installation of naturalistic watershapes that are a distinct departure from run-of-the-mill concrete pools we encounter in the United States.  

Indeed, he and scores of other watershapers throughout Europe are setting up vinyl-lined ponds that lack most of what we’d recognize as pool features or equipment, but are deep enough and big enough for swimming and other forms of aquatic exercise.  And the simple fact is that their European clients seem inclined to

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Sounds of Inspiration

200608MF0By Mike Farley

As we move through the long, hot, busy days of summer, it may well be that, like me, you have difficulty finding the time to sit down and read.  This is one of the reasons I’ve gotten into audio books lately:  I listen to them while traveling from job to job, and I find they’re a great way to keep my mind stimulated when I just can’t find the time to concentrate on the printed page.

In that spirit of aural stimulation, I thought I’d reach back to the origins of this special medium and listen again to a classic motivational piece I’d first heard 15 years ago from legendary self-help guru Earl Nightingale.

Called The Strangest Secret (issued by Nightingale-Connant Corp.), the original recording was made way back in 1956, when Nightingale recorded his thoughts to help

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Developing Creative Muscles

200607MF0By Mike Farley

Working as a watershape designer, I’m always a little bit taken aback when people come up to me and say they’re so amazed by the work I do and that they know they could never do anything so creative themselves.  It’s all part of a common perception that so-called “creative” work is produced only by people who were born with a particular talent.  

Frankly, I don’t agree with that perception.  As I look back over my career and review the work of others, it’s clear to me that creativity in design (or anything else, for that matter) is essentially a muscle we all can develop.  Sure, some people have natural abilities that give them a boost, but the essence of creativity has more to do with the way you go about pursuing it than anything else.

Along those lines, I recently finished reading Cracking Creativity:  The Secrets of Creative Genius by Michael Michalko (Ten Speed Press, 2001).  This terrific, 300-page book tackles the nature of

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A Novel Approach

200606MF0By Mike Farley

Every once in a while, I find it useful to read something purely for inspiration.  Especially as the busy season heats up, I truly enjoy the thought of stepping away from the grind and getting lost in the pages of a good book.

Most recently, I picked up Ayn Rand’s classic, The Fountainhead (Penguin Books, 1994), and found not only a terrifically entertaining story, but one that I also see as useful on the professional front because of its many insights into issues of creativity, design and personal integrity.

Let me start by saying that I’m not offering this unusual entry as an endorsement of Rand’s controversial philosophy.  There are plenty of ideas presented in this long, 700-plus-page book that don’t align with the way I see things, and I have no intention here of commenting on Rand’s “objectivism” in any way.  To me, the core of the story is

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Pretty as a Picture

Book1-FinalBy Mike Farley

Swimming pools and other watershapes make great subjects for photographers, which makes it logical that every year or two I’ve be able to amass a new collection of these books to review.

In general, publications such as these are all about pretty projects and are aimed mainly at consumers, but I’ve always found them useful as sources for design ideas and, in general, as a means of seeing what other people are doing.  For the most part, however, these publications are not particularly “informative”:  Once you get past the pictures, there’s really not much else there to build knowledge or advance the craft.

Such is the case with all four of the publications I’ll cover here in quick, round-up fashion.  All are beautifully illustrated, and some display an interesting range when it comes to

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Essential Analysis

200604MF0By Mike Farley

If you’ve yet to read any of the works of business guru Tom Peters, you’re in for a real treat.

A few years ago Peters wrote Re-Imagine, a book that established his reputation as a leader in the field of business philosophy and education. Last year, he released a trilogy of new books that expand on the themes and discussions that have made him both well known and hugely respected.

Although published in three separate volumes, this series – Tom Peters Essentials: Leadership, Tom Peters Essentials: Talent and Tom Peters Essentials: Trends (all from DK Publishing, 2005) – is basically a single, remarkably well-written treatise loaded with

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Plans on Design

200603MF0By Mike Farley

Watershaping has changed dramatically through the past several years, and we all could probably come up with a hundred different reasons why.

Here’s the upshot:  Clients are no longer merely asking us to build pools, spas or other bodies of water.  Instead, they’re asking us to create complete settings that include water.  And when you compare where we are now to where we were, say, seven years ago, it’s as though everything is different.

What the changes mean is that many of us have been or are being forced to seek out more sophisticated approaches to the design process.  I recently finished a book that provides amazing insight into exactly that process:  Basic Elements of Landscape Architectural Design by Norman K. Booth (Waveland Press, 1990).  

The book was recommended to me by fellow landscape architect and watershaper

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Color Keys

200602MF0By Mark Farley

Every once in a while, I run across an area of design theory or philosophy that is so fundamental that I’m left to wonder how I’ve been able to do what I do for a living without a complete understanding of it.  Color theory is one such field of study.

For a long time now, I’ve known that the factor that very often makes or breaks a project is not the price of the materials or the presence of bells and whistles, but rather how well the colors work, both with each other and in the context of the overall setting.  

Even simple projects with modestly priced materials can be ranked among the beautiful if the colors work.  By the same token, there are extremely elaborate projects that fail to live up to their potential (or fail altogether) when color choices are off base.

My sense that this was something I needed to know more about led me to

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