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The Color of Uniqueness

200811MF0By Mike Farley

As 2008 draws to a close, it’s apparent that we are contending with a far more challenging marketplace than we enjoyed just a couple years ago.  Current economic woes have cut deeply into bottom lines, forced some watershapers out of business and prompted many others to seek out ways to maximize the business and referrals that come their way.

With this challenging business landscape in mind, I recently picked up a copy of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow:  Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (Penguin Group, 2002).  Godin, the best-selling author of 10 books, is well-known for challenging the conventional thinking that constrains many businesses.  Although this particular book was written before the recent downturn in the world and U.S. economies, his message in this easily read 150-page discussion is quite applicable to today’s situation – particularly among watershapers who want to enhance their approach to the business.

Godin’s discussion starts out with an account of a trip to the French countryside, during which he was

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Into the Ground

200810MF0By Mike Farley

Given the fact that swimming pools and most other watershapes are placed in the ground, I’ve long been of the opinion that it’s incumbent upon all of us who design and build them to have a basic understanding of soils science and geology.  As has been stated in this magazine and elsewhere more times than I can count, the nature of the ground we build in (or on) has everything to do with the structures we design.

Indeed, the composition and structure of the soils we encounter may well be the most fundamental of all the technical issue we ever face.  Simply put, a watershape that’s properly engineered in light of prevailing soil conditions will endure, while one that isn’t runs a significant and often inevitable risk of structural failure.  

Relatively few of us who read WaterShapes are civil engineers, soils scientists or geologists, but all of us

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Off the Shelf

By Bruce Zaretsky

I recently began work on a design for clients who live in a historic home just south of Rochester, N.Y.  They’ve asked me to incorporate a pool, entertainment areas, a fireplace and a combined pool house/garage into the available space and make certain it all complements the architecture of the home and its only current outbuilding – a 150-year-old storage shed.  

Sitting at my drafting table, I was thinking how easy this one would be, conceptually at least.  All I needed was there, from the home’s architecture and an existing (and much beloved) 100-year-old pergola to the old shed, so the main challenge would come in drawing the details rather than in deciding what to do.

Usually, of course, it’s the other way around and

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Beyond the Edge

200809MF0By Mike Farley

Last month, I did my usual annual roundup of books that feature custom residential swimming pools.  I must confess that I deliberately withheld one such book from the usual summary treatment because it was just too good for me not to give it a full column’s attention this time around.

The book – Infinity Pools by Ana G. Canizares (Collins Design, 2006) – is one of the best on pools as a design genre that I’ve ever seen.  In fact, one of the few things I don’t like about it is the title, because I’ve always preferred the term “vanishing edge.”  That quibble aside, I think she’s done a terrific job of presenting what has to be the most powerful, influential design look of the past 20 years.  More important, she manages to do so without making these pools seem a visual cliché.

As is demonstrated repeatedly

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Everywhere Pools

By Mike Farley

For the past few years, I’ve made a practice of offering occasional roundups of books that feature swimming pools as their star attractions.  As I’ve mentioned before, there was a time when such publications simply did not exist – but now we seem to be in an era when pools are hot and a visit to a good bookstore will reveal a plethora of relevant titles covering a remarkably wide range of projects and styles.

As with swimming pools themselves, of course, the books dedicated to them vary widely in quality and creativity:  Some are truly wonderful, while others are of marginal value and offer little by way of useful ideas.  I take all of them, however, as evidence that booksellers have noticed increasing consumer interest in highly imaginative swimming pools.  I further believe that this interest has developed because so many of today’s watershapers are willing to push forcefully at the boundaries of creativity.

[ ]  Let’s start with

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Finding Fitness

200807MF0By Mike Farley

For a good while now, I’ve been on the lookout for books that define the health benefits of swimming and other forms of aquatic exercise.  I’ve largely come up empty, with only a couple of worthy exceptions.  

It’s been important to me for two reasons:  First, I’m convinced (as others in this magazine have argued) that the watershaping industry is doing both itself and its clients a disservice by not promoting the remarkable healthfulness of aquatic activity.  I think this is a deficit we desperately need to address – and also that this effort must begin on a solid base of knowledge and fact.  Second, as I progress through my forties, I’m finding that running is becoming more and more difficult because of hip problems; my intention is to turn to the water to maintain my physical fitness, but I want to know more about it and how to do it right.

So far, the best resource for information about swimming I’ve found is The Complete Book of Swimming by Dr. Phillip Whitten (Random House, 1994).  It’s older than some other volumes I’ve found, but I think it’s the best because

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Reharvesting Joy

200806MF0By Mike Farley

It’s amazing for me to learn that this 100th issue of WaterShapes is carrying my 80th “Book Notes” column.  It’s been a wonderful and fascinating experience – and as my wife puts it, has provided a great way to rationalize my literary addiction.  

I remember when Eric Herman and I first discussed the idea for this column:  At the time, we both wondered how long it could be sustained.  After the best part of seven years, I think we’re both comfortable with the thought that it’s basically a journey without end.

To mark this special occasion, I want to look back at one of the most significant of all the books I’ve ever reviewed – one that isn’t about watershaping, construction, landscape architecture or anything in any way related to our industry.  That book, which I wrote about way back in February 2003, is Harvests of Joy:  How the Good Life Became Great Business by Robert Mondavi (with Paul Chutkow; Harcourt Brace, 1998).  

I’d read it based on

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A World at Play

200805MF0By Mike Farley

For all the “importance” attached to creating works of art in outdoor environments, there’s no denying the fact that, in the majority of cases, the root of much of the appeal of watershape designs (and exterior designs in general) still has much to do with having a good time.  

In my own practice, for example, I’d estimate that somewhere around 85 percent of my clients are inspired by the desire to build watershapes and pool environments as sources of play for their children or grandchildren – or, as some put it, because they’re still big kids at heart and “just want to have fun.”

This is why I couldn’t resist picking up

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Seeking Wellness

200804MF0By Mike Farley

You don’t have to be a physician to know that watershapes offer profound benefits when it comes to health, fitness and wellness.  Indeed, most people know that swimming and other forms of activity in water are, along with hydrotherapy, among the healthiest of all activities known to us mere mortals.

Unfortunately, and for reasons that escape me, promoting the value of that connection has never spent much time on our industry’s front burner.

My own curiosity about the topic recently led me to seek published resources, and I’m sad to say that my search hasn’t yielded much.  It reminds me of my early days in this industry and a time long ago when I craved books that would inspire my design work:  For a long time, there wasn’t much to find – but that’s all changed now.  My hope is that the case with water-related health and wellness is the same and that it will soon become a

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The Color of Sales

By Mike Farley

As a rule, I’ve resisted the temptation to cover books about sales in these columns.  

I’ve read a great many of those books through the years, and I’ve always tended to think of them as buffets where I pick up useful insights, wisdom or motivation – and ignore suggestions that don’t seem as useful.  But no single book I’ve run into has proved to be so helpful that I’ve felt compelled to share it with you here.

At last, however, I’ve found an exception – a wonderful book by emerging sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer called The Little Red Book of Selling (Bard Press, 2004).  I picked up a copy of this compact 220-page volume two years ago at an airport bookstore (and have picked up a couple more since then), and I see why Gitomer is becoming one of the leading voices when it comes to sales.  He may not have reached the same status as Zig Ziglar or Dale Carnegie (both of whom I admire greatly), but his star is

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Meets the Eyes

By Mike Farley

Although we might not commonly think of watershaping and exterior design in this way, a great many of the details we shape are designed to fool the eye or somehow create illusions.  Consider the pools that are made to appear so natural that they don’t seem to have been man-made – or vanishing edges that conjure the impression that there’s no visual boundary between the surface of a swimming pool and a distant body of water.

Those are two familiar tricks of the trade, but if you stop and think about it, there are many less-obvious examples as well:  water flowing under a bridge that leads to nowhere; rocks half buried in the landscape to give the illusion that they are part of a subterranean geological formation; small bits of individual tile that come together to form a mosaic image; or modular walls that appear to float in space.

In my own work, to add another example, I’ve started to be deliberate about

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Fifteen Years After

By Mike Farley

It’s unlikely that anyone back in 1992 would have imagined that the daughter of fashion designer Calvin Klein would change the way we think of swimming pools.

That might be a slight exaggeration, but to me there’s no question that Pools by Kelly Klein, first published by Rizzoli 15 years ago and re-released late in 2007, was unique at that time in treating pool design as a legitimate art form.  In many ways, in fact, I think her book may well have ignited the design revolution that has unfolded in the years since it was first published.

I didn’t run across this oversized volume until 1999, when I attended

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When It Rains

By Mike Farley

The numbers are eye-popping:  Just about one percent of all the water on Planet Earth exists as freshwater suitable for human consumption.  And depending on where you live in the United States, anywhere from a quarter to almost half of that precious resource is used for irrigation.

This is why it’s so important for those of us who design watershapes and exterior environments to consider options that minimize our use of potable water to maintain the landscape – and why I’m glad I picked up a copy of Rain Gardens by Nigel Gunnett and Andy Clayden (Timber Press, 2007):  This 190-page text defines specific steps we can all take to replace municipal or well water with rainwater, capturing a gift from the skies and using it to sustain our landscapes.  

As the authors point out, we live in a time when drought is

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