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Falling Arches
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Falling Arches

Watershape designer and installer Rick Pendleton is passionate about using watershapes and landscapes in executing designs uniquely inspired by given settings and the personalities of his clients. In the project covered here, for example, he took a cue or two from the homeowners, borrowed a motif he found in the home’s architecture and combined them with a top-flight approach to construction in delivering the unique look his clients craved.

Watershape designer and installer Rick Pendleton is passionate about using watershapes and landscapes in executing designs uniquely inspired by given settings and the personalities of his clients.  In the project covered here, for example, he took a cue or two from the homeowners, borrowed a motif he found in the home's architecture and combined them with a top-flight approach to construction in delivering the unique look his clients craved.

For me, hitting the high notes in watershaping and landscape design is a product of careful observation, boundless imagination and detailed visualization. These factors drive the design process, after which I transition into the more practical phases of the project with reliable engineering and quality construction.

The early, creative phases can definitely be tricky, because they require many of my clients to take great leaps of faith, especially when what they’re after is a highly customized environment – something truly unique.

In those cases, we know that we at Artisan Home Resorts (San Jose, Calif.) are asking clients to visualize something nobody’s ever seen before: No matter how well we represent our ideas on paper or on a computer screen, the outcome will, to a certain degree, remain an abstraction until the everything is finished and working.

When everything finally comes together (as we believe it did in the project illustrated in this feature), a vision is realized and the payoff can be extremely rewarding, both for the clients and for those of us who worked hard to see the process through. Here as in few other projects we’ve done, however, even we weren’t precisely sure how things would look until we fired up the system for the very first time.


The property is located in an upscale neighborhood just outside Fresno, Calif. – a bucolic setting with rolling hills and beautiful Live Oaks, rock formations and creeks that wind their ways through an ancient landscape, all with the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains looming in the distance.

The 5,000-square-foot house sits on five acres and was about three years old when we arrived. The architecture was basically modern, but I detected a number of classic touches. I also noticed that the surroundings homes, although upscale, included very few yards that had gone beyond the development’s initial detailing; indeed, there were few of what I would call “customized landscapes” of the sort associated elsewhere with affluence and luxury.

The clients wanted to jump out of that rut. They came to me through a referral from a common friend, and right from the start told me they wanted an environment that would be perceived as distinctive – something that would have a resort-like elegance and echo the blend of modernism and classicism seen in the home’s design.


The structure rises like an ancient ruin, and some of the walls are decorated with classically inspired mosaics with beautifully arching forms, but it’s equipped to move into the 21st Century whenever the homeowners actuate the controls and make the water flow. (All photos in this article by Garrison Wu, Wu Photography, Sunnyvale, Calif.)

It was clear from the start that they had the space and the wherewithal to get what they wanted. They also knew what they didn’t want: They didn’t want the pool and the landscape to compete with the natural setting, so any sort of naturalistic design with rocks, streams and waterfalls was out of the question. They also didn’t want anything boring: They were after a built environment that made a statement that would complement the setting – perhaps something, they suggested, that would contrast subtly with the natural setting, such as structures with vertical profiles?

As is the case with many designers, I began the process by listening carefully to what the clients were saying and by looking for clues in the home to find out what made everything tick. Right there at the front door was a dramatic set of columns that framed the view from the threshold over to large windows that opened onto the rear yard.

Quite frequently, I find the key to my designs by linking interior details such as this one to the work I’ll do outdoors. It’s a simple way to generate the sense that the home is one with its landscape and creates a perception that the outdoor “living area” is fully integrated into the home’s design – a concept that clearly had potential in this case.

So I made several notes and returned to my studio, where I began formulating ideas that would take into account the general design program the clients had outlined. Given the setting, the home and their preferences, I immediately headed toward ideas of a certain grandeur, a certain drama – and I kept coming back to those columns behind the front doorway.


Before long, I was thinking about arches.

I’ve always been intrigued by the sort of ruined structures you see in Italy, Greece and elsewhere around the Mediterranean, especially where landscapes are defined by freestanding columns that support arches – as in the ruins of ancient aqueducts. My thought here was to design a structure that suggested that kind of classical impression without copying any one source in particular.

As my thinking progressed, I eventually lit on a set of four columns at eight-foot intervals supporting a trio of arches that would rise to a combined height of 15 feet above a geometric swimming pool we’d place in the foreground.

The clients had also signaled a desire for moving water as part of the environment, so I began to think about rigging the arches with arrays of nozzles that would create delicate curtains of water. This would serve the dual purpose of generating the soothing sounds of falling water while at the same time it would draw attention to the arches and the views beyond.


Whether seen at sunrise, at the height of day or in the evening, the arches’ rain curtains lend a special quality to the space – a sense of delicate motion paired with a gently splashing sound that transforms and softens the arches, making them much more than a simple architectural statement.

From that point forward, other components of the watershapes soon fell into place, including a geometric pool with all sorts of internal contours dedicated to a variety of purposes (including steps leading to a raised area behind the arches). Next there was an expanse of stone decking, and then a fractured, ruin-like wall behind the arches through which a creek would flow into the pool. All of this was to be visible from the house with a slightly off-axis view so that the new structures wouldn’t interfere directly with the distant views.

I worked up some sketches and shared what I had with the clients. They offered a few suggestions but by and large loved what they saw, so we moved forward. Now it was time to engineer the design, procure the materials we had discussed and plan the construction process.

The biggest challenge came, not surprisingly, in designing and engineering the column/arch structure.


As specified, the columns were to surmount pilasters in the deep end of the pool.

The pilasters were made with galvanized steel I-beams that we tied into footings at their bases. For their part, the columns and arches were fabricated from pre-cast concrete finished to resemble sandstone. (These were expertly manufactured to extremely low tolerances by the staff at Architectural Façades in Gilroy, Calif.) The entire composition is designed to withstand seismic loads as well as high winds.

The rain-jet arrays were produced by the Los Angeles-based firm, Fountain Supply Co. I’ve worked with them a number of times and know they are familiar with this sort of large-scale, custom project. Each arch has 84 hidden nozzles as well as concealed, low-voltage lighting fixtures along with the requisite conduits, plumbing runs and manifolds.

The need for precision with the column/arch fabrication came from the fact that these features needed to line up exactly with the supporting pilasters. Architectural Façades did its part with the former, while we attended to the latter on site. But even with all our planning and preparation, I have to concede there were some tense moments as the various pieces were being craned into place. It all fit perfectly, but we were all supremely aware that any dimensional error would have resulted in a huge setback.


Framed by arches that mark the home’s own architecture, the pool’s arches and the decks around them become a near-irresistible magnet at night, when the sight and sound of falling water have perhaps their greatest effect on the setting.

What we saw as these components took their places was dramatic and impressive – and a case study in the value of having great partners to work with in this sort of precise collaboration. It probably didn’t hurt that, in coordinating everything, we kept everyone focused on the fact that absolute perfection was the goal.

Also critical was the hydraulic design of the rain effect – a process much simplified by our use of a variable-speed pump motor from Pentair Water Pool & Spa (Sanford, N.C.) – and our use of big pipes to feed the system. The layout features a four-inch return line that runs under the pool and center-feeds lines that flow to both sides of the arches.

This arrangement balanced the flow to the rain jets, but it also has the effect, when the system initializes, of activating the streams from the outside in with a sort of “closing curtain” effect. The variable-speed pump motor also allows the homeowners to control the flow: everything from a soft trickle to a vigorous downpour depending on the mood they want to set.

Each arch also has seven recessed-lighting fixtures provided by BK Lighting (Madera, Calif.). These operate with dimmers – a secondary method of mood management we offered our clients for nighttime enjoyment.


The elegant look of these arches, of course, had to harmonize with the surroundings, including the swimming pool and the hardscape details.

With a coordinating nod to classicism, we finished the pool’s interior with a silky, polished, pearl-white exposed aggregate marked by square, randomly dispersed stone inlays. The main drain grates are made of a beautiful golden-brass alloy chosen to make a bold yet distinctly old-fashioned statement.

Beyond the water’s edge, we harmonized the hardscape to the arch structure through the materials we selected, lending the decks a classical feel with a hand-cut, cantilevered coping made from an ashlar stone supplied by Peninsula Building Materials of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Coming-Out Party

Not long after the project described in the accompanying text was finished, the clients hosted a benefit dinner for the National MPS Society. (MPS is the abbreviation for Mucopolysaccharidosesis, an incurable genetic disease that causes tremendous suffering, particularly in young children.)

Attended by more than 200 guests, the entire event (including a silent auction) was held on the pool deck, with the falling water and arches serving as the backdrop for the evening. Although the gathering was about serious support of an extremely worthy cause, it was gala affair and I was gratified throughout the course of the evening to hear positive comments and praise for the home and, more particularly, our handiwork in the backyard.

It was a great way to enjoy the evening – and the fruits of lots of hard work!

— R.P.

The decking material is a beautiful Turkish Travertine we obtained from a Los Angeles importer. The stone originated in the Scabas region and features soft honey, cream and gray tones. The skimmer lids are covered in this stone – an important touch that avoids the breaks in visual continuity invited by using plastic lids in the midst of beautiful decking materials. And we didn’t grout the stonework, enhancing the suggestion that the homeowners and their guests are walking across an ancient Greek plaza.

Although it has its own Grecian air about it, the pool also includes distinctly modern touches. It’s a large vessel at 50 feet long, 24 feet wide at its greatest extent and nine feet deep beneath the arches. There’s also a large, shallow and thoroughly up-to-date lounging area in the end opposite of the arches that transitions into a three-and-a-half-foot-deep play area via an array of shelves, benches and steps – almost a spiral staircase that leads in and out of the pool.

(On the pool’s left side is a semi-circular alcove with four bar stools. These were set up in anticipation of another project phase that will include installation of a swim-up bar and an outdoor kitchen/fire pit area.)

The four-and-a-half-foot-tall wall behind the arch is also finished in Travertine and includes a six-inch stone tile mosaic that we picked up at the waterline inside the pool. We also created a four-foot wide “crack” (centered behind the central arch) that leads the eye into the landscape behind the arches. (Eventually, Phase II will have the natural-looking stream that now flows through the gap become a winding slide that will spill into the deep end of the pool.)


Away from the water, we dispersed 130 tons of large Bouquet Canyon Granite boulders throughout the landscape. By locating several of them in the area immediately around the deck and then placing others in strategic locations in the near distance – particularly on the slope behind the arches – we established another set of visual transitions that weave scenes in the foreground together with the mountain views in the distance. (We also used some of these boulders to conceal the equipment vault in the slope behind the arches.)

The equipment we selected is right in keeping with our company’s policy of delivering excellent water quality: We see it as a means of accentuating the beauty of our designs and as a means of inviting people into the water. In this instance, we chose to treat the water with a saltwater chlorine-generating system that works in conjunction with a chemical-feeding system for trouble-free algae management, enhanced water clarity and scale prevention.

Obviously, this was a tremendously involved project and I feel fortunate to have worked with top-flight professionals in making it all come together for clients who believed in the vision from start to finish.

When it was all in place and we finally turned on the rain jets, it felt like graduation day for me: All of the visual joy that we had imagined came gently but majestically to life, and to a person we were impressed by how the effect took on different qualities at different times throughout that first day. It may be at its most spectacular at night, when the lights come into play, but it’s particularly beautiful in the early morning hours, when the arches stand against the beautiful backdrop like silent sentinels in the morning mist.

Above all, it’s exactly what the clients were after – just the sort of satisfaction we most love to deliver.

Rick Pendleton is founder and president of Artisan Home Resorts of San Jose, Calif. – a firm specializing in the design and construction of upscale residential swimming pools and watershape environments. He has been in the watershaping industry for 35 years, having worked for a number of firms in a variety of capacities. He started Artisan Home Resorts in 2004 to pursue his desire to create truly custom projects while working at the highest possible standards of creativity and construction excellence.

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