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Impressing with Simplicity

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

While discussing his column for this issue, I visited one of David Tisherman’s projects and observed one of the most dramatic examples I’ve ever seen of the power of restraint in design.

He’d taken me to look at a wonderful front-yard watershape in the form of three decorative urns, each with a minuscule amount of water flowing over its brim to wet an antiqued ceramic surface with a delicate flow of water.

As David points out in his column in this issue (click here), a more common approach in this sort of high-profile setting would have involved creation of a more aggressive upwelling of water and a bubbling fountain effect. In this case, however, he headed in the other direction and delivered a design that uses a minimalist approach to achieve a stunning visual and aural effect.

His column tells the full story, but I see this as so important a point that I want to highlight it here, in my own words. Indeed, for all he does in creating super-projects that are as daring and bold as they come, this small feature serves as a perfect example of a theme that David has returned to time and again in his columns and feature articles – namely, that appropriate scale and a reverence for the needs of the setting should drive the work of the designer rather than the desire to impress clients with the most massive and overwhelming water effect they can afford.

As I stood on the street across from the composition’s three urns and enjoyed a long look, I was struck by how intriguing they were and the way the small flow of water drew my eye toward their elegant forms and rough-textured surfaces – and by how well their simplicity and grace blended with the warmth and softness of the home itself. As I looked, the urns became less a focal point than an invitation to take in and absorb the beauty of the home’s architecture, its landscaping and downslope vistas stretching to the Pacific Ocean.

Driving away, it occurred to me that this is the exact sort of thoughtful design practice that need not reside solely at the highest end of the market. Using smallish flows of water to draw attention to a stone, tile or (as in this case) ceramic material is something that can comfortably be applied in projects ranging from the most modest of projects to the grandest and most spectacular.

Of course, there’s irony in the fact that Tisherman, a designer known far and wide for his self-confidence and outsized personality, has such a distinctive ability to allow subtlety to express itself at the forefront of his work. As he has often said, in print and elsewhere, “The watershape should not be the centerpiece of the space, but a component of an overall environment.”

Certainly this is not a new idea and is one that can indeed be found in the works of David’s design heroes – such towering figures as Frank Lloyd Wright, John Lautner, Ricardo Legorreta and, at the other end of the spectrum, the masters of Japanese gardening. The fact of the matter is that refined restraint, educated taste and abundant good judgment will always play prominent roles in design.

To this observer at least, that truth was abundantly clear as I stood on a street corner watching water caress the sides of three elegantly shaped pieces of pottery – an experience of rare aesthetic pleasure.

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