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One for the Future
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One for the Future

Any backyard project that encompasses tons of stone, hundreds of square feet of glass tile, a complex waterfall structure, a large bridge, an island spa and other features focused on fun, elegance and beauty is likely to be something special. In this case, it happens to be one of master watershaper David Tisherman’s most intricate achievements to date – one he guides us through in this pictorial, which captures the challenges as well as the glorious results of an enormous collaboration.

Any backyard project that encompasses tons of stone, hundreds of square feet of glass tile, a complex waterfall structure, a large bridge, an island spa and other features focused on fun, elegance and beauty is likely to be something special.  In this case, it happens to be one of master watershaper David Tisherman's most intricate achievements to date - one he guides us through in this pictorial, which captures the challenges as well as the glorious results of an enormous collaboration.

As milestones go, the project depicted in these pages has been a big one for me – and for lots of other people as well.

The grand estate with its outsized home is located in the countryside near Hanover, Pa., a remote setting that offered a set of challenges that has in many ways redefined what is and isn’t possible in a whole region when it comes to watershape design, engineering and construction.

A full two-and-a-half years in the making (a period broken up, of course, by stretches in which there was no activity on site), this stands as one of the most elaborate designs I’ve ever executed – all in a part of the country where the pool industry isn’t set up to accommodate construction at this level, either with respect to the basic construction materials or the skilled craftspeople needed to complete such a job.

A series of “Details” columns have covered all of this in depth (see the sidebar at the end of this article for a complete list of those columns), so let’s move on to a few final thoughts and a selection of photographs.


I am serious in saying that this part of the country wasn’t ready for a watershaping project on this scale, and it’s a tribute to the persistence of my partner, Kevin Fleming, who managed the project through some wild times, and the willingness of numerous craftspeople from across the country who came to rural Pennsylvania to get the work done to exacting standards.


The home that plays host to the watershape complex we developed is substantial (to say the least), looming large in the setting and always and inevitably part of our calculations in designing these spaces. At nearly 3,000 square feet, the watershapes themselves cover more area than a lot of homes, but it was our goal to select materials and control views in such a way that the water became a supporting element in the overall environment rather than its focal point.

This was the first-ever project for our firm, Liquid Design of Cherry Hill, N.J., and to say we started with a mountain rather than a molehill would be an understatement. It was a tremendous challenge on all sorts of levels, not the least of which had to do with changing what everyone involved with the project thought watershaping was all about.

This is the kind of project I was told over and over again simply couldn’t be done on the East Coast: The market wouldn’t bear it and, besides, freeze/thaw conditions would make favorite details of mine (such as all-glass-tile finishes) virtually impossible. I don’t think my motivation in tackling the job was particularly to prove anyone wrong, but the adventures we had in gathering materials, getting them to a remote site and jockeying them toward completion could fill a book.


From above – on the walkway that runs in a broad arc around much of the lower level – observers get interesting and unusual views of key details, including the large beach entry, the spa island and the waterfall that passes beneath the walkway on its way down to the pool. From this bird’s-eye perspective, it’s easy to perceive the balances we sought in placing large boulders (many in the six-to-ten-ton range, although they don’t seem so massive in this outsized context) and defining relationships between the water and the decks and the plantings that surround it.

In retrospect, I see this project as an evolutionary step in the region’s approach to watershaping. From the forming of the shell to the selection and placement of the stone, from the hunt for pipe and fittings to the quest for a technician willing and able to start things up, this was a project at a level of execution that constantly astonished other trades working on other parts of the estate project – a level of artistry and dedication to the craft of watershaping that nobody ever seemed to have encountered before.

Nothing I’ve witnessed throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other parts east persuades me that these other contractors were being anything other than completely sincere. Kevin and I were amazed by the fact that the day we started the system up and the waterfall began flowing became a sort of informal holiday on site, with electricians, painters, carpet layers, finish carpenters and all sorts of other tradespeople coming outside just to watch.


Moving down to deck level, the longer views show the ways in which the watershape pulls the setting together in a composition marked by grandeur, elegance and the wonderful reflective qualities of a water surface so expansive that the slightest breeze makes the surface ripple like a large pond. Down here, the project was all about managing and mastering scale and proportion – and about getting the relationships right when it came to selecting and placing stone; working with multiple elevations and points of view; and using plants of various types and sizes to soften edges and lend a broad array of colors and textures to the composition. We also enhanced reflectivity by finishing the pool’s interior with a rich plum Pebble Tec finish (Pebble Technology, Scottsdale, Ariz.).

If we needed any affirmation that we were onto something special, this unusual tribute to what we’d accomplished was more than enough.

I’m past the point of bemoaning the sad state of affairs in eastern watershaping (well, for the most part) and have spent the last couple years applying what we’ve learned and developed in the hills of south-central Pennsylvania to new opportunities we’re finding all over the northeast. And it all flows from our having raised consumer expectations about what can be accomplished in their backyards.


As for the all-tile spa, it’s come through a couple of miserable winters without any difficulty, quite as beautiful as the day it was installed. At a minimum, it’s my hope that this project will open more designers’ eyes to use of this material – and encourage local contractors and subcontractors to acquire the training and skills needed to install it properly so I won’t have to fly people in from elsewhere to get these jobs done.


Moving closer to the water, observers catch glimpses of the details that made this project so special, from the beautiful sculptures that lend interest and variety in special pockets throughout the composition to the spa’s spillover and the cascades of the big waterfall structure. The spa spillway flows away from the heart of the pool – an unusual choice but one that creates a warm, sheltered place for kids to play on their own private thermal ledge. For its part, the waterfall is a veritable showcase for forms of water in motion, with sheet, serrated and whitewater flows starting gently at the top and concluding at the bottom by crashing into the pool.

Ultimately, that’s what this project has been all about: forming a cadre of skilled craftspeople who can consistently, repeatedly perform work that exceeds the highest possible expectations for quality. In this project, I think we cracked that door open and introduced large numbers of people to what must be done and the fabulous opportunities that emerge when uncompromising quality is the target.

Deep Background

As is noted in the accompanying text, this project has a long publication history in WaterShapes. Here is a list of past columns and a feature exploring the project in great detail:
[ ] “Reaching for the Ultimate: Approaching the Grandest of Canvasses,” November 2003, page 28
[ ] “A Rugged-Land Production: Whipping a Big Structure into Shape,” January 2004, page 34
[ ] “Island Building: Applying Gunite on a Grand Scale, ” February 2004, page 22
[ ] “Rock Steady: Going the Distance for Great Materials,” January 2005, page 28
[ ] “The Perfect Fit: The Fine Art of Rock Wrangling,” February 2005, page 24
[ ] “The Art of Finishing: Final Touches for an Immense Backyard Project,” January 2006, page 60
– D.T.

As a design task, this project was about mastering and deploying color, proportion and line on a carefully measured scale while expressing ourselves and our ideas with great materials and superlative installation techniques. It wasn’t easy by any means, and everyone involved with the project is understandably proud – not the least among them the clients, who just love what has happened to their yard.

We all worked together in smashing design constraints and breaking construction stereotypes, and the best of it from my perspective is the seal this project put on my partnership with my good friend Kevin Fleming : It’s been a shared experience that will carry us well into a promising future.

David Tisherman is the principal in two design/construction firms: David Tisherman’s Visuals of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Liquid Design of Cherry Hill, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also an instructor for Artistic Resources & Training (ART); for information on ART’s classes, visit

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