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When the homeowner suddenly (and completely) changed his mind about this project's direction, it was easy to slide into a new groove, says Andrew Kaner, simply because the fresh start offered so many opportunities to transform the pool, deck and views from so-so to spectacular.
When the homeowner suddenly (and completely) changed his mind about this project's direction, it was easy to slide into a new groove, says Andrew Kaner, simply because the fresh start offered so many opportunities to transform the pool, deck and views from so-so to spectacular.
By Andrew Kaner

Did you ever have a client who knew exactly what he or she wanted in a project, only to change direction once he or she heard the price? That happened with the poolscape discussed in this article – but with an unusual twist.

The homeowner, a prominent South Florida businessperson, had purchased the waterfront property with its existing pool. And he wasn’t finished: He also purchased two neighboring homes, flattening one to make way for a sculpture garden and setting up the other as staff housing. When we saw the site for the first time, the main residence was

being extensively remodeled, largely as a showplace for part of his art collection.

The pool and spa outside the home didn’t exactly align with his vision, so he called us in to guide the remodeling. Both the home and pool were of late-1980s/early- ’90s vintage, with the pool highlighted by a vanishing edge that overlooked a busy boat channel. That was indeed a nice feature, but the detached spa wasn’t anything special and the slide definitely failed to impress our client.

He hired us to develop a plan for revamping the pool, which we did. When he reviewed the documents and saw the price? That’s when the story took its interesting turn.

QUICK-CHANGE ARTISTRY

First, a bit more background: As part of his renovation of the three properties, he had decided to beef up, raise and somewhat enlarge the seawall surrounding his three lots. This unified the basic appearance of what was now an estate-scale compound, which was good. But it also impinged somewhat on the pool’s subsurface space, which wasn’t so good.

Nonetheless, the process of rebuilding the seawall had helped us by revealing details of the original pool’s construction – and we discovered that, while it looked sound on the surface, the plumbing system hadn’t been properly organized. We also encountered other engineering issues we’d need to address to make certain the updated pool would perform as desired.

To make a long story short, dealing with these technical issues while removing the spa, cutting out the slide and reworking the deck had the effect of ballooning the restoration cost to a point where he stopped us cold and said, “That’s too much for what I want. Let’s rip it out and do a new one.” So there we were with a good set of ready-to-bid plans and a whole new ballgame: We’ve had clients effectively strip our gears before, but this particular and wholesale change in direction was unexpected, to say the least.

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We were fully engaged in the concept of working with the bean-shaped original pool – all the way through to a full set of plans that deleted the spa and the slide – when the owner changed directions and decided to start over. From our perspective, it was the right move: The old pool, with its stumpy columns, intrusive fence and unsubtle design, did little to take advantage of the spectacular setting.

 

Once we caught our collective breath, we at Aquatic Consultants (Miami, Fla.) were actually happy with his decision, because simply remodeling the existing pool wasn’t the ideal solution for the client, the property or its setting. It did have a vanishing edge, for instance, but some low, stubby columns interrupted the view – which was further compromised by a low, intrusive, multi-post wrought-iron fence on the seawall. The site cried out for a more appropriate, more creative approach, and we were happy to oblige.

We took our initial cue from the seawall, using its pointed angularity to redefine the space and the pool’s relationship to the waterway beyond. To do so, we had to reconcile the fact that the decking in back of the home worked at a right angle, while the seawall had a somewhat more acute presence. This meant that the pool would have varying widths along its length: Visually, it was no problem, although I would imagine that it complicated things a bit for the staff at Reef Tropical Pool & Landscape (Key Largo, Fla.), a contractor that has built several projects we’ve designed.

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From a design perspective, the chief deficit of the old pool was its muddled relationship with the water beyond the deck. To remedy this, we pushed the pool out as far as we could and elevated it above the seawall to maximize water-on-water views from every possible viewpoint across the deck and from inside the home.

 

The client was certain he wanted two things in a new pool: One was a long swimming lane, which we achieved in this case by inserting a lane marker that makes a sharp turn at the pool’s far corner. He also still didn’t want a spa – although instead he included what was to be the base for a sculpture he’d acquired and wanted to share with passing boaters.

It’s all so interesting: Although he lives in a prominent house on a prominent point in a prominent shipping lane and set up part of his property as a readily visible sculpture garden, he’s also a very private person – but one who had us set up a swimming lane on the outside edge of a property visible from most passing boats? Setting things up with such high public profiles seemed a bit contradictory, but we took it all in stride.

FULL TRANSFORMATION

In working on the project, we coordinated our material selections with the interior designer who was taking care of remodeling the house. We had no problem with that, because the suggested Travertine decking was an obvious South Florida choice: It’s beautiful and stays relatively cool even when the sun is at its harshest. 

A Bit Late

As designed, the pool was to include not only a sculpture but also a pair of handrails that were to arc from the water and end up suspended above the deck, unsupported other than by bases in the floor of the pool. These railings were to be rigged with lights that, by night, would highlight the mystery of their lack of visible support.

Unfortunately, fabricating them took longer than anticipated, so they weren’t ready to install before the pool was complete. The homeowner didn’t want to drain the pool and wait through the demolition and installation processes, so he placed them in his garage, where they sit to this day.

-- A.K.

We, however, ran point with the selection of the pool’s all-tile interior: The client wanted a highly reflective surface, so we recommended a black mosaic glass from Kolorines, a tile supplier based in Cuernevaca, Mexico. This material was expertly installed by Mosaicist (Miami), which has a long track record with us and does beautiful work. 

One more thing about the client: He likes swimming in truly warm water – 90 degrees being his preference – which explains in part our specification of a black-tile interior. Pool water gets and stays warm in Florida for a good part of the year with little or no prompting, but it will cool down markedly the farther you get from summertime, and there’s also the fact that breezes wafting across a vanishing edge on such an exposed waterfront property will have a distinct cooling effect.

To keep the temperatures at the desired level, we installed three heat pumps on the equipment pad and know they’ll get a good workout through several months each year. (It made us feel a bit better that the home has a huge array of solar panels on its various roof surfaces, so keeping the pool heated won’t be as huge an ongoing expense as it might have been otherwise.)

Now let’s get back to the sculpture and the fact that, as yet, the fountain base for it is still noticeably unadorned: As it turned out, the base of the chosen sculpture wasn’t set up for this sort of mounting, despite the fact our client had made its intended placement clear enough. And try as they might, the pool-installation team couldn’t adequately hurricane-proof the sculpture and therefore had to set it aside.

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The new pool takes the property to a new level – another work of art that fits in admirably as part of the homeowner’s art collection and another ornament in his sculpture garden. Its dark tile blend creates a brilliant reflective surface while also rewarding close up viewing, and its long lines rising above the seawall are bound to capture the attention of those passing by on the boat channel.

 

At this point, the pool boasts one of the nicest shallow lounging areas we’re ever seen – although we doubt it will ever be used that way.

When we started our work, it was tough to shake the impression of the old, bean-shaped pool from our minds, probably because we’d already invested a lot of time and mental energy in exploring its history and developing a remodeling program for it. But once we cleared that less-than-compelling configuration out of our heads, the vast potential of the site and the opportunities it afforded us to add a grand, water-filled sculpture to our client’s deck in the form of a new pool was both challenging and fun.

I’m uncertain whether he’ll eventually crown the platform with a piece of art, but I have to say we like it the way it sits now, sculpture-free, offering brilliant reflections of the sky and unimpeded water-on-water views from so many more angles than had ever been possible with the old pool. It’s a model of elegant simplicity, another work of art in service to a master collector.

 

Andrew Kaner is president of Aquatic Consultants Inc., Miami, Fla. A graduate of Florida International University (Miami) with a master of landscape architecture degree, he has continued his professional education through Genesis University and is a master in its Society of Watershape Designers. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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