By Randy Beard
Sometimes watershaping is so much fun that it seems less like a job than a labor of love.
That was absolutely the case with the watershape pictured here: I was given free rein to do exactly what I thought was needed in collaboration with great clients and a wonderful project team on a spectacular property. And as if that wasn’t good enough, we ran into virtually no problems along the way, even though we were working in a city sometimes known for setting obstacles in the way of ambitious designs.
We at Pure Water Pools (Costa Mesa, Calif.) get involved in numerous custom projects every year, and the work just seems to get more creative, interesting and satisfying as we move along. I’m not willing to say we’ve peaked by any stretch of the imagination, but it feels good to think that this may well be our best work to date – and at the very least is worthy of being considered as such.
The objective, as is often the case in great projects, was quite straightforward: We were to create a swimming pool worthy of the beautiful setting and the home’s wonderful architecture while keeping things as clean and simple as possible. If I do say so myself, I think we hit all of those notes in perfect harmony.
SPIRIT OF THE CITY
First, let’s consider the location. This property sits atop a hillside in Laguna Beach, Calif., overlooking the city as well as whitewater views of the ocean. The homes all around are quite elegant, most of them in distinctly Contemporary styles.
The city itself is truly one of a kind – an upscale seaside resort that boasts more than 200 art galleries and is home to multiple arts festivals throughout the year. Everywhere you turn, you’re confronted by art, water, great shopping, fine restaurants and large quantities of people living the good life.
|Everything about this project fell right into place from the start. From the staggeringly beautiful setting (and wonderful access that allowed us to get drilling rigs onto the site with ease) to the entire process of installing the piles and grade beams to support the pool, it was about as close to ‘simple’ as a project of this scope and complexity could be.|
My wife Martha and I live down the road in Costa Mesa and have long considered Laguna Beach to be one of our favorite places to be. Numerous well-known architects have lived and worked in this special place, and driving in the hills is akin to taking an unguided tour of the very best in modern residential architecture.
The clients are as interesting as the place they chose to build their dream home. They live most of the year in a stately, historic edifice in Frankfurt, Germany. Although they love the place, they’ve long been frustrated by the fact that local building codes won’t let them express themselves as they would if given the opportunity.
I first met them about 11 years ago, after they’d purchased a place up the coast a ways in Newport Beach with the thought in mind that they could finally get creative. They had no idea in acquiring the property that Newport Beach had rules almost as restrictive as the set they were trying to escape: Although we built a beautiful, highly customized pool for them, it was clear that they were frustrated that they couldn’t make their new home be the personal expression they dreamed it would be.
|The watershape has a roughly rectangular appearance, but it’s actually a trapezoid that made us take special care in setting the forms and getting every angle just right. But again, everything went smoothly through all of the preparatory stages, including the process of bringing all the plumbing runs together for a crowded approach to the equipment room.|
Jumping ahead several years, they purchased five acres of prime real estate in Laguna Beach – one of the largest lots in the city. The house had been designed by Fred Briggs, an architect and local legend who passed away a few years ago. His legacy can be seen all over the city not only in projects he pursued, but also in the ones he inspired.
The architecture of my clients’ home might best be called Contemporary, but it’s mainly just unique – a Minimalist approach that’s both modern and rustic at the same time and uses weathered materials from rusted I-beams to reclaimed wood siding and tarnished metal roofing. The key for us was that the home also makes extensive use of a distinctive quartzite stone that blends beautifully with the surrounding chaparral landscape.
Making further use of the large parcel, the owners are currently engaged in developing another home on the site in collaboration with another well-known local architect, Anders Laster, who is following the pattern established in the main house by Briggs.
LABOR OF LOVE
We entered the picture about a year ago, having been told we had carte blanche in creating a watershape to befit the setting.
While Laguna Beach isn’t quite as intrusive when it comes to construction projects as either Newport Beach or Frankfurt, we knew from local reports and experience that building here can often be a rough-and-tumble proposition. The real estate is so valuable and the environment so precious that almost any square foot of land can become the subject of dispute. Indeed, neighbors often contest building plans, and there have been situations in which projects have stalled for years (or been abandoned completely) as a result of disputes.
|All of the stone and tile materials were carefully selected to make the pool, deck and walls harmonize visually with the property’s hillside surroundings and the native chaparral landscape that flows up and down the coastal canyons of this part of California.|
This was not the case here: Both the architect’s firm and mine are well established in the area and well known to building officials, and we knew that if we moved forward with confidence, precision and speed, we were unlikely to encounter any serious obstacles.
More important still, the clients had complete confidence in the design/construction team, so even though they were enthusiastically involved in the entire design process, they let us do what we thought best every step of the way, always with their approval. To sustain that trust, we communicated with the clients almost daily via e-mail, sending along a constant stream of three-dimensional computer renderings that helped them visualize various spaces.
What emerged was a project of great technical complexity but graceful visual simplicity. At first glance, for example, the pool appears to be a rectangle, but it’s actually a trapezoid with no right angles – a configuration we picked up to echo the balconies that overhang the pool area.
|As a safety measure, we played a bit with the configuration of the overflow system at the end of the pool at which we placed the shallow lounging area. Here, the vanishing-edge trough is just below deck level; where the thermal ledge breaks, the pool deepens and so does the trough – with such a substantial drop that it adds the sound of a waterfall to the space.|
The pool itself rises above grade by 20 inches and overflows across its entire perimeter. Monolithic in appearance, two of its sides work as classic vanishing edges, while the other two flow down into narrow deck-level slots. We chose this configuration for two reasons: First, the raised profile gave the watershape a distinctly sculptural appearance that harmonized with the home’s bold architecture. Second, raising the pool enabled us to use the vanishing edges on the pool’s far side to direct viewers’ eyes to the city below and to sweeping ocean views beyond.
On the deck side, the water flows over the edge and drops down to an almost-imperceptible slot leading to a gutter completely concealed by the deck material. On the other side, the water flows over the vanishing edge and into a catch basin that wraps around the two outer edges of the pool. Here, the water flows in such a way that it creates a waterfall effect that fills the space with the soothing sound of falling water.
(Speaking of “falling water,” I borrowed liberally from the swimming pool Frank Lloyd Wright designed at Fallingwater in the 1930s – particularly with respect to the lateral step treatment seen inside the pool.)
Beyond the pool’s basic trapezoidal configuration, we used its finishes to tie it together with the surroundings.
The pool’s edges and raised walls, for example, are finished in a simple, chocolate-brown ceramic tile – a choice we made to complement the rusted I-beams and weathered wood siding. In addition, the tile presents a durable, easy-to-clean surface that withstands the broad temperature variations occurring when the edge system turns on and off.
For their part, the deck and edge walls are finished in the same quartzite used on the lower walls of the house. We were aware, of course, of how dramatically different this material looks when wet compared to dry – and of the fact that the house and the faces of the pool’s vanishing edges and trough system are clearly visible from the city below. Even at a distance, the stone and tile make a wonderfully harmonious statement against the backdrop of the surrounding natural landscape.
|In all of its rustic charm, the home now seems to float on its stone base – and is, in fact, in plain view from the city below, which drove us to make every visual detail work to perfection.|
Back on top of the hill, the pool’s interior is finished in a material from Beadcrete (glendale, Ariz.) that has the look of a pebbled surface but is smooth to the touch. The chosen color – a dark blue/gray – was selected to mirror the appearance of the ocean and was installed by Alan Smith Pool Plastering of Orange, Calif.
The pool and the surrounding deck area are supported by a complex system of piles and grade beams. Given the challenging geology and the fact that the hilltops are gradually migrating downhill toward the ocean, the home and poolscape are essentially freestanding on a massive substructure. The architect handled the engineering and structural design for us, and construction was made easy by wonderful access and our ability to bring in two big auger rigs. Again, although this process was enormously difficult by any standard, all went forward smoothly and seamlessly.
As suggested above, the home is used only a couple of months during the year, generally through the summer months. Both of the clients are regular swimmers and love lounging and playing in the water with their grandchildren – meaning the 70-foot-long, 18-foot-wide pool not only had to be beautiful, but also fully functional.
|Spectacular at all times, day and night, the watershape takes on a special visual energy when there’s color in the sky that makes the surface glow as an amazing mirror to the home’s flawless surroundings.|
To the right side of the pool (as you face the ocean) is a 12-by-12-foot spa that is basically indiscernible from the rest of the pool. The large size was dictated by the fact that both of the clients are quite tall and wanted to be able to stretch out as well as accommodate multiple bathers. The spa is adjacent to the pool’s eight-foot deep end – unusually deep these days, but the clients wanted it that way.
On the other end of the pool, we created an echoing 12-by-12-foot thermal shelf as both a lounging area and as a shallow play area for children. The shelf is topped with quartzite – another means of tying everything together visually. We battered the inside edge of the longing area to create an easy visual transition to the overflow slots while also making the shelf more comfortable for reclining.
We all agree that the pool is large for its space, but that, too, was a deliberate decision: As mentioned above, the clients are currently in the design phase of creating an adjacent house that will be connected to the pool area via a bridge, so everything was scaled with that expanded purpose and access in mind.
The equipment required to run the watershapes is located in a dedicated room on the home’s lower floor. The set is appropriately simple and direct, with pumps and diatomaceous-earth filters from Pentair Water Pool & Spa (Sanford, N.C.) and a saltwater chlorination system from Goldline Controls (North Kingston, R.I.) equipped with an automatic muriatic acid feeder.
As artistic and upscale as this project is, the whole composition is remarkably simple and the entire process of putting in all in place was a model of smooth precision. At no point did significant problems arise; the city left us to our business; change orders were a non-factor; and the clients loved what they saw emerging almost as much as they love the results.
Projects such as this are never truly easy, but this one at least seemed to be, every step of the way: great clients, a great team and a spectacular setting, all in an environment that encouraged complete creative freedom. As we see it, watershaping just doesn’t get any better than this!
Randy Beard operates Pure Water Pools, a construction/service firm based in Costa Mesa, Calif. He was working in the entertainment industry when he started a pool service business as a sideline. Before long, he and his partner (wife Martha Beard) expanded their base by purchasing Pure Water Pools from another technician. As the route grew, they dropped their other jobs and focused entirely on the pool business as small repairs led to big repairs, big repairs to remodels, and remodels to new construction. Each year, the projects became more creative and technically challenging. Today, the firm works with many of the area’s leading architects and landscape architects to create a range of custom watershapes for upscale commercial and residential clients.