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Restoring the pool and adding a spa to a classic Mid-Century Modern home took care and restraint, observes Jimmy Reed, But his task was made easier by an insightful, cooperative client with excellent tastes, a eye for detail and a healthy spirit of adventure.
Restoring the pool and adding a spa to a classic Mid-Century Modern home took care and restraint, observes Jimmy Reed,  But his task was made easier by an insightful, cooperative client with excellent tastes, a eye for detail and a healthy spirit of adventure.
By Jimmy Reed

In the course of my career, I’ve worked with blue-chip clients from rock stars and professional athletes to Hollywood celebrities and business tycoons.  It may be my sparkling personality, but, realistically, I think it has more to do with the way I have with glass tile and custom mosaics associated with beautiful swimming pools.

My company, Rock Solid Tile of Calabasas, Calif., has worked all over Los Angeles through the years, taking its

skills to every fashionable neighborhood in the city.  Of all the places we’ve worked, none is more ultra-exclusive than Holmby Hills, a 400-acre enclave situated within Bel Air.

The residence I was asked to visit had been designed and built, I was told, in 1973 by the great architect and educator A. Quincy Jones, Jr. (1913-1979), whose career was significantly defined by his long association with developer Joseph Eichler (1900-1974).

For his part, Eichler is known as the father of Mid-Century Modern style of American architecture and contributed more than 11,000 remarkable tract homes to suburban landscapes and subdivisions in California.  Of those, it’s said that about 5,000 were designed by Jones, and it seems that both the architect and the developer shared a passion for building homes that blurred the line between indoors and out.

CUSTOM DIVERSION

Jones also built homes of the non-tract variety on his own, including this 7,500-plus-square-foot split-level house in Holmby Hills.  Eichler may not have played a direct role in its design or construction, but it nonetheless carries all of the hallmarks of the Mid-Century Modern style he and Jones had devised together.

Every one of those “California Modern” Eichler homes begins with post-and-beam interior construction that allows for the use of impressive, floor-to-ceiling glass-panel walls, skylights, indoor atriums and covered patios accompanied by wonderful gardens and, in this case, a swimming pool.  

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The home is a classic in the Mid-Century Modern style, but it’s pool was in need of attention.  We stripped it, squared up its coves and carefully prepared its surface for the precise application of three colors of beautiful glass tile.  (The photo at left, the photo at the top of the article and all photos below by by Douglas Hill, Douglas Hill Photography, Los Angeles)

That pool turned 40 early in 2013 – and so did its traditional plaster floor and walls.  Indeed, the whole 38-by-8-foot watershape was in need of attention and, at the owner’s suggestion, was to be treated like a blank canvas.  

Given my expertise with tile, the initial phase of the project was about squaring up the walls and their transitions to the floor for tiling.  After that, we worked on a number of other cool details, including a grab ledge that runs the full length of the pool on both sides.  We also added a four-foot-long thermal shelf, carrying it into the water with an elegant pair of steps leading down into water that is nowhere more than four-and-a-half-feet deep.

Although I was given the liberty to pursue my own vision, I also enjoyed an open exchange of ideas with the homeowner.

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The revamped pool is still made for swimming, but we updated its functionality by including a thermal ledges and steps that make for easy access to deeper (but not too deep!) water.

A case in point had to do with tile selection:  For the pool’s interior, the owner was focused on an earthen-colored three-quarter-inch glass tile made by Trend USA (Miramar, Fla.).  I was happy with the choice, but I suggested adding two additional colors to the mix to create a custom blend that would bring greater depth and visual texture to the finished product.  She let me know that she trusted my judgment and experience, and we quickly agreed on the three-color blend.

All in all, it was a good, productive working relationship, and the homeowner was involved throughout.  It didn’t take me long at all to recognize that she had impeccable design sense and opinions that became a valuable part of the project as it unfolded.

TOP-DOWN PERSPECTIVE

With the pool’s interior squared up and ready, we began installing tile and the various other features we were adding to bring everything up to date, particularly the thermal shelf and the steps.  This left us with one big remaining challenge in the form of a 14-foot-tall, seven-and-a-half-foot-wide wall that loomed over the pool’s “deep” end.
 
I couldn’t tell exactly how the original wall had been built or how much additional weight it might support, so, in consultation with our engineers, we reinforced it with a thick layer of shotcrete we applied while working on other project details.  This gave us a fresh, reliable substrate for our big idea, which was to finish the wall with a mirror made up of individual glass mosaic tiles.

I don’t know if this is one of a kind, but at the very least it’s a rare application.

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The mirrored wall rising above the homeward side of the long pool is an amazing sight – especially from angles where it’s length is reflected along the surface of the swimming pool.

To make it work, we custom-assembled mirror tiles of different shapes and sizes into grids that flowed as random geometric patterns.  We then transferred each piece to the adhesive bed individually and pressed them all perfectly into place to maintain the appearance we were after – a tricky process with such a large (but nonetheless confined) tile field.

Once we were done, we grouted the entire surface with an epoxy-based grout, doing everything we could to make the surface as water-resistant as possible.

Next we moved up a level in the backyard to work on a hydrotherapy spa that was to be a small circular companion to the long, linear pool, with water being the common feature linking the two spaces together as one large composition.

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The new spa is a fresh addition to the composition and offers a commanding view of the yard and poolscape below.

The homeowner was the visionary in this case.  Back in 1973, Jones had placed a four-foot-deep concrete planter in this space above the big wall, setting it aside for a large palm tree.  At some point in the intervening years, the tree had died – and all there was in the planter when we arrived on site was a big stump.  

The homeowner left the practicalities to us, and we placed a circular, zen-inspired spa next to the old planter with four leather-finished black granite slabs we pieced together as the perfect coping.  The exposed exterior walls were dressed with vertical, quarter-inch-wide strips of basalt in random lengths.  The spa’s interior was finished with more of the three-color blend that had been used in the pool.  

It was a unique collaboration – a creative meeting of the minds – and I will never forget the experience of working with a California classic in a way that enhanced its design personality.  A. Quincy Jones is no longer with us, but his genius defined the space; we simply extended his vision and made it work with all the benefits of modern technology, possibilities and materials.

 

Jimmy Reed is president of Rock Solid Tile, a tile design/installation firm based in Calabasas, Calif. He founded the company in 1985 after spending his teens and early 20s learning the tile-installation trade. In between, he studied design at Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, Calif.) and spent several years working in the entertainment industry.  For the past 20 years, Reed has focused most of his creative energy on designing and installing tile finishes for high-end custom watershapes, a process that has seen him work with some of the industry’s leading designers and builders. He may be reached through his web site:  www.rocksolidtile.com.

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  • Guest - Chuck Baumann

    Jimmy,

    I always learn something new when I read articles that are written so well about our building industry. You especially are a great student of architecture, art and construction. This article starts out talking about Quincy Jones Jr and Joseph Elchler and the talents they shared together…. I have long been a student of the Elchler homes here in the San Francisco Bay Area because of some of the first subdivisions in my home town of Walnut Creek were the Elchler homes. I often admire the way the homes bring the outside of the home inside and how the simple architecture brings to life the home and the outdoors. As I have built swimming pools around the Bay I found that Joseph Elchler built homes in all 4 corners of the bay area and each time I discover a neighborhood that has his hand print on it I feel like I'm back home again.

    What's so interesting to me is that I had no idea that he built in the Southland as well…. here I thought all along that he was our special treasure in the Bay Area. Thanks for sharing your beautiful work and for inspiring our industry. When you and I met on a David Tisherman fishing trip a few years back,I had no idea of the depth of your talents….. Rock on my friend…

    Chuck

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