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The Currency of Beauty

15yearsagoBy David Tisherman

‘Watershaping isn’t a job to me,’ wrote David Tisherman in the March 2002 edition of WaterShapes. ‘It’s my passion, which explains why I’m so obsessed with steel and concrete and water and what I can accomplish with them.’

‘I’m in it,’ he explained, ‘for the craftsmanship (in the European sense of the word) and driven by the desire to create objects of enduring beauty.’ He then continued:

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‘With this mindset, making great art is not about extracting every dollar you can from the client. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that when I meet with clients, I’m not trying to sell them anything. Rather, I’m trying to inspire them with a vision of beauty and help them visualize what we can do with their property. If we decide to work together, it’s because I’m a good fit for them and they’re a good fit for me.’

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‘I start talking right away about their ideas, which tells me a great deal about their interests, their level of awareness of design issues and their degree of engagement with their surroundings. If, for example, they jump right into discussions of a specific architect or a specific style – or if they mention one of the materials in the house that they particularly love – they’ve equipped me with important clues.’

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‘It’s at this point in the process that I get more specific. I start by breaking out my portfolio, which consists of three leather-bound albums filled with dozens of 8.5-by-11-inch, full-framed glossy photos. Two of the albums cover finished projects; the third is on details. There are no templates or cut-and-paste concepts, nor is this a catalog of every job I’ve done in the past 20-odd years: Instead, it’s a selection of projects that best exemplify what I do, in multiple views.’

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‘What I’m looking for as they flip through the books is information about clients’ likes and dislikes. I sort of view my role in this early stage as that of an investigative psychologist: I’m looking for the truth about my clients’ needs and what’s right for what is, after all, their environment and lifestyle.’

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‘As we go, I also break out a pad of paper and a set of pencils and pens. Then and there, I begin sketching out ideas and helping my clients grasp what words can only attempt to describe. It is this artistic visualization and our ability to begin seeing things together that is the basis of our working relationship, right from the start. If we can’t get to the point where they start to visualize, it just won’t work.’

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‘That’s what it’s all about: What my clients are buying from me is a creative visualization of what they can have. Through my experience and the sense I’ve developed about what they want, I show them something beautiful and allow the work to stand for itself. That doesn’t mean we have to build an all-tile pool to make me or my banker happy: It’s about designing something that’s right for my clients and helping them see it.’

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‘If you can agree with me so far,’ he concluded, ‘then it all boils down to this: Aesthetics are the real currency in the process of creating quality watershapes, and they take precedence over everything. Good clients will see that immediately.’

David Tisherman has crusaded against a “sales mentality” in watershape design and construction throughout his career. Do his words here resonate with the approach you use with your clients? Or is the business too difficult these days for the sort of deliberate avenues he pursues? Please share your thoughts below.


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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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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