Brilliant Disguise

Over the years, AQUA's covers and feature stories have showcased some of the most breathtaking and envyinducing backyards in the world. These pricey pools, high-end hot tubs and gorgeous water gardens run the gamut in size, shape and composition, but one trait nearly all of them share is their backyard location. Last year, two prominent designers teamed up to design a project for a Greenwich, Conn., customer's front yard. (There was already a pool in back, of course. And as a matter of clarification, the front yard is better described as a court yard.)

"The garden designer is Anthony Archer-Wills, and as you know, he does a lot of interesting things with rock," says Janet Lennox Moyer, who you might say does interesting things with lights if you were prone to understatement. These two worked on the project together, with ArcherWills handling the garden design and Moyer taking care of the lighting. While lighting is almost an afterthought for some projects, that certainly wasn't the case in this one. Archer-Wills got Moyer involved from the get-go to make sure the scene was as exciting at night as it was in the day.

"What he was doing in this entire front courtyard area, from the parking area to the front door, is making the whole thing a water feature," Moyer explains. "And because he was making this whole thing a water feature, he wanted the underwater garden to become an important element at night. The focus would be above the water during the day and beneath the water at night, so the viewer's experience switches to below the water during the night."

But most builders don't have clients that need courtyard water gardens, nor ones that can afford to hire help like Moyer and Archer-Wills.

Can they still incorporate some of the ideas the designers used in this project in their own work.

"Oh, sure," Moyer says. "You have to be willing to get into the water is the only thing, because there's no way to aim these without getting in the water."

In addition to a willingness to get wet, Moyer points out a few other factors to consider before diving into a project like this, including early planning, specifying the fixtures and where and when to aim the lights to get the desired effect. Moyer shares her ideas on those topics and more for builders who'd like to try their hand at a project like the one she and Archer-Wills did.


This project is actually a pond, not a pool, and it's not intended for recreation. That's important, Moyer says.

"Clearly this kind of design is not appropriate for swimming pools or any water feature where people will actually be in the water," she says, "because the fixtures are not protected from the people and the people are not protected from the fixtures. Besides, these fixtures are not rated for swimming pools."

That's why, Moyer says, the homeowner and the designers had to clarify what the vessel would be used for before they were given clearance by the inspector.

"When the local inspector first saw this water feature, he wanted to call it a swimming pool," she says. "And Anthony and the general contractor and the owner had to convince him that it was not a swimming pool, which it clearly isn't."

For this project, Moyer specified base-mounted fixtures that are infinitely adjustable, a feature that will come in handy in the latter stages of the project.

"I used MR16 lamps and there's a huge variation in wattage and beam spread, everything from a 10-degree to a 60-degree lamp," she says. "So you've got quite a range of flexibility in lighting different objects from different distances.

"The big issue about underwater is that the medium of water kind of disperses the light, so you have to use more power than you would normally. I normally say that outside of water, all you need is 20 watts. But the lamp I chose is EYC, and an EYC is a 75-watt lamp. So it takes considerably more wattage underwater."

Another major consideration is the bottom. Although it's a pond and not a pool, it does have a cement bottom underneath the large stone slabs that form the walkway above the pond and the smaller stones, which hide the lights' wires and sometimes the lights themselves.

"This is a stone bottom, and so it's going to stay very clean when the filtration system is working," she says. "Without a dirt bottom you can keep the water clean and so the features that you want to show under the water can be lit."


Pool builders are accustomed to project planning, as every detail down to the location of light niches is carefully plotted. That kind of precision planning is not possible for a project like this one for a number of reasons, according to Moyer.

"You can try to plan the lighting before the water is added, but there are two problems," she explains. "One is that the water will change the distribution of light, and the second problem is that these fixtures are submersible-rated. They're not supposed to be turned on when they're outside of the water, so you can't turn them on for very long out of the water, and it's a little premature to try to aim them before they're in the pond."

That doesn't mean planning ahead isn't required. You may not know exactly where the lights are going to go and in what direction they'll be pointed, but you will have to make some rough guesses before the rocks and water are put into the pond.

"The transformer and all of the connections must be out of the water, because water and electricity don't really mix well," Moyer says. "So in trying to figure out the location of these, it had to wait until all the major structure [of the pool] was done. If you look at the picture (see picture, left), you see a little pipe sticking out of the rock on the left side. That's some of our conduit. So we had to guess where we'd need power to be going and then I had to locate all those fixtures while the pond was empty.

"We had to do all the wiring, make all our connections, then we could turn it on once they started filling the pool up. So making all those guesses and hiding all the wires was the tricky part."

Since the planners didn't want any of the wires or fixtures to be visible, they had to walk around the area after initially placing the fixtures and move or hide any lights or wires they could see. Archer-Wills and Moyer did another round of inspections once the lights were covered with water, this time to eliminate any harsh brightness from the fixtures.

"So there was a little more fussing with them and aiming to get the right lighting effect," Moyer says.


As Moyer pointed out above, there's no way to effectively light underwater features — whether it's the plantings and rocks illuminated in this project or any other elements you'd want to light in your own — without turning on the water and getting in. Initial placement is one thing, but the fine-tuning involves self-immersion.

At this point, Archer-Wills and Moyer both found themselves in the water, adjusting the angles of the light fixtures and obscuring them with rocks. Many of the lights are tucked under the three slabs of rock that traverse the pond and take visitors from the parking area to the front door of the house. Those didn't need hiding. Others required piles of baseball-sized and smaller stones to hide them and to stabilize the ones that were placed at awkward angles. And in one case, the design team had to specially place a larger rock to hide one of the lights Moyer had placed.

"Anthony placed a larger rock in one spot because we wanted to hit some surfaces (see diagram on page 36), and if you look at where the arrows are pointing, there was really nowhere to do it," Moyer says. "So he accommodated me in that case. But that's the only place he accommodated me, other than putting some of the smaller rocks in the water once we had located the fixtures." In water that was first just below her knees, Moyer found herself racing to get the direction of the lights just right. "By the time I was done, it was up above my hips," she says. "It was filling up fast."

Moyer says despite the rapidly rising water, final placement, hiding and aiming the lights was relatively simple. "These fixtures, because they're just sitting on the pool bottom, you can pick them up and move them around, you can locate them anywhere you want," she says. "So it's a relatively simple way of doing underwater lighting."

With most of the project completed, Moyer had to wait for the pond's filtration system to clear the water so she could make any necessary adjustments. This would be done, she says, in water that's about up to her shoulders.

"Right now there's some kind of particulate in the water that's capturing the light, so you're seeing the effect of the murkiness of the water," she says. "When it's all done the light will go through the water and you won't see any of the water itself [at night]."

What you will see when the sun goes down and Moyer's lights go up is Archer-Wills' masterful underwater garden. "He built this entire world beneath the water," Moyer says. "And the three big rocks are ringed with an LED submersible strip light.

"The owner has, essentially, three different scenes. There's the scene with the underwater lights turned on. There's the scene with just the above-water lighting around the pool turned on, which can be fixtures on the porch and uplit trees and even fixtures in the house. And the third scene would be just turning on the lights along the walkway through the middle of the pond."

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