Custom Spas in California's Coachella Valley

0308 88 Southern California's Coachella Valley is a heavily irrigated area in the northern part of the Colorado Desert, bounded on the west by the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and on the east by the Little San Bernardinos. It's home to nine small-but-growing communities, all with populations of less than 100,000, and to Teserra, a custom pool and spa builder in the city of Coachella that's benefited from the valley's population boom.

The area has long been associated with snowbirds and seniors (Bob Hope and Bing Crosby spring to mind), and while golden-agers and refugees from the north still make up a good part of the population, families are moving into the area in big numbers, attracted by its (comparatively) low housing costs and surrounding mountain scenery.

Among the area's residents is Graham Balog, vice president of sales for Teserra, which services the entire region, including the cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and La Quinta.

Balog spoke with AQUA about two of the company's custom projects in La Quinta, both pool and spa combinations, both alongside pricey homes in exclusive developments, and both featuring some of Teserra's unique touches and materials that blend in with both the homeowners' residences and the desert valley mountains that surround them.

The Cramer Project

Located in The Estancias, a development of luxury homes priced from the low $2 millions to the mid-$3 millions in La Quinta, Calif., this pool and adjacent custom spa (pictured at left) were completed in 2007. Though the Cramers are desert-dwellers, Balog says selling them a hot tub to go along with the pool was relatively simple. In fact, he estimates that 95 percent of Teserra's customers wind up with a custom spa.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Do we need a spa in the desert?' But this is almost one of the best environments for a pool/spa combination from the standpoint that the pools are fantastic in the summer, and in the wintertime, the spas are terrific," he says. "You get the chilly evenings and beautiful skylines because the light levels are so low here. There's a strict ordinance on streetlights, so you get a beautiful nighttime view of the stars."

These homeowners, for whom spending a little extra on a hot tub wasn't an issue, now enjoy La Quinta's starry winter nights in a spa capped with simple light broom-finished colored concrete and veneered with stacked Sunset Gold quartzite stone, the same material used on the spillway and on a water feature in the courtyard in front of the home. Inside the spa, eight jets soothe soakers, who occupy seats of varying elevation with 6-inch armrests, all veneered with pebble stone tile for comfort.

"It gives the spa a nice, unique look and a comfortable area to sit on," Balog says. "The people didn't want to worry about snagging bathing suits, or about going in 'in the buff.'" The spillway itself is broken into three sections by locally quarried desert chocolate boulders.

"What'll end up happening is a lot of people will select their colors based on what the surrounding mountains are producing. So, given that it's usually that kind of chocolatey coloration to the mountains around here - they're called the Little Chocolate Mountains - that's the coloration they chose," Balog explains. "People are looking to create a connection between their yards and the nature behind it."

Teserra also used a cobble coping detail to create a rough edge between the pool and the plant materials and blur the line between the natural and the man-made.

"We actually notched the gunite in and then adhered it with natural river cobble," Balog says. "That gives the coping a more-natural edging when it's up against the planting areas. We developed that about a year and a half ago, and it's become quite popular."

But before Balog and company could put any of these finishing touches on the spa, they had to deal with a couple of retaining walls the developer had put on the property. This made the project difficult for a couple of reasons. For one, Teserra had to account for the 16-foot elevation when building the pool and spa, which required them to "engineer the entire pool and spa as a free-standing structure," according to Balog. In addition to that, since they couldn't get the plumbing lines underneath the footing of the retaining wall behind the pool, they had to locate the equipment further away than they'd hoped.

"The challenge was getting the plumbing and creating an efficientenough system to operate soundly," he explains. "The plumbing was all done in 2 1/2-inch suction and return lines coupled with 2-horsepower pumps to maximize the flow and pressure in the jets.

"There are two heaters on this entire system, just because of the size of the pool. What we ended up doing is rather than going through the expense of a third heater dedicated just to the spa itself, through valving we connected it to the jetting control system such that when you turn the spa on, both heaters will fire up and heat it, which is kind of a nice feature." Balog says his favorite part of the project, though, is the view of the spa from inside the home.

"It appears that the spa is actually floating inside the pool because it's surrounded by a moat," he says. "It gives the illusion from inside the house that it's situated inside the water, and the entry is somewhat disguised in that you have a bridge that transports you over that pool to the backside of the spa."

The Weir Project

The owners of this pool and custom spa combo, built at La Quinta's Citrus Country Club, had some pretty solid ideas in mind when they first sat down with the designers at Teserra 10 years ago.

"Their intent was threefold: First and foremost, they were not interested in a swimming pool at all (more on that later). They did want to have a spa however," Balog recalls, adding that the couple were avid golfers and wanted a place to unwind after a day on the course. "They also wanted privacy. Being that they're on a golf course, they wanted to position the spa in a way that would be private but then also serve as an entry water feature into the home."

To accommodate these requests, Teserra situated the spa in a courtyard area between the main house and the guesthouse. As visitors enter the courtyard, they are greeted by tumbling water from the spa's spillway, a water-feature effect that rounded out the clients' want-list.

"They wanted to create kind of an interesting, natural, almost botanicalgarden- type effect in the courtyard, where you'd be able to walk through it, over the bridges, and meander through a very nice, natural water feature in combination with some interesting plantings, which you can see splashed throughout the design," says Balog. "In essence there's a bubbling stream of sorts with a fountainhead that you can see at the back of the project." There's also a fountainhead in front of the spa in the unseen foreground of the photograph.

This natural theme extended to the choice of materials, which included surface-select boulders and the same stone Teserra used on the Cramer pool described above.

"The homeowners wanted something that was similar to a stacked stone, much like you see on the Cramer project, but they wanted to create something that had a little bit more of an architectural detail to it as opposed to the stacked stone, so they went with a stair step.

"Again, it's a situation where people want to bring the natural environment that's surrounding them into their yard, in this case to create kind of a continuation of the golf course and the mountains behind."

One feature that's unique to this spa is the rolled edge on the perimeter of the spa. Balog says the company used a pebble product on it, but later determined that wasn't the best use of the material, which he says is bestsuited for underwater use because of the risk of it cracking in the open air. "This one held up well, and it's a good example of a rolled bond beam, but we wouldn't recommend it any longer," he says.

The spa, 7 feet in diameter and featuring eight jets, seats between four and six adults comfortably. Balog describes the equipment as "pretty typical." It includes a circulation pump, a booster pump for the spa jets and a third pump to drive the two fountainheads. And like Teserra did on Cramer spa, they included a good-sized heater to get the temperature up quickly. Teserra completed the spa and streambed almost 10 years ago, and it stayed that way - pool-less - for a couple of years before the homeowners had a change of heart about one of their initial requests.

"In 2000, we actually chopped off the back end of that water feature and added a pool to it. So it's a pretty extensive project," Balog says. "But as far as the spa, we do so much of this work that it's not a difficult thing for us to produce."

Aside from having to add the pool, Balog says the most challenging part of the project came before the first shovel or dirt was turned.

"Because it is a free-form water feature that's being laid into more of less of a geometric, linear-type area, the layout was critical," he says. "In fact, the layout is the most critical part of any project, generally."

As for the construction work itself, the limited space wasn't a big issue, as the house and guesthouse were only framed when Teserra came in, a situation Balog prefers.

"We primarily focus on doing builder business," he says, "where we have the opportunity to put these types of projects into the construction mode as a whole, and the pool and spa and water feature and landscaping ends up being installed during the course of construction.

"Being that it was tucked into an enclosed area, with the use of nicesized planting areas in relationship to the walkways, the amount of boulders, it just really came out as a nice, comfortable, natural, eye-catching water feature that welcomed their guests into the home."

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