Balancing Act - Less is more in this Southern California watershape

Ludwig Miles van der Rohe, one of the most important architects of the 20th century, created a style defined by extreme clarity and simplicity and was known for his use of the aphorism “ less is more.” This is what beautiful pool design is moving toward. This is why this concrete pool and spa by Verdant Custom Outdoors is an AQUA Choice Award winner. This poolscape doesn’t flaunt every feature modern pools can be outfitted with, but instead brings together the ideal balance of colors, textures and technology, proving that great watershapes reflect van der Rohe’s aesthetic: less really is more.

“The home, done by local architect Tim Golba of Golba Architecture, is a contemporary interpretation of an Italian villa,” says Kate Wiseman, principal designer for the La Jolla, Calif., design/build pool and landscape construction firm. “It’s built from split-face concrete block, exotic hardwoods and large glass panels. In designing the pool and spa, preserving the architect’s original concept was critical. To do this, we wanted to use very clean lines, and we also wanted to mirror the grace and elegance the house had achieved.” Centered off the home’s interior courtyard with a long, straight vanishing edge that takes in the view of San Diego Bay and the city’s downtown skyline, this pool has a dark Hydrazzo finish by Aquavations, which allows for reflections and thereby adds to the serenity of the space.

“Unlike many vanishing-edge pools, the coping on this pool does not return at the ends of the vanishing edge,” says Wiseman. “This was critical for the clean look we wanted to achieve, but was technically very challenging. To prevent water from spilling out of the boundaries of the lower trough, the water tumbles over a rustic rock water wall. The shot-crete structure was tilted inward and the stones were carefully laid to guide the tumbling water back toward the center of the trough.”

The perimeter-overflow spa, which is completely veneered on the interior and exterior in glass tile by Lunada Bay, not only references the form of traditional mill-stone fountains throughout Europe, it also echoes the shape of the overhang above it, though in reverse. “To achieve the desired effect on the spa, which was to create a gentle trickle of drops off the 2-inch sidewall projection, yet maintain a glass-like mirrored top, meant we had to level the overflow edge to within a 1/32-inch tolerance,” says Wiseman.

“Using a rustic glass tile that had natural pitting and variation on the surface added another level of difficulty. To achieve a perfectly level overflow line, we had to painstakingly hand lay every tile, in some cases many times,” adds Wiseman. “In most applications, the water flow could have been increased to reach the mirror-top effect. However, increasing the flow would have had a negative impact on the line of drops falling softly from the spa’s sidewall projection, which needed the lowest flow possible. The right balance between these two elements required the highest level of craftsmanship. The Pentair variable-speed pumps we used allowed us to calibrate the water flow perfectly to achieve this tricky water-in-transit application.”

All of the plantings are drought tolerant, but were carefully chosen for a profusion of flowers. “We used a large variety of plants that are not very common including marmalade bush, yellow oleander, variegated dianella and a variety of Grevillea called Wakiti Sunrise," says Wiseman. “These are paired with more-common but reliable bloomers such as Penstemon, sages and Echium. In order to emphasize the Italian theme of the home and create a greater definition between the home and the public right of way, we installed five 60-year-old field-grown olive trees.”

Verdant Custom Outdoors | Designer: Kate Wiseman | Project Location: La  Jolla, Calif.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’ve made some changes to the AQUA Choice awards. This year, a panel of distinguished judges met along with AQUA editors to choose 11 projects that are outstanding examples of the state of the waterscape art. Each month, an in-depth article and multiple images will help readers understand the design process and learn from the winning project. At the end of the year, a compilation of the best aspects of all the entries will be compiled into the AQUA Idea Book, a resource of examples to show to customers or just to spur your own imagination. The winning companies for 2008 are: Aquafx by Island Land Care, Lake Grove, NY; Crystalview Pool, Spa & Patio, North Vancouver, B.C.; Dr. Spa, Santa Cruz, Calif.; Harmony Ponds, Fairfax, Va.; Maui Waterscapes, Kahului, Maui, Hawaii; San Juan Pools of Charleston, Charleston, S.C.; Tumber & Associates, Orangeville, Ont.; Verdant Custom Outdoors, El Cajon, Calif.; and Wise Pool Company, Conroe, Texas.

Robert Nonemaker is widely known as an expert in landscape and watershape construction and design. He has clients in the U.S. and abroad and he writes for several industry publications and is a member of Genesis 3 Design Group. Nonemaker is the principal of Outerspaces, Inc., a pool and landscape contracting company, and Robert Nonemaker Exterior Designs, a watershape design consultancy.

David Tisherman is principal and founder of David Tisherman’s Visuals, Inc., a watershape design/build firm headquartered in Manhattan Beach, Calif., with offices in Marlton, N.J. Tisherman has won countless accolades for his uncompromising and structurally complex waterscapes. A highly sought-after teacher, Tisherman is a founder and principal of Genesis 3 Design Group. Tisherman works tirelessly to educate the next generation of elite pool designers and promote the highest possible standards for aquatic design, engineering and construction

Lee Anne White is a landscape designer, garden photographer, and writer. She is the former chief editor of Fine Gardening magazine, the editor of numerous books on garden design (including Pool Idea Book and Taunton’s Front Yard Idea Book), and the recipient of three Quill & Trowel Awards from the Garden Writers Association of America.

What the judges said: Bob Nonemaker “This is a great job. It’s not over planted; it’s not under planted. She even picked up the shape of that overhang and reversed it in the spa.”

Lee Anne White “This project reflects a genuine understanding of the geographic location, the site itself and the architecture of the home, thus elegantly bridging the gap between indoors and out. Beautiful materials are used creatively, yet subtly — especially the glass tiles in the spa and the stone in the wall below the pool. The  plantings give the man-made landscape a sense of place, soften the hardscape,  create a variety of areas for relaxing outdoors, and provide permeable areas for rainfall to seep naturally back into the ground, rather than funnel into a drainage system.”

David Tishermann “They thought about the shapes in the house, the materials, the color palette. [The designer] didn’t try to sell them one of everything. “Look at the honesty of the materials: the slab stone walls with the cap works. The steel schedule is good. The step/bench parallel to the long side of the pool frees up the area to swim. All the lighting and plumbing is in this bench, which is a good use of space. The landscaping is soft, elegant and inviting. The textures work well together. It’s just a clean job.”   

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