Desert Deep Purple

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Photos courtesy Red Rock Pools & Spas

The project pictured here required equal parts technical skill, knowledgeable design and raw nerve, explains builder/designer Rick Chafey of Red Rock Pools & Spas in Gilbert, Ariz. Chief among the unusual features is a custom deep-purple pebble finish that, when first installed, made the pool look like a vat of grape jelly, but later softened to a rich and subtle hue that sets this contemporary-style vessel apart from all others.

The most memorable projects often start with the best clients. That was certainly the case for this unusual pool and spa combination, a rapid undertaking that pushed our work into new creative territory and stretched our technical ingenuity.

Our firm, Red Rock Pools & Spas, worked with these clients before to create several waterfeatures and perform landscape design and installation as part of a museum project they sponsored here in the greater Phoenix area. The clients were happy with the results of our work, so when it came time for them to build a new luxury estate home, we were brought in to work on the overall exterior design and, among many other elaborate elements, create a custom swimming pool.

At first glance, the swimming pool and spa combination might not seem that far out of the ordinary. It’s a simple 20-by-40-foot rectangle with a raised attached spa. Although contemporary in all facets, the pool is a little “old-school” in that it’s designed for diving, complete with an eight-and-a-half-foot deep end and a traditional fiberglass diving board. (I’m a big fan of all-shallow pools, but the clients have grandkids and insisted the pool be configured for diving.)

Once you scratch the surface, however, and consider all of the innovative details and dramatic setting, this pool is anything but ordinary or mundane.

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In addition to the unusual purple finish, the project includes a spectacular custom tile mosaic used in the spa, waterline, steps and benches. The spa’s intricate design was based on measurements of the client’s bodies and a complex set of hydrotherapy jets, all to create a visually and physically stimulating hot-water experience.


For starters, the pool is part of an elaborate outside design that features a range of first-class details, including a planting palette comprised of approximately 200 species representing the spectrum of plants indigenous to Arizona. Everything from the perimeter walls to the pathways to the mailbox is designed to harmonize with the new house, which features a contemporary design and just about every luxury amenity imaginable.

The most obviously unusual detail in the swimming pool is its color. Last spring while I was working with the clients on the exterior color palette, I coincidentally attended the first classes offered by Artistic Resources and Training (ART), which happened to cover the use of color pigments in pool and spa finishes. At the time, ART founders Mark Holden and David Tisherman were launching a new associated venture called Artisticolors, through which they would offer custom pigments to program participants. The concept was to make swimming pool plaster available in hundreds of possible colors instead of the handful of standard colors offered by surface material manufacturers.

Although the program wasn’t up and running quite yet, I approached Mark and David about doing some sort of unusual color for this project, which was well underway and proceeding on an accelerated schedule. We already developed a special glass tile blend of purple and tan colors from Lightstreams Glass Tile, so we decided to move in that same direction for the rest of the pool.

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The spa is accessed by a custom set of “levitating” stone platforms, supported by a sturdy steel armature.

I went to Home Depot, pulled a bunch of paint color samples and began studying color and aggregate combinations. We discovered a color called “Darkest Grape,” a deep purple from Behr that was unlike anything anyone involved in the project has ever seen in a pool. We made a sample and shared with the clients who were willing to give it a try.

The clients initially wanted a blue pool — many people do. Yet when looking at the surroundings, purple made more immediate sense. The property is located in an upscale neighborhood with views of nearby Camelback Mountain, which from a distance reads a deep burgundy. In addition, the home’s exterior is partly clad in a copper material with a flat finish and patina, which also introduces reddish hues to the scene. The space includes various tans courtesy of the limestone deck and stone material, all of which also seemed to fit well with purple.

After taking color theory through Genesis 3 (I’m a proud member of G3’s Society of Watershape Designers), I knew water absorbs reds and reflects blue from the sky, meaning the purple color, when viewed through the water, would largely appear blue in appearance, especially in the deeper parts of the pool. We already planned to use using a Pebblesheen finish from Pebble Technology, and they stepped up and created a color card that showed the difference in color gradation based on water depth.

Although we knew the purple pigment blend would be extremely expensive — apparently purple is the most difficult color to reproduce in concrete — the clients were willing to move forward with the bold and costly choice.

Fast forward to the plaster installation, the pigment mixed with the plaster in the pebble finish created an aggressively brilliant shade that was almost shocking when it was troweled into place. As I posted on our company’s Facebook page in the following days, the color choice was “not for the faint of heart.” Despite the almost garish initial appearance of the color, we knew when we removed the cream coat to expose the aggregate and then subsequently filled the pool with water, the color would dramatically soften, which it did beautifully.

When combined with the shimmering presence of the glass tile used in the spa, over the steps, at the waterline and across a swatch of the pool bottom, the final result is a dynamic visual field that, while blue in appearance, still reveals purple in the water’s surface ripples and shifts in appearance as the light changes. When you approach the pool and peer into the water, there’s a tremendously subtle complexity that rewards close inspection and repeated viewings as the light changes throughout the day.

In fact, as we’ve worked on other aspects of the project, the pool has become something of a constant center of attention; both on-site builders and visitors have been fascinated by the dynamic visual results. Fortunately, that adoring audience includes the clients who are thrilled with unusual color choice — a huge relief given the expense and unusual nature of the color choice.

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Because water absorbs the red end of the color spectrum, the purple finish ultimately generates a deep blue color with faint purple hues — a visual scheme that is both intriguing and ultimately inviting.


Although the surface treatments alone set this project apart from the norm, there are a number of other elements that contribute to its unique character.

Spa Treatment:

Located adjacent to the shallow end, the attached/raised, all-tile spa, located adjacent to the shallow end is a story unto itself. It’s set inside a 17-by-17-foot basin that we created during the initial shotcrete installation. We came back later and built the complex, four-sided perimeter overflow spa inside the basin, which is now completely concealed from view by the surrounding deck and step treatment. The spa’s interior features three levels of seating, one for each of the clients, measured for their height, and a third, lower level for taller people.

There are multiple jet configurations from the floor up to the shoulders for maximum comfort and therapy action. Suction is handled via three slot drains that are hidden from view in a toe-kick groove that encircles the entire floor. The spa’s internal dimensions were precisely designed to accommodate the 1 3⁄8-inch tile, which is arranged in a stacked pattern to avoid cuts.

The spa is surrounded by a system of modular steps we call “levitating stones,” which are suspended off the spa structure with a system of structural 316L stainless steel tube and plate. The stones, coping and decks are all comprised of three different colors of Texas limestone.

Water spills over all four sides of the spa into the basin and then flows to the pool via a system of channels that run between the modular stones located between the spa and pool.

Side Steps:

The step configuration in the swimming pool is unusual as well. The steps, all covered in the glass tile, begin on both the deep and shallow and descend down the sidewall of the pool and meet in the center. I like this style of treatment because it doesn’t take up as much functional space in the shallow end as a typical configuration and in this case, it provides easy access from both ends of the pool, which adds a level of comfort and safety, especially in the deep end.

Circulation and Control:

The pool features state-of-the-art equipment, including an in-floor cleaning system by Paramount. The heads are a standard black color, which blends nicely with the deep purple surface. We thought about using the purple as a custom color, but decided to go with the standard units to facilitate replacement down the line. All of the equipment — including three VFD pumps, cartridge filter, ozone system, pH and ORP controller, remote control Screenlogic system, heater and LED lights — are all manufactured by Pentair.

At this writing, the pool is complete with several aspects of the overall project winding down. As it all comes together, we’re more and more satisfied with the bold design decisions we made. The visual results speak for themselves, but it is gratifying to hear the compliments and positive reviews of the work as well.

As for the color purple, it works in this setting, on this pool and for these daring clients. It’s not something we’ll be looking to use on a regular basis, if ever again, but I am excited by the idea of now having a range of custom colors available for future projects.

For now, I’m satisfied that this particular color worked out so well, because as I mentioned above, it’s not for the faint of heart!

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

Due Credits

As is the case for many great projects, the work featured here involved a number of key players:

My business partner at Red Rock Pools and Spas; Brett Blauvelt. Tile was set by Luke and Amy Denny of Alpentile. The Pebblesheen was installed by Cal Plastering. The Exterior/Landscape Design was a collaboration between Red Rock and Rich Ferrero of In2It Design. The overall project design was by TEA2 Architects (Minneapolis.) The pool hydraulics and engineering was by Watershape Consulting, Inc. The plant pallet consultant was Judy Mielke The custom glass tile blend was created for the project by David Knox of Lightstreams Glass Tile. The owners were represented by Sean Conway. 

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