Designing Hugh Hefner’s Grotto

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A Look At The CoverEarlier this month, my very close friends, Suzanne and Ron Dirsmith, published a wonderful book about their experiences working with Hugh Hefner designing much of his famous Playboy Mansion West. I’ve known the Dirsmiths nearly twenty years now and have witnessed the challenges they’ve faced in bringing this work to print, an effort that’s stretched over well more than a decade. Thanks to Amazon, it’s finally available. 

Titled “Inside Hefner’s Pleasure-Domes: Designing Xanadu for an American Icon,” the book chronicles the, at times, grueling process of designing for Hefner, who although an affable client was also a true perfectionist and extraordinarily discerning. Despite the fact that the story takes place more than 40 years ago, the Dirsmith’s account stands as a timeless example of working at the highest level, a process defined by creativity, ingenuity and patience.

Naturally, any mention of the Playboy Mansion will for many people immediately evoke images of nude women and lavishly decadent bacchanals. If that’s what you’re looking for, this book is not for you. By the same token, if it’s an examination of the design process you’re after, the narrative is vastly informative and rewarding.

Not only do the Dirsmith’s describe the technical aspects of creating features, such as the famous swimming pool grotto, they dig deep into the motivations, influences and spirit behind their designs. In many ways, it is a deeply personal account.

I am admittedly biased. Suzanne and Ron are among my most cherished friends, people I value greatly on both a professional and personal level. As a writer covering the aquatic design industry for the past 26 years, I can say as objectively as possible, this book should be regarded as an important chapter in the history of the pool and spa industry.

One could easily argue that the freeform, rocky design of the pool gave rise to an entire genre of pools featuring naturalistic elements. Although common today, when it first appeared at the Playboy Mansion in 1972, the design was revolutionary — even subversive. Nowadays, the mansion and the pool stand as one of, if not the, most photographed ever, rivaled only by the pools at Hearst Castle in terms of influence and exposure.

The book is available in three different formats on Amazon as print-on-demand books as trade paperback, either in black and white or full color, or downloadable as a full-color ebook, readable on Kindle, Apple, Tablets, Notebooks, PCs or any other digital reader.

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