Fire and Rain

Michael Popke Headshot
All photos courtesy of Liquid Evolution Pools
All photos courtesy of Liquid Evolution Pools

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John Smieszek built homes before he built pools. But because nearly every single one of his home projects in the Scottsdale, Ariz., market includes an aquatic design component, he quickly realized he needed to take matters into his own hands.

“As the home builder, I was responsible for hiring the pool builder and every other trade — and managing them — and I just wasn’t having luck finding a pool builder who was doing the upper-level, refined, high-end work that would complement the house properly. So we just started doing it,” says the owner and founder of Liquid Evolution Pools in Scottsdale, Ariz. “That’s how it started, and it has grown into a boutique solution. We don’t build many pools, but every pool we build is complex and tricky, and that’s what we stick to.”

“Complex” and “tricky” are two ideal words to describe Smieszek’s elegant work. And for a perfect example of that, take a look at the custom project he built in a trendy Arcadia, Ariz., neighborhood, which took gold in the 2018 APSP Awards of Excellence.

Style and simplicity define the look of this 34.5-by-17.5-foot pool, which features a raised spa and shotcrete-formed grotto with a stainless-steel rain curtain beneath a glass-tile overflow, topped by a 12-foot-long submersible fire system that Smieszek says ignites a backyard Vegas vibe.

Designed by renowned Arizona landscape design firm Refined Gardens to complement a custom home built by Brimley Development, the pool is the result of the homeowner wanting something “off the handle,” according to Smieszek. “Kudos to Refined Gardens for the great concept. We took their design and figured out how to do it.”

Construction took place in two phases. The grotto surround and the upper-level spa had to be formed on top of the pool before Liquid Evolution’s crews could add rebar, plumbing, gas and shotcrete to the raised area. The coordination was tricky, Smieszek says, but he was up to the challenge.

Adding to the dramatic setting is the Bisazza glass tile, Pebble Fina interior, a mist system and deck jets. But the eye-catching submersible fire system is one water feature Smieszek hadn’t previously attempted. He sourced parts from Las Vegas, and a local gas company with experience in underwater fire performed the installation.

“I don’t know everything, but I certainly know how to find the people who do,” Smieszek says. “Thankfully, they had done this type of work many times over, and that made all the difference.”


All photos courtesy of Liquid Evolution Pools


Among the most notable details about this project is the extensive use of Pentair products. “Every pump, every filter, the heaters, the lighting, the automation — it has a pretty extreme stack of Pentair equipment,” Smieszek says.

That stack includes multiple IntelliFloXF® VSF variable speed and flow pumps to address high propulsion demands, as well as Clean & Clear® Plus Cartridge Filters and a 100,000-BTU MasterTemp® natural gas heater.

Automation is handled by Pentair’s IntelliTouch® i9+3 + i10 expansion control with 16 relays and a 10-function spa-side control, while six Pentair GloBrite® LED lights illuminate this dream backyard.

Pentair has been Smieszek’s go-to supplier for just about every key component since he began building pools in 2003.

“Those are the only products I’ve bought in those categories, because they are that good,” he says. “I just remodeled, to a pretty massive extent, the fifth pool I built, which was about 15 years old. I actually reused some of the Pentair pumps. They were still running, and the owner didn’t want to spend the money to replace them. Now — all these years later — they’re running a brand-new pool without any problems. I’m totally impressed.”

Smieszek also says he uses Pentair products on his own pool, citing the manufacturer’s fast response times with warranty-related issues and equipment’s overall longevity. “They just work, and that’s why I use them,” he says.


All photos courtesy of Liquid Evolution Pools


All told, the two-phase Arcadia project took about eight months from start to finish, and it was completed in 2017.

“It’s definitely unique, and we hadn’t done one exactly like that before,” says Smieszek, who as a kid growing up in the Chicago area would create unusual projects at home out of Lincoln Logs and Legos. “But all of our projects fit that ‘unique’ category. We always strive to build the best quality projects and use the very best equipment that’s available, and that’s consistent throughout everything we do.”

Smieszek’s home building business now completes one or two homes per year, while Liquid Evolution Pools builds between 15 and 30 pools per year. Both businesses generate about an equal amount of revenue, he says.

“The magic of what I’ve done is that I now work for a variety of home builders, because I know what they want and I know exactly how to interpret their projects; we’ve become a good solution for a lot of those guys,” Smieszek says. “We’re a small, very boutique company, and we’re just out to do neat things.”

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