The Element of Water

By staff December 1, 2002

Water. Earth's life-giving element. Precious resource. Water tumbling over river rocks and cascading into clear pools fascinates the eye and captivates the senses. Waterfalls excite while tranquil ponds inspire reflection. Water compels us to create and imagine. And some will pay spectacular sums to capture its essence and possess its beauty-right in our own backyards.

Plopping a geometric concrete shell in the earth and filling it with a hose was yesterday's version of pool design. But that concept no longer holds water. Landscape designer Lee Miller prefers to think of pools as outdoor living spaces with places to dine, sit in the shade, splash, entertain and exercise. "The new pool no longer just lies flat on the ground," says Miller. "Pools must work with house and yard and elevation in a unified design."

An example is a Casey Key estate pool area created by Miller to extend the eye and open the home's interior to the outdoors. An oversized square spa on the same level as the living room features a negative edge so that water appears to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Actually, the runoff cascades dramatically down stair steps to the patio's lower level, which showcases a large swimming pool with a second negative edge creating the same illusion. A swim-up bar allows overflow to spill into a catch basin, designed as a large fountain spraying water into a fantastic arc pattern. Massive lion fountains guard the entry, and extremely shallow sun shelves allow sunbathers to stay cool in just inches of water. Swim-outs, built-in seating and shaded areas eliminate the need for patio furniture while the spa's proximity to the house offers privacy and a sense of seclusion.

"This pool has turned any number of heads, been considered for a film location and added $1million to the price of the home," says Miller. "More and more clients are designing lavish backyards, creating private resorts right out back by building these pools."

That's what Alan and Diane Kasow did on Siesta Key, creating a tropical paradise with an elevated pod-style home reminiscent of open-air stilt huts in Bali. A koi pond in the entry beckons guests beyond to a deep blue rectangular pool surrounded by stone and stretching into infinity. Philippe Nahon of Elite-Weiler Pools describes the design as a luxurious negative-edge with dark blue finish and simulated stone decking. The Kasows call it a slice of paradise. "We were inspired through travels to Indonesia," says Alan. "Our beautiful pool completes that picture."

Watermark Ponds owner Bill Waterman creates Shangri-La settings for homeowners from Tampa to Boca Grande. He recently created an enormous 100-foot by 75-foot koi pond with tropical landscaping for a client and thought the $42,000 job was impressive-until he looked over the wall into the next door neighbor's yard. "This guy works for Disney, and I'm assuming he hired some of Disney's contractors," says Waterman. "He had a wide man-made river, complete with currents, encircling his house. You could sit in an inner tube and hold a drink in one hand and just float around in a huge circle all day. And there were bridges and a gazebo and different paths and walkways with a iled entry to his river. This was a private water park."

Warren Sapp of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted a waterfall in his backyard. Lee Kim of Kim's Waterfall Creations and Landscaping drew up plans and got the thumbs up for a cascading torrent inside Sapp's three-story screened pool room. The waterfall has a 16-foot vertical drop and is over 30 feet wide. Currently, Kim is creating multiple ponds and pools for a homeowner in Lakewood Ranch yearning to live in a lush jungle setting complete with lagoon. The waterscape involves several fountains and a lengthy expanse of waterfall in lieu of a privacy fence. Design costs have exceeded $250,000, but Kim says his clients do not ask how much. "If you have to ask," he warns, "you probably cannot afford."

Cutting-edge pool design certainly steps up dollar flow. Nick Serino of Living Water Enterprises says a $100,000 price tag for a high-end pool is not unusual, and many clients spend more than twice that amount to create the swimming hole of their dreams. His most lavish project to date? "We built two pools for a client on Lakeshore Drive, right on Sarasota Bay," says Serino. "The first is 35 feet in length and elevated so the water drops into the second pool, which measures 33 feet. There is a swim-up wet bar with stools built right into the pool and a glass-block spa. One pool is for the children to play in while the second pool is designed for entertaining." The complete space contains more than 10,000 square feet of patio, and this was the first swimming pool in Sarasota to incorporate fiber optic lighting.

"You should see the place at night," says Serino. "The effect is spectacular."

Whatever water features someone can dream up, designers can deliver. Bette Case of Creative Concepts is a custom pool designer and consultant with dozens of jaw-dropping examples of phenomenal waterscapes. "Raised rock waterfalls and caves with bars inside the cave and waterfalls concealing the entrance are just the beginning," Case says. "I worked on a pool with walkways connected to upper balconies and a spa suspended above the pool, spilling water over a circular bar. One client in a wheelchair wanted to swim behind his waterfall. We designed a beach entry into the pool so he just rolls the chair in and pushes off. A bench seat was placed behind the aterfall so he has a resting place, and we designed a skylight in the eiling so he could look up and see the sun or the stars."

A Bird Key resident wanted a blue-bottom pool, so Case selected ne-inch royal blue tiles with ebony grout and black flashing. A Siesta Key client wanted her pool to reflect vivid color, so Case located a local artist to create multi-colored hand-painted pool tiles for the desired splashy effect. Yet another pool on Longboat Key boasts a mosaic tile design in shades of green and blue and teal with matching grout. Looking past the pool to the Gulf of Mexico, the eye detects no color difference.

Telescopic fountains in courtyard entries, built-in benches and ables for seating in the shallow end and stone spas are all possibilities.

Case custom-designed fixed pedestals with stepping stones across the pool for a Prestancia homeowner who grew impatient with having to walk around the swimming pool, placed directly in the center of her courtyard-style home. A home in the Oaks features a manmade pond with spray heads along each side. With the touch of a button, water arcs up and over, creating a dramatic display. Duly impressed, another Oaks resident commissioned a fountain for her garden featuring water cascading down from three tiers and splashing into a black-bottom pool at the base.

Case designed Monica Seles' pool at her home in Laurel Oak, complete ith aqua-colored glass blocks, built-in benches and tables and spa

therapies targeted for hip and ankle. "She wanted to be able to turn her pool heaters on from remote locations," explains Case, "so we designed a dial-up system that allows her to control the heaters by telephone from other countries."

"The possibilities right now are truly amazing," says Nahon. "We are reating an increased number of negative-edge pools for waterfront homes that appear to connect with the Gulf or bay, and the effect is outstanding. Customers want rocks and caves with waterfalls or moats with bridges that connect separate pools. We're designing a pool right now with a slide that starts from the upstairs balcony and finishes in the deep end. Another customer wanted a 70-foot lap pool and separate spa, tiled in multiple tones to resemble latticework." Advanced technology and state-of-the-art equipment such as surge tanks, salt water chlorine generators, in-floor cleaning systems, digital temperature read-outs and frangible walls lift limitations on pool size and shape and inspire imagination.

"The standard rectangular swimming pool that measures 15 by 30 is history," says Nahon. "We are building enormous free-form monsters, waterfront pools with 36 feet of negative edge and circular pools elevated above the ground. Finishes are superior, with the new aggregates in colors like azure and cobalt and natural stone. Water features such as lights and fountains can be controlled from the interior of the home, and water designs are becoming increasingly ore sophisticated. Luxury homes priced in the millions demand pools and ponds that create an equally impressive splash." 

Water Feature Glossary 

Vanishing Edge 

Dramatic and highly stylized, a vanishing edge pool looks as if water flows beyond actual pool boundaries and drops off into another body of water or empty space. Water is actually lapping over the vanishing edge into a concealed drain or gutter below the lip of the pool, and the illusion is visually stunning. Also called a negative edge, disappearing edge or zero edge. The design is especially effective for pools on waterfront or pools built into sloping property, such as mountainside homesites. 

Sheer Descent 

A special piece of pipe with baffles is placed in a raised shell or wall above pool to create a waterfall that sluices down the barrier and

creates a sheer descent of water. Size varies from modest six or 12-foot widths to walls of water spanning the length of your home. 


Also called a mister, this costly option creates a rain forest

effect of low-lying vapor that hovers a few feet above the pool surface. A bead of piping is run through flexible hose and concealed beneath a cantilevered pool edge. When activated, warm water flows through the hose and gets converted to steam before its release. Foggers are very popular with natural pools built to look like ponds. 

Fiber Optic Lighting 

Pool water is illuminated and perimeter edges defined through the se of fiber optics. Strands of cable run at different depth penetrations are reflected through a magnifying lens. High level systems change water color to seven different shades. Perimeter lighting is often buried inside glass block edges for enhanced refraction and magnification. Spectacular after dark.

Beach Entry

In lieu of steps, a gentle sloping grade resembling a natural horeline provides access to the swimming pool. Toddlers can sit and splash in six inches of water, and the pitch is perfect for beach chairs. 

Wet Deck 

Water overflows all sides to create this extreme pool design. Pool dges are flush with surrounding deck and a concealed gutter captures water as it laps over sides. A sophisticated pressure system returns water to pool to maintain proper balance. 

Flush-mount Jets 

Single streams of water or fan sprays arcing over deck and into pool re visually appealing and great fun. Heads are flush-mounted into the pool deck and activated manually or on a timer. Pressure can be regulated to create modest gurglers or fantastic fountains. 


A mixture of air and water is forced from openings in the floor of

the shallow end to create a bubbling, roiling effect on the surface of the pool. Works wonderfully in lap pools and spas. 


This polished marble product is smooth to the touch and glistening ith fragments that look like shiny quartz crystals. Select from gorgeous colors like turquoise and silver green. 

Pebble Tech 

Tumbled stone with natural little pebbles in a full spectrum of ature's own colors enhances pools built to blend into the landscape. This hot new finish eliminates the need for waterline tiles and works beautifully with stone surrounds, rock waterfalls and slate patios. 


Spilling quietly over rock formations or pouring forth with the ntensity of Niagara, the waterfall is a top water feature in pool design.

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