Lap of Luxury

By staff December 1, 2005

Beautiful, sparkling water has an uncanny power to inspire and soothe the human spirit, and our miles of sun-drenched waterfront have lured residents and visitors to Sarasota for generations. But you don't have to live on the water to enjoy the refreshing and restorative qualities of a pretty water view. See how some Sarasota homeowners have made stunning water features part of their homes and landscape.

A Pool with an Edge

Opulent outdoor pools are "the new status symbol," says Florida Design Concepts' Lee Miller, whose one-of-a-kind pool designs, incorporating tropical landscaping, theatrical lighting, outdoor kitchens and swim-up bars, carry price tags of $25,000 and much more. That's a reasonable investment, he argues, for a homeowner who's spent several million dollars for his waterfront estate.

"It's all about entertainment," says Miller, who once designed a pool for a pair of Portuguese water dogs (and their owners). "People aren't traveling as much; they want a resort in their own back yard."

One recent client, a newly transplanted Kentucky couple looking for fun in the sun, got not one, but two pools in their bayfront Siesta Key back yard. Miller cleverly designed an infinity-edge pool at house level that cascades into a lower-level lap pool. The upper pool is on an axis with the front door, so a visitor entering the house looks straight through a glass wall to a pool of water that seems to disappear into the bay.

Planted around both pools are a riot of bromeliads, heliconias, shrimp plants and crinum lilies, an artfully planned landscape scheme Miller calls "controlled chaos."

"We wanted to be able to live outside," says the client. "That's what Florida is all about. I still look at it and can't believe it's mine."

Let It Flow

At once serene and dramatic, the fountain sculpture Judy and Tim Crowley discovered at the Hodgell Gallery on Palm Avenue so captured their imagination that they bought it, then built their new house around it.

Part of the Precious Stone series by Toledo, Ohio, artist Jack Schmidt, the sculpture is a large amber blown-glass orb set atop stacked glass and a stainless steel arch, mounted on a steel base.

It has been set in a concrete rectangle, from which water tumbles gently, and placed behind large glass walls at the junction of the entry foyer and dining room. Guests feel its impact both at the front door and while they're enjoying dinner.

Fountains please multiple senses; they're both mesmerizing to watch and wonderful to listen to. In clement weather, the Crowleys throw open the glass doors and dine by the musical sound of water and the glow of the amber orb, which shimmers in the gleam of four well-placed spotlights.

While fountain sculptures are typically more traditional than the this one, the organic quality of the amber, the piece's balanced proportions and all the different materials-steel, glass, concrete, water-hold enormous appeal for the Crowleys.

"It said a lot about us," says Judy, who with her husband founded the very busy real estate company RE/MAX Properties, which is the No. 1 RE/MAX sales office in Florida. "It's very soothing, and I like soothing."

Being Koi

As owner of Lux-art Silks, Scott Brann's professional life revolves around faux florals. At his lushly landscaped home on a 16-foot rise opposite Phillippi Creek, he revels in the natural world.

Here, Brann recently created a pair of koi ponds amid a well-organized jungle of ferns (macho, wart and staghorn) and palms (raffis and fishtail among them). Brann populated the pond with 12 large and seven baby koi, then gave them plenty of places to hide by planting the ponds with water lilies and mondo grass. He also thwarted predatory raccoons and birds by using the fish-friendly principle of a straight-sided pond.

"With gently sloped sides, birds and other wildlife can get in the water and go after the fish," he explains. While the koi are beautiful, "the main attraction is the musical sound of the water," he says.


  1. Koi ponds are high-maintenance and require "estate-sized lots and budgets," says Robert Davie. "To do one well you should combine it with a waterfall or other water feature."
  2. Create stone ledges or shelves so the fish can hide from birds and other predators.
  3. Seek out nurseries that specialize in aquatic plants, such as lily pads, grasses or papyrus. Avoid water hyacinth; they rob oxygen from the water.
  4. Don't chintz on the stone. Use chiseled granite or slabs of beautiful stones.


  • Natural and artificial rock caves and grottoes. "Years ago we were all chasing Disney World. Now we're doing [private pools] Disney World would envy," says Bill Cassals of Freestyle Pools and Spas.
  • Shallow sun shelves. Filled with just three or four inches of water and tucked into a corner of the pool, they let you sun in cool comfort.
  • Tiled spa benches. A bright idea that adds to the spa-like feeling.
  • Pebble Tec natural pebble pool finish by Pebble Technology. "It's startlingly beautiful," says Cassals. Try black pearl, Caribbean blue or Sedona red or ask them to mix in abalone shells for added sparkle.
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