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A Modern, Sleek Waterscape in Wall and Glass Tile

LASN Senior Editor Stephen Kelly




The coping, decking, steps and circular planter are a beautiful Greek Travertine of pale beige and cream colors. To create curves for the planter, radius-cut pieces were ordered for the vertical walls and the coping. The coping and steps are heavy, two-inch-thick slabs, while the decking is thinner and set in a simple offset pattern. The step treads are a generous 16-inch wide.
Cost of Wisconsin
TLE
Backyard X-Scapes Valmont
Playworld

The client’s home is in the kind of stately architectural tradition of the other well-healed residences in this part of the rolling hills of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Bucks County lies on the southeastern border of the state on the west side of the Delaware River (New Jersey is just across the river).

The traditional aspect of the county is not surprising, given Bucks was one of the three original Pennsylvania counties. William Penn, the founder and first governor of Pennsylvania, named the county in 1682 after his home county of Buckinghamshire, England. Penn’s home in Buck’s County, Pennsbury Manor, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

 




The concrete block retaining-walls, the most challenging aspect of the construction, extend nearly the full width of the property, about 40 feet beyond the extent of the 60 by 20 ft. pool. The contractor had to shoot the outside wall of the trough (the beige wall) to a level two feet above the shallow section of the pool floor, then tie the walls into the pool structure. Colored, flush-mounted fittings were employed for the return and suction lines and for the spa jets. The tiles camouflage the fittings and lines for a uniform appearance. The walls were finished in Venetian stucco with a subtle mottled appearance, which is particularly striking when the setting sun hits it.


While the exterior of the home was traditional Bucks County, the residents opted for clean, modern lines and furnishings for the home’s interior and wanted to extend that modern look out into the back yard.

Liquid Design of Cherry Hill, N.J. was thus engaged to create a contemporary water feature for the back yard. Liquid Design is a collaboration of designer/builder David Tisherman and landscape designer Kevin Fleming, a landscape architect by education (see “Aqua Bliss” www.landscapeonline.com/research/article/9162). It’s not an exaggeration to say the duo has redefined the aquatic backyard experience of a certain number of fortunate northeastern homeowners.
Fleming and Tisherman are both members of the Society of Watershape Designers (SWD), an accredited program of seminars, short courses and schools to improve aquatic design in the areas of hydraulics, structures and cosmetic innovations.

 




Not to distract from the gorgeous tile finish, the designers ordered custom-made anti-vortex drain covers finished with tile with the grout joints aligned precisely with the lines around them in the pool and spa.


The design challenge for messieurs Fleming and Tisherman was to create a contemporary-themed water feature, but with a subtle design touch that would not overpower the traditional home architecture.

The result, says, Kevin Fleming, is a distinctly modern design that diverges from the usual pattern in interesting and significant ways.

Like most projects, this one was a team effort. The Liquid Design team worked with the homebuilder, an interior designer and the Fink-Nottles, who were involved in every detail.

 




The homeowners got their vanishing-edge pool, but it wasn’t easy. The property (middle picture) sloped upward from the street to the home and the bedrock complicated the pool forming. A retaining wall was constructed close to the home and served not only to hold the slope, but extend close to the water surface at the pool’s dam, masking the trough and creating the vanishing edge. The trough extends laterally past the wall in both directions, which gave the designers the opportunity to light the entire span of the wall from below the water.

 

Working with the Topography

The homeowners wanted a vanishing-edge pool. This was a problem, explains Kevin Fleming, because the slope compromised the kind of distant view needed for a good vanishing edge effect. Still, the designers had to figure how to make it work. The property sloped upward from the street to the back of the lot. The area for the house and backyard were leveled, leaving a steep slope rising to the top of the property.

The pool designers decided to incorporate a wall just behind the trough were the water falls and creates the vanishing edge. The wall would also function as a retaining wall.

“We started by raising the pool out of the ground by 18 inches on the side closest to the house. This is how we would have handled the design in a more typical situation in which the far edge would fall away into a view, but in this case we elected to cut off the view by inserting a series of staggered, offset, sectional retaining walls, positioning them directly atop the outside wall of the vanishing-edge trough.”

The walls hold back the slope but also increased the flat area space. The walls are a continuous barrier, but the offsets give the impression of separate structures.

The modular retaining walls are utilitarian, sculptural and create a privacy screen from the neighbors.

The designers’ inspiration for the walls is Mexican architects Luis Barragan and Ricardo Legorreta, who made interesting use of walls and water. Those architects were fond of walls in pink, red and purple tones, but the pool designers deciding on earth tones to soften the modern design. Pink might not have worked in Pennsylvania.

 




A large spa with a thermal ledge is inside the pool. The pool is 3.5 ft. deep by the spa and thermal ledge, gently sloping to 5.5 ft. at the center then rising to 4.5 ft. by the privacy wall.

 

Pool Forming

The most challenging aspect of the construction was the concrete block retaining walls. The contractor had to shoot the outside wall of the trough to a level two feet above the shallow section of the pool floor, then tie the walls into the pool structure.

“Because the trough is part of the pool’s monolithic structure, from an engineering standpoint, the entire pool acts as a structural footing for the retaining walls,” explain Kevin Fleming. Staggering the walls required complex forms to create the multiple right angles needed to get the sculptural look right.

This staggered design is one of three effect used to give the walls a “floating panel appearance.” Adding to the effect are small wall sections running perpendicular to the pool’s edge that are recessed several inches behind the end of each panel. Those hidden walls were painted black to create an all-day shadow effect in the spaces between wall sections. The final floating effect is that the wall blocks are slightly cantilevered over the inside edge of the trough wall. That masks the transition between the pool’s glass-tile finish and the wall plaster and also creates a shadow line that seems to mark a physical separation between the wall and the structure below.

 




The entertainment area is set on the opposite side of the pool from the privacy wall, a large split-level deck: one level on grade with the house, the other flush with the top of the spa end of the pool.


“We established these offsets in accordance with the basic design principle that says whenever you have two flat surfaces coming together, they shouldn’t meet on exactly the same plane,” observes Fleming. “Doing so hides the lines created by material transitions and adds a great deal of visual interest.”

The pool forming was complicated because of the solid bedrock. This required “over excavating” and installing freestanding forms. With the complexity of those forms and in particular those of the trough wall, the decision was made to shoot (gunite) the entire structure without the vanishing-edge dam wall. Once the gunite set the forms and steel for the dam wall were set, then gunite shot it in a second pass.

 




The all-glass tiles are from Sicis, an Italian manufacturer. Designer/builder David Tishman worked up several blends using three different types of tiles as sample boards for the homeowner to select from. Tishman opted for a blend of mostly beige and brown colored tiles, with some purple mixed in. The purple interacts with the earth tones and the blue of the sky to give the water’s surface a greenish, shimmering, iridescent quality.

 

Spa

A large spa with a thermal ledge is inside the pool. At this same spot on the outside of the raised pool wall, a set of steps between the upper and lower decks extend some 20 feet along a portion of the side of the pool near the house.

 




Staggering the walls required complex forms to create the multiple right angles needed to get the sculptural look right. This staggered design is one of three effects used to give the walls a “floating panel” appearance. Adding to the effect are small wall sections running perpendicular to the pool’s edge that are recessed several inches behind the end of each panel. Those hidden walls were painted black to create an all-day shadow effect in the spaces between wall sections.

 

Taking Shape & Finishing Touches

The pool is 3.5 ft. deep by the spa and thermal ledge, gently sloping to 5.5 ft. at the center then rising to 4.5 ft. by the privacy wall. Shallow pools such as this one are unusual in the northeast. The vast majority of clients want a deep end.

The pool designers believe a deep end is more a convention than a necessity, unless you really want a diving board.

For the pool finish, the designers went with an all-glass tile supplied by Sicis, an Italian manufacturer. David Tishman worked up several blends using three different types of tile and presented them to the clients on sample boards. They selected a blend of mostly beiges and browns, with a few grape-purple pieces mixed in.

The purple is crucial in this case, because the designers know it interacts with those earth tones and the blue of the sky to give the water’s surface a greenish tint. The purple tiles have a beautiful iridescent quality that adds shimmer to the water’s surface.

Not wanting to distract from the gorgeous tile finish with drain covers and fittings, the designers ordered custom-made anti-vortex drain covers finished with tile with the grout joints align precisely with the lines around them in the pool and spa.

Colored, flush-mounted fittings were employed for the return and suction lines and for the spa jets. The tiles camouflage the fittings and lines, giving the inside of the pool an uninterrupted, uniform appearance.

 




The pump vault includes an electric heater pump, one gas heater, a spa heater and a backup gas heater.

 

Coping & Decking

The coping, decking and steps are a beautiful Greek Travertine of pale beige and cream colors. The coping and steps are heavy, two-inch-thick slabs, while the decking is thinner and set in a simple offset pattern. The step treads are a generous 16-inch wide.

The circular planter is also finished in Travertine. To create curves, radius-cut pieces were ordered for the vertical walls and the coping, achieving a refined look that would have been impossible without a painstaking and precise installation.

The retaining walls were finished in Venetian stucco with a subtle mottled appearance and rough texture not typical of such modernist design. The designers chose this texture knowing how light dances on this surface as the sun goes down.


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June 27, 2019, 1:56 am PDT

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