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Aquatic Bliss

Stephen Kelly, editor

ABOVE & BELOW: Loveladies on Long Beach Island, N.J. is the site of this custom 15x50 ft. pool. The entire pool, spa and thermal ledge is a custom blend of Sichis glass tile from Revena, Italy, which looks like jewelry when the light hits it. (See second picture.) The decking is a Lompoc stone with casts and streaks of blue and oatmeal color. The European raised coping creates a shadow line and adds "depth." Holes are built into the pool for umbrella stands. The chaise area, called a thermal ledge, is two inches deep. As you lounge, your feet dangle in the water. If you feel invigorated, the swimming pool is nearby. The steps into the pool (top right) are also benches at different heights that run parallel to the pool for all of its length. When you sit on the benches, you face the Atlantic. The spa has 16 jets (floor, calf-level and back-level), all on separate switching systems. On a construction note, a tent was built over the pool when the concrete was shot to keep it warm--it was snowing at the time.

David Tisherman and Kevin Fleming, educated as a landscape architect, are certified members of the Society of Watershape Designers (SWD), an accredited educational program of seminars, short courses and schools that is setting higher expectations in aquatic design, particularly in the refinement of hydraulics, structures and cosmetic innovations. Mr. Tisherman was one of three founding members in 1998 of the SWD curriculum, Genesis 3, and is the chairman of the SWD governing board.

This all-glass mosaic tile spa and pool in Malibu features a checkerboard pattered deck in one-sq. foot bluestone with grass interspersed between the stone. The 24 jets make for a powerful spa experience. Laminar jets (Crystal Fountains, Toronto) in the grass take the air out of the water and give the colored jetting water the appearance of bent acrylic rods. Fiber optics create the light. The streaming water is very quiet, makes almost no splash and is synched to a computer. The water can change colors, move back and forth, up and down and even move to rhythms of music.

"I'm not a pool guy, but an industrial designer that got hookup up into this world," Mr. Tisherman explains. "Pool people don't know what they're doing," he avers. "They have no architectural or design background. They are sales people. What separates wonderful water art from the ordinary is proper construction techniques, high standards for mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems and the deft choice of materials. We create swimming pools that complement and subtly reflect their environment."

"In (landscape architecture) school, we were taught how to lay out spaces; we were taught plants; we were taught basic construction techniques, and draining, etc., but there was nothing on pool design and construction."--Kevin Fleming, Liquid Design LLC

David Tisherman founded the pool design/build company Visual, Inc. in Manhattan Beach, Calif. in 1979. His background includes a B.S. in industrial design from California State University, Northridge and graduate studies at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and at Harvard University. He taught architectural rendering and presentation at UCLA for more than a decade and was recognized as "Teacher of the Year" in 1988. His pool design was awarded "best in show" in the national Spa & Pool Institute's International Design Awards Competition in 1990. Mr. Tisherman's influential pool designs have been featured in Architectural Digest, various pool and design magazines and such publications as Los Angeles Times Magazine, Philadelphia Style and The New York Times.

This Pacific Palisades pool and spa features hand-made ceramic tile (Busby Gilbert) with a backdrop wall colored by mixing cobalt with red oxide. The scalloped bronze spillways arch the waterfalls out into the spa, which recirculates the water back to the spillways. The pump here is moving a modest 35 gpm, which is by design. "The way most pools are built, you have to scream at the guy next to you to be heard, because the water effects are so out of scale with the actually bodies of water," says David Tisherman, the pool designer. "Hydraulics is a subject many people don't understand. You don't need big pumps and little pipes, you need big pipes with little pumps. There are specifications that tell you how to do it all."


Kevin Fleming graduated from the West Virginia University landscape architecture program in 1991 and went to work for a top company involved in residential landscape design, sales and project management. In 1998, the company asked him to establish and lead the firm's swimming pool division. At this time, he explains, pool builders were basically selling templates. "Pick the pool shape and size from these samples and we'll install it," was the pitch and "design," regardless if it fit the home's architecture or was in proper scale to the backyard. He wanted to offer more interesting pool designs but found that contractors didn't know how to build them, nor did he. It was then he attended the Genesis 3 school of the Society of Watershape Designers (SWD).

Yes, that is snow, and we are looking at an out-of-the-ground vanishing edge pool with a seating ledge (Tennesse stone) on Crater Hill, Tenn. This is a favorite of the designer because of the interaction of the colors and the reflection of the trees in the water. The sight line is such that you cannot see the trough that recirulates the water via 3-hp pumps and big return lines (3-in plumbing). The trough is lit at night. The first design was sketched on a discarded cardboard box, prompted when the home owner said, "I'll be back in an hour. See what you can come up with." The Rock formation is built, it is not an outcropping. Water percolates out of the rock wall from the spa. The railing borders the spa and a bocci court.

"From the school, we learned a lot of what we were doing was wrong," he says. Inspired by his new knowledge, he decided to design a vanishing edge pool, but soon realized he still needed more know-how. He went back to the SWD and interviewed the Genesis instructors to see who could build this pool.

This home is on the former Dean Martin estate (Dean's home is long gone). This water feature is via a moat that wraps around the second story. The water exits through two 8-ft. weirs on two sides of the home through board-formed lime-etched concrete ("wood" textured) to cascade 12-ft. into four small, tiled exterior reflection ponds that go into the house and wrap around a circular staircase. Water falling from this height normally breaks up after only about two feet, but the length of smooth water flow is increased by a thicker weir and pumping 250 gpm makes for a thicker water flow and increased water surface tension. In addition, the home has a 100-ft. long exterior pool and a 40-ft. long interior pool (not pictured) that are at level about 12 feet above the front door, which is at the elevation of the back yard.

"David (Tisherman) was probably the most difficult to deal with, but he seemed to know more about construction and his design was superior to everyone else, so we hired him as a consultant on that particular project," recalls Mr. Fleming. He used David as a consultant on other pool projects over the next couple of years, bringing him designs and having him help build them. This team effort led Kevin and David to form Liquid Design LLC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 2001. Kevin manages and supervises the East Coast pool installations and has attracted top artisans and craftspeople to execute the custom design pools. David handles the West Coast operation.

This project was the first collaboration between Mr. Tisherman and Mr. Fleming. Located in Hanover, Penn., this is a million dollar aquascape. The 2,400-sq. ft. residential pool's waterfall is 22 feet high by 20 feet wide, which would overwhelm most homes, except this one is 41,000 sq. ft. and the property comprises 200 acres. "In nature, water moves around and over rocks and creates different effects," notes Mr. Tisherman, and thus the placement and size of the boulders, some in excess of nine tons, create multiple water effects: white water; sheet flow; rolling and serrated water. The water also takes different directions and the internal planters have their own drainage, low-voltage lighting and irrigation. "There's nothing here that is out of scale or diminishes the overall effect," he notes. "It all works together. Even the massive stone in the foreground, because of its undulating quality, is balanced by the water effects to the right." All of the veneering is done in ledger rock. On every job, big or small, Mr. Tisherman employs a soil engineer, geologist, a structural engineer, a steel person and a plumber. As the designer, he figures out the hydraulics and instructs the structural engineer how it is going to be built. The structural engineer puts together the steel and concrete schedule, which is determined by the findings of the soil engineer and geologist. This aquascape requires 14 pumps and five Jandy heaters (the spa has separate equipment).

Landscape Architects and Pool Design

"In (landscape architecture) school, we were taught how to lay out spaces; we were taught plants; we were taught basic construction techniques, and draining, etc., but there was nothing on pool design and construction," says Kevin Fleming. "I had to learn it the hard way, went out into the field and made my mistakes," he says. "The biggest problem is that landscape architects may be drawing a pool shape with a set of specifications handed down from other projects.

This Malibu remodeled back yard and deck is both functional and whimsical. The owner's love of the arts prompted the use of a vitreous ceramic tile made in England that takes on the look of a fun seascape. Crabs, small fish (complete with Nemo), starfish and lobsters adorn the thermal seating ledge, complete with umbrella sleeve. The coral-like stone placed on the dam wall creates gentle sounds of running water, while the adjacent plantings of euphorbia take on the look and feel of aquatic plants. The entire pool and spa are a custom blend of Italian glass tile (Sichis). To eliminate the mastic joint around the pool, 3-foot footings and 15-inch structural concrete decks (and three mats of steel) were constructed. This substructure will carry the weight of 3-inch thick, templated Hillsboro stone with bull nose edges at the coping. The pool and spa have seven pumps, hi-efficiency heaters and diatomaceous filters.

Pool specification by others is usually a recipe for disaster. The problem is the landscape architect is charging the customer for a set of plans. Those plans are submitted to a contractor. So now you have a contractor who is responsible for the specifications of a swimming pool, who probably knows less than the landscape architect."

"Water is nothing more than colorless, amorphous, highly reflective material that should enhance the environment. We may create a piece of art, but other than that, all the body of water should do is enhance and reflect the environment. Water doubles the visuals of everything around it."--David Tisherman

Mr. Fleming advises landscape architects to hire pool consultants, just as they would hire a fountain consultant when facing design and construction of a million dollar fountain.

When the owners of this Margate, N.J. residence were remodeling their home, the architect, Robert Johnson, brought in David Tisherman to design "something gorgeous" for the outdoor entertainment area. He didn't want to lose the tree, and so made it the demarcation of the pool edge, an effective illusion that makes the tree appear to sprout from water. The water beyond the tree is the Bay of Atlantic City. He designed an elevated spa seated on river rock, using rounded, smooth stones to force the water to hug the rock as it flows down from the spa (he didn't want a noisy cascade). The coping for the spa is ... a sushi counter.

"The most successful projects I've had with David, and without David, for that matter, is when we (the pool consultants) were brought in early along with the other members of the team: the architect; the landscape architect; the lighting designer; the contractor. That's when it's a bullet-proof project.

Like a little fire with your water? This fire wall next to the pool in Thousand Oaks, Calif. keeps guests warm on chilly evenings. The flames are generated by gas jets. Silica and lava rock are the materials within the firewall.

Mr. Fleming has attained the "platinum" certification through Genesis, and is now one of its instructors. He teaches about organizing space, elements of design scale, structure, rhythm and balance, and advises that if you design a pool, you better know how to build it. "We all like to draw pretty pictures, but you need to know all the details that go into building it--all the mechanical aspects and calculations, what's involved from geology to engineering, from construction to finish materials. If not, you've failed the client on every level. They are not buying a complete package from you. They're buying a shape by others that won't be implemented properly."

You traverse across the large fieldstones to access the all-glass tile spa at this property in Saddle River, N.J. The stone ("sweetwater") for the spa was imported from Rock Island, Arkansas. The water spills over the spa to create a reservoir for a pond effect, which goes down into the pool. There's a negative edge on the right side of the pool, with the water going out into the distance. From the lower deck there is a 3.5 foot down grade to the sunken outdoor kitchen, replete with a barbecue, burners, refrigerators and bar tap--all beneath the Mexican-style palapa. Adjacent to the granite counter are the underwater barstools in the pool. Because of the parties here, the police know this property as the "house with the pool." When the house was for sale, the home was not listed on the Multiple Listing Service, but the back yard was.

The design philosophy of Tisherman and Fleming is the pool should not be the focal point, it should be a supporting element in the environment. The habit in swimming pool design, they find, is to simply put the pool in the middle of the backyard. From a design point of view, the landscape architect has to create a pool that is suited to the environment. Is it suited to the architecture of the home? Is it in the proper scale to the home and backyard? This goes for hardscaping and plantings, as well. Are they in proper scale and texture to the pool and do they fit with the style of architecture? Every piece must fit and work together.

This lovely glass-tiled spa is deceptively difficult to design. When the heated spa isn't soothing sore muscles, seven gpm is pumping through each of the 21 spillways for a total of 147 gmp. Each of the spillways and the spa reservoir must be dead level and the spa water surface undisturbed (no turbulence), otherwise some spillways will gush and others will trickle. Pieces of glass tile beneath and on each side of the spillways are cantilevered, directing the water to spout out and away from the tile face. This spillway system is patented by David Tisherman and dubbed "Tishways." (Tishways kits are available through the Oreq company.) The spa spillway pump is located in a vault 75 ft. away from the spa. The hydraulic lines are of large diameter (3-in.) so as not to create bubbles. The smaller the line the more turbulence, based on the horsepower of the pump.

Cantilevered off a large mountain, this Calabasas, Calif. negative edge pool is raised 18 inches out of the ground, with a 7.5 ton rock in foreground. The spa overflows into a little stream that wraps around and re-enters the spa. You climb over boulders to get to the spa . The pool interior is a pebble finish called plum. The earthy, subtle tones of the ledger rock and the pool's reflectiveness seem in keeping with the mountain scenery.

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June 26, 2019, 12:05 pm PDT

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