Because the builder said “yes” when everyone else said “no.” Because the serpentine curves add order and roominess to the relatively small yard. Because it features one of the most interestingly shaped spas we’ve ever seen. Because the artful way the pebble color changes at the weir wall gives no hint of the technical ingenuity behind it. Because the soft glow of the fire pit catches the ever-changing patterns of the water as it flows down the 8-foot wall. Because from inside, the home appears to be floating in the spa. Because the pool’s 14-caisson foundation delves as much as 35 feet into the ground and helps stabilize the house. Because you know that this is the pool for this backyard — and no other will do.
Randy Beard has no interest in the word “can’t.”
“I think it was my mother who told me, ‘You can do anything you want to do,’ ” says Beard, co-owner of Pure Water Pools, LLC, in Costa Mesa, Calif.
He considers it his specialty to make the sometimes-wild dreams of ultra-high-end clients come true. Of course, having a natural knack for all things technical always helps.
No wonder he clicked with the owner of the Newport Beach, Calif., home featured here. The man wanted a special fire-and-water feature that several builders said couldn’t be done. As it turned out, the homeowner decided against it because of the $40,000 price tag. But Beard got the job, anyway, just because he had found a way to make it happen.
“As soon as I first told him there’s no problem doing it — that I know how we can do it and where it’s been done before — everything was pretty much smooth sailing after that,” Beard says. “I knew enough to not tell him ‘no.’ People with this kind of money know that anything can be done.”
This particular client knew even more than most because he makes a minor hobby out of building and reselling homes. So even though he nixed his original idea, the job was still a major undertaking.
“He wanted a major pool with an attitude. He wanted to do it bigger and better and crazier than anybody else,” Beard says.
Beard stayed on, working with the home architect, Phil Edmondson of Pacific Coast Architecture in Newport Beach, and general contractor superintendent Daniel Murray of G.M. Neal in Trabuco Canyon, Calif. Result: A pair of swirling vanishing-edges — one a spa, one a pool — were created, which capture the backyard’s topography and define its character.
Following the terrain
When Beard came onto the job full-time, the architect had already designed the basic footprint for the project. The lot was steep: It stayed level for only 10 to 15 feet away from the house, then dropped at a one-to-one slope. To accommodate the terrain, the architect designed a spa at house level that would spill 8 feet down to a pool below. The spa’s vanishing-edge wall would work as a waterfall.
The spa became the focal point from the house, while the pool deck below served as an entertainment area.
Both vessels featured a serpentine vanishing edge. “He was following the contour of the hillside, and … it was just far more dramatic to have these long, free-flowing, serpentine edges,” Beard says.
With the footprint drawn out, the client reserved the right to tweak as the design and construction progressed. “In each area, the client kept throwing stuff at us,” Beard says. “And if you mentioned something to him, he’d say, ‘Do it.’ ”
For one thing, the client wanted the spa to span the width of the house. So the spa got bigger and bigger, with the whole western-facing wall still a vanishing edge. “He kept trying to push it,” Beard says. “It just gave the appearance, when you look out the windows, that the house is floating in the spa.”
The client didn’t want to pay an extra $40,000, but he still wanted fire included in the waterscape. “He has a real love for the way that fire dances and he knows that there’s really no way to duplicate that with any type of artificial light,” Beard says. They decided to place the fire pit where it would have the most impact — a mere 18 inches in front of the vanishing-edge waterfall.
Beard engineered the waterfall to offer several effects. At quiet times, the client can make the water trickle down the wall, with the fire or sunlight sparkling on the surface and revealing the very mild ripples sliding down. When he wants more impact, he can run it full throttle, with a laminar sheet falling down the wall. It took three pumps to make that possible. Six uplights also help showcase the wall at night.
Creating the right look for the client involved a lot of attention to details, where the materials were concerned.
The team and client wanted extra texture on the spa’s vanishing-edge wall. This would create more interesting water effects and add even more sparkle from the fire. They decided that the finer texture of pebble would make the most sense. But Beard didn’t want to use the black pebble that would line the pools — he wanted a tan surface to meld with the Arizona flagstone decking.
Beard and his installer, Tony Marquez of Tony Marquez PoolPlastering in Sylmar, Calif., had two concerns in doing this: how to leave a crisp line between the two colors and how to screed a perfectly clean radius that didn’t sag.
“Jigs had to be set up so that it transitions right at the point of the infinity edge,” Beard says. The jigs consisted of two pieces of plywood, one cantilevered over the top of the wall and another sitting on a bench below. The plywood pieces were cut to form the S-curve of the wall. The applicators pumped excess pebble on the wall. They then cut the excess with a long aluminum bar, held vertically so it was as tall as the wall. They swept the bar along the contours of the jig from one side of the wall to the other, leaving a clean, smooth curve. With this method, the pebble smooths out any gunite imperfections. And the top board of the jig kept the material on the vertical part of the wall, leaving a clean line where one shade of pebble met the other.
The client also wanted special treatment for the spa’s negative edge. Beard always likes to slant the edges back and away from the pool or spa, so that the top of the wall is invisible from the primary viewing point. But the client wanted the spa edge slanted inward. “When an infinity edge is done properly, it gives you a vertigo feeling,” Beard says. “You feel like it’s going to pull you over the edge. It’s an incredible illusion.”
Slanting the wall inward left the actual edge outside the wall, which made the client feel as if he had an extra 12 inches between himself and the possibility of falling. “As he’s sitting there, the leaning edge is something that he can put his arm up on and it keeps him back a little bit from the edge,” Beard says.
The homeowner presented still another challenge: He wanted the waterline to sit less than an inch below the flagstone coping. “He didn’t want a large gap between the surface of the water,” Beard says. “He wanted that coping to appear as though it were floating on the water.”
For togetherness and solitude
The homeowner also wanted special features to make the aquascape more enjoyable. For soaking, he requested a special captain’s chair sculpted to his form, which Beard outfitted with seven jets. “It’s in the prime position, right up against the edge of the wall,” Beard says. “It’s a spectacular view, as you sit there and just look at 180 degrees’ worth of Balboa Island and the Newport Channel below you.”
For entertaining on the pool level, the team decided to place a swim-up bar with stools. It’s tucked in at the shallow end of the pool near the fire pit. A cooking center with barbecue sits nearby, as well as a horseshoe-shaped, poured-concrete bench. For a Hawaiian flourish, the team sheltered the bench seat with a thatched umbrella and flanked it with tiki torches.
What made this project so great was how these details all came together, says Beard. Ideas came as much from the client as anyone else. “Every day he was reviewing and checking out what we were doing, and he was very accessible,” Beard says. “The ultimate project was due to his own vision.” And Beard’s ability to bring it to reality.