Photo by Pam Frankhauser

The Canvas: Sparse suburban half-acre, the base of a mountain,unlimited possibilitiesThe Palette: Natural stone, forest shrubbery, rushing water, a private rock grottoThe Masterpiece: Sibilant swooshing sounds, aquatic acrobatics, enveloping rock formations

A newly constructed home’s barren backyard provided the canvas for Randy Bauer’s inspiration. “It was just a dirt backyard,” says the president of Symphony Pools, based in Simi Valley, Calif. A year later, the well-satisfied, four-member family had an entertainment area replete with a 15-by-20-foot spa retreat, which turned into an eye-popping waterfeature.

“They wanted something more intimate,” Bauer says. “They also wanted something spectacular. When people walked up to it, it had to have that ‘wow’ factor.”

Once the clients expressed both needs and desires, Bauer began to plan the waterfeature, eventually suggesting a grotto. “A grotto is a difficult thing to describe,” he says. “With a cave feature, they understand it’s something they can go into, but a grotto surrounds you [in the spa].”

The water cascade from the top of the grotto can be noisy, so with a flip of a switch, it can be turned off for a quieter experience. For intimate soaks, a surround sound system is tucked into the grotto.

While the entire project took a year, Bauer estimates the spa took approximately two months. Strict codes required soil analysis and specific structural building permits. Soil pressures and surcharges also were considered.

The theme of this magnificent waterfeature focuses on natural local colors and the unusual rock formations at the foot of the sloping Santa Susannah Mountains. “There’s more sandstone and brown in the natural environment, so we matched those colors,” Bauer says. There was, he stresses, “a real emphasis on a natural, woodsy, contemporary setting.”

Photo by Pam Frankhauser