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To be honest, I was not particularly excited about compiling this year’s Masters of Design issue. The economy is so bad that it almost felt inappropriate, like throwing a huge, extravagant party in a war-torn country.

But once the projects started coming in, I changed my mind. This group of pools and spas is among the best we have ever awarded, and I am so happy to have the opportunity to honor them in this way. After all, just because we’re in tough times doesn’t mean fine design and craftsmanship shouldn’t be appreciated.

For example, check out this waterfeature. When it comes to mimicking nature, Dave Duensing is literally one of the best in the world. Looking at the stream he created never fails to give me that “ahhhhh” feeling I get in the presence of great beauty.

Another favorite of mine is this pool. Admittedly, I’m a total sucker for Craftsman-style homes, but even allowing for personal bias, this project is incredible. Designer Mark Goldschmidt and builder Don Ward recreated a bygone era using colors and materials that seamlessly blend the backyard with the home’s simple, stunning elegance.

And to make the 2009 Masters of Design program even more exciting, earlier this spring, Pool & Spa News got a new toy — our own video camera — which we’ve put to good use for this issue. Two of the projects featured here are available for further viewing on our Website. In both cases, you can see aspects of the installation that aren’t shown in the magazine, as well as hear the project’s creators discuss their design intents and selections of materials. Log onto www.poolspanews.com to check out our multimedia package.

So, without further ado, I present you with some of the very finest pools and spas our industry has to offer. Enjoy!