The Canvas:A land of extremes, ancient desert, forever skyThe Palette: Rich, black granite, a touch of redwood, tropical accentsThe Masterpiece:A free-form deck that spills like water across the thirsty ground
The Canvas:A land of extremes, ancient desert, forever skyThe Palette: Rich, black granite, a touch of redwood, tropical accentsThe Masterpiece:A free-form deck that spills like water across the thirsty ground

Dave McKibben’s clients wanted much more than a hot tub. Their backyard had to be therapeutic, peaceful and aesthetically pleasing.

McKibben decided to create a backyard oasis by bringing together the four ancient elements of nature: earth, water, air and fire. The result was an inviting chiminea/hot tub combination.

Building such a home environment is not uncommon for McKibben, the retail/spa department manager at Patio Pools & Spas in Tucson, Ariz. His clients frequently request at-home therapy mixed with a desire for a body of water in the hot desert sun.

“My favorite part of this job is sitting in a backyard with a sketch pad, talking to customers about their dreams and having them say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I want!’” McKibben says. “I can’t believe I actually get paid to hook people up to hot tubs.”

For this project, a half-recessed hot tub sits in wraparound flagstone decking. The lowered concrete base under the hot tub was grated and slightly pitched for drainage lines if desert monsoons slipped past the flagstone perimeter deck. Redwood slats rest along the left side of the tub, doubling as a seat for foot dangling and cover for the service area.

The sitting-area floor was created as a free-form patio in a rich sea of crushed granite, with a flagstone path to the house. A stucco/flagstone seating bench wall travels from the hot tub to the other edge of the patio. A custom, mason-built, tile-lined chiminea creates a crackling fire at the deepest part of the patio.

“Here in Tucson, people don’t sit in their backyards at noon when it’s 190 degrees in the summer,” McKibben says. “But in the spring and fall, when it’s absolutely gorgeous, they're looking for an outdoor living environment that’s totally customized and personalized.”

For the landscaping, McKibben chose a lush look with tropical plants, exotic flowers and palm trees rather than traditional Southwestern cactus and prickly pear. “Nothing in your backyard should hurt when you walk into it,” he says. Accent boulders were added to round out the rustic desert scene. And low-voltage lighting creates a cozy, warm evening ambiance.

Originally from California, he says he prefers to stay away from stereotypical Southwestern designs. Instead, McKibben prefers to mix the tropics with the desert to ease the dry atmosphere.

“You look out into the backyard from the sliding-glass door in the living room of this home, and it makes you want to sip a drink and watch the sun go down,” McKibben says. “It’s a haven to get away from the cares and concerns of the world.”