The Canvas: A swatch of lawn, a retro pool in need of renovationThe Palette: Earth tones with streaks of green, tiny spillways, a cover box hidden by flagstoneThe Masterpiece: Details, details, details; visual high jinks; understated water movement
The Canvas: A swatch of lawn, a retro pool in need of renovationThe Palette: Earth tones with streaks of green, tiny spillways, a cover box hidden by flagstoneThe Masterpiece: Details, details, details; visual high jinks; understated water movement

Paul Benedetti doesn’t make things easy for himself. This service-technician-turned-builder is a born problem-solver. But some of Benedetti’s solutions answer problems of his own making, such as when he decides you absolutely must not see the automatic cover box, even from inside the pool. Or when he wants an attached spa that can spill over even when the pool cover is in place.

This focus on detail serves him well in areas such as California’s Los Altos Hills near Silicon Valley, which he says has the nation’s highest per-capita income. The region is popular with the ultrawealthy, partly because no commercial structures of any kind are allowed.

But oddly enough, one of those backyards had the kind of pool you’d expect to find at a roadside motel. It was a plain rectangle with rounded corners, and a tile line done in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern.

“The pool had a precast safety grip coping that looked like a Motel 6,” says Benedetti, principal of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa in Morgan Hill, Calif. “It was ugly!”

It was also out of place and had to go. “My client said, ‘Create something that’s subtle yet spectacular, so anybody can tell that this job cost bank,’ ” Benedetti recalls. “But he didn’t want it to look like Las Vegas.”

He obliged, transforming an anachronism into a classic. What you don’t see is almost as important as what you do. For instance, Benedetti found a way to provide the aforementioned hidden cover box, and water from a raised spa drops into a mysterious receptacle rather than into the pool.

Back to the present

Benedetti and his client considered tearing out the pool and starting over. But under the strict new setbacks, the pool couldn’t be long enough to provide the lap swimming his client wanted.

“We had to leave the pool in so that we could qualify under this heading of a remodel,” Benedetti says. “All I left were two sidewalls and about one-third of the floor.”

The client wanted an automatic cover, so Benedetti kept the pool’s original rectangular shape. He squared off the corners to accommodate the cover and lengthened the pool 12 feet. He also shortened the deep end to 5 feet.

“The client heats the pool year ’round, so having an 8-foot deep end without a diving board was wasted volume,” he says.

Benedetti expanded the original template by adding a raised spillover spa. Rather than the standard sheet fall, the spa overflows in a series of petite, 1-inch-wide spillways. He kiddingly refers to them as “Tishways,” which are named after Genesis 3 co-founder David Tisherman, who introduced them to Benedetti.

He had the spa spill into a catch basin instead of the pool. He did it this way for two reasons: The client wanted to run the spa even with the pool cover closed — and falling water might trip the sonar alarm. The secondary vessel drains immediately, so it only holds a thin film of water, making it safe for children.

This safer solution also plays a trick on the eyes. The water appears to just spill on the ground. However, a 3-inch plumbing line feeds the water into a pool skimmer, and gravity drains keep the basin from vortexing.

Benedetti flanked the vessel with a serpentine, raised planter wall. The curves counter the pool’s rigid lines. “Had we done a straight raised bond beam, we would have created a contemporary pool with all these rectilinear shapes,” Benedetti says.

In some spots, the wall veers onto the pool coping to visually connect the pool and spa. Where it bends back, Benedetti made small planter pockets to soften the wall.

Laminar fountains arc from the planter to the pool, linking the elevations and adding a touch of elegance. They make a nice interactive feature for children, and form a viewing window from the spa. To meet the client’s request for more light through the arcs, Benedetti used commercial-grade fiberoptic illuminators.

He selected natural, earth-toned finishes with a lot of texture for an elegant yet casual look. The existing flagstone deck was expanded and the planter wall dry-stacked in quartzite.

Coping was poured from concrete dyed in a muted burnt orange to provide a slightly rustic look.

“If we did something that was precast, every stone would be exactly the same,” Benedetti says. “We wouldn’t have trowel marks or the hand-finished appearance.”

To make the color as true as possible, Benedetti used a white cement base rather than gray. “It sets up fast,” he says. “We needed twice the number of finishers to work the concrete before it started setting up.”

The client wanted a splash of green to mirror the landscaping. He and Benedetti decided on a green glass mosaic tile to blanket the spa, the pool’s waterline and the spa catch basin, which had to withstand wet and dry conditions.


The client, who swims laps year ’round, was tired of pumping water off the automatic cover before each session. Benedetti proposed using a European slat safety cover, which allows water to drain a lot easier.

This product needs an extra-large cover box, and Benedetti wanted to hide it. Instead of the traditional lid, he set flagstone over the cover box so the deck seemed to continue right over it. Benedetti’s crews laid the flagstone down on stainless steel trays as if it were the deck. Then they saw-cut joints between the trays so they could be lifted.

“From a distance, it looks like it isn’t even there,” Benedetti says. “You see the larger grout joints and pieces of stone, not the little quarter-inch cuts between the trays.”

The large trays needed extra support to hold the stone. An engineer suggested placing a 4-by-4-inch stainless steel beam at the front of the box. However, it’s not something you want to look at while you’re swimming, so Benedetti covered the stainless steel beam and the top of the dam wall with the waterline tile.

The trick worked: The two planes of tile meld underwater, so it seems as if the 8-inch tile line just continues across the wall.

“I recently showed the project to a client and an architect,” Benedetti says. “They didn’t know it had a pool cover until I pushed the button and the cover started coming out.”