The homeowners wanted a pool with a substantial waterfeature to drown out highway noise.

But there were problems. The yard was pitched at a 3-to-1 slope, so it needed significant grading. And a local ordinance prohibited finished elevation from varying more than 4 feet — up or down — from the original. The pool water’s surface counted as final grade, so the pool could be no more than 8 feet deep.

“They were trying to keep [the topography] as close to existing as possible,” Moore says of local regulators.

At first, it seemed only one spot — the back of the property — could accommodate an entire pool under this ordinance. However, this would place the aquascape approximately 8 feet above patio level.

“We didn’t want this beautiful pool set so far up that you could never appreciate it from the lowest level,” Moore says. “We wanted it to flow together and relate.”

Additionally, there wasn’t much room for voluminous boulder work. “We couldn’t make a large waterfall shelf because it would have reduced the size of the pool,” Cipriano says. “And we couldn’t dig further into the hill.”

The Concept

A three-tier design solved the grading issue. A 7-foot-tall waterfall would create a backdrop. Water would spill from it into the pool, then over a vanishing edge pointed toward the house.

This terracing followed the existing topography and brought the water near the patio.

“We wanted to use the structure of the pool to absorb the grade and allow us to meet the code for the town,” Cipriano says.

To buy the 7 feet for such a large waterfeature, crews cut into the ground 4 feet. After building the waterfall up, they were only 3 feet above original grade.

As for solving the space restriction, Cipriano became inspired while on a boating trip. He noticed a cliff on the Hudson River composed of vertical rocks that stood like columns.

“I took a picture of it, and that was one of the ideas we presented,” he says.

It was a unique look, and it would take up less space. Cipriano could go very vertical very quickly while still achieving a natural look.

The final design included a raised spa set off to the side and incorporated into the flagstone deck.

Problem Solved

Finding the appropriate stone was no trouble. The team decided to combine two varieties. Karney stone contributed richer browns, rusts and burgundies, as well as straight lines from its clean breaks; Palisades blast rock, on the other hand, has softer, paler colors, but adds more texture because it breaks in jagged edges.

Installing the specimens proved challenging, though. When moving the stones, crews couldn’t simply place a strap in the middle and lift because the long, thin pieces might tip and fall out of the sling.

“We had to double-wrap every stone,” Cipriano says. “We were picking a strap up from the center the same way, but then we had to wrap the entire rock all the way up, securing it to that strap.”

Setting them was different, too. “With flat or round stone, gravity does all the work,” he says. “You set it down and you can just walk away. With this stone, it’s standing up. You’re having to fight gravity and make sure it doesn’t tip over.” Crews would position a stone, then secure it to 6-by-6-inch railroad ties.

“We were securing it from the front and back, just to make sure that none of the stones broke loose and nobody got hurt,” Cipriano says. “Once one stone was set, another could be strapped to it.” They mixed up the specimens to create different splash patterns. Some left a flat, overhanging weir, while others created a stair-step effect.


The Karney stone and Palisades blast rock were used throughout the landscape, in planters, as well as on the steps and retaining walls.

“Throughout the whole property, everything kind of repeats itself and fits together well,” Moore says.

The upper deck near the spa was finished in irregularly cut Tennessee crab orchard. A straight-cut bluestone was used on the lower patio for the same basic color in a more formal look.

Plants were crucial. “When we were coming close to completion, they almost made us rip down some of the stone because they felt it looked too much like a quarry,” Cipriano says. “I talked them into allowing us to keep it, and explained that plants would soften up the stonework.”

They opted for varieties that would flower during prime swimming season. And when flowers weren’t in bloom, they looked for a variety of textures, with sweeping ornamental grasses near finer-leafed types such as dianthus.

Dense trees screen the top of the hill, offering privacy from the neighbors. In the first couple of years, Cipriano is adding plenty of annuals to fill the gaps between the young plants. As the softscape grows in, fewer and fewer annuals are needed.

Looking Back

The designers believe that, in the end, the restrictions actually helped create a better product. So did the judges of the Northeast Spa & Pool Association’s 2007 design awards, which designated the project “Best of Competition.”

“At first, we thought it was a hindrance,” Moore says of the design challenges. “But it actually worked in our favor and made us create something that we probably never would have thought of before.”