THE CANVAS: A dense thicket, the gentle slope of a mountain base
THE PALETTE: Santa Catalina stone, remnants of local canyons, the majesty of a mesquite tree
THE MASTERPIECE: A study in contrasting shapes, where natural and man-made forms seamlessly blend together, a soft and tranquil space for reflection
The Tucson home had a giant, grassy expanse with views of the Santa Catalina Mountains. As a result, the homeowner was convinced the lawn would be the ideal location for a new pool.
Dean Alexander and Doug Staples disagreed. “If we had chosen the grassy area, it would have been extremely exposed and open,” says Alexander, principal of Blue Agave Landscape Design. “Instead, we opted to take advantage of a little [grove] of trees on their property and make the pool feel like a more intimate, private space.”
The pair succeeded in convincing the client and began developing a design concept.
“The shape of the pool was defined by the trees,” says Staples, president of Cimarron Circle Construction Co. “It would be easy for someone to put an amoeba pool out there that looked like a blob. But Dean has a good eye. He was able to work around the trees and still have something aesthetically pleasing.”
The trees, which are the centerpiece of the design, include a large mesquite, queen palms and Palo Verde specimens. In fact, working around them was one of the project’s biggest challenges.
“We had to tiptoe through with the construction so we didn’t gunite all the trees,” Staples recalls. “There were also a number of water lines, including the irrigation system, where the pool was to be located, so we had to reroute all the plumbing.”
Yet the project successfully works with the existing environment. It also captures a little bit of the city’s history, combining rustic charm with modern architecture.
A lesson in history
Alexander’s intent was to create a natural pool in a space that also had historical depth. For this, he turned to the local canyons. During the Great Depression, workers employed under the Civilian Civil Conservation Act had built large stone bridges in the hills.
“These bridges have spill portals so when the water reaches a certain level, they don’t flood,” Alexander notes. “We attempted to bring those elements into the yard — a sense of stumbling out into one of these canyon pools with its neutral, sandy tones and seeing water spill from a bridge.”
A raised wall built with locally harvested Catalina rock mimics those bridges. It has three scupper fountains, or “spill portals.” The shallow pool also sports a 25-foot curved negative edge, which rises 4 feet above the ground.
The project, which took approximately three months to complete, features textured ceramic tile and flagstone coping. They tie into the home’s porch and patio. A simple gray plaster allows the water to reflect the grandeur of the surrounding trees.
Rustic and contemporary
Alexander and Staples recognized that having too natural an aquascape could be jarring against the home’s modern, stucco exterior.
So the team focused on the spa, creating a distinct shape with a sharp, pointed spillover. The elevated spa has two parallel sides and two curved sides, which were dictated by the radii of the pool.
“On paper, you can see how the patio and pool both have circular forms, so it’s kind of like the spinning of a wheel where these circles radiate out,” Alexander says. “The radial center of the negative edge is the tip of the spa spillover. Then the edges of the spa radiate out in a parallel line to the negative-edge curve.”
The six-person spa includes a step hole with a three-barrel jet. This feature allows swimmers to target their knees or backs.
“I think we achieved a nice balance of forms and feelings,” Alexander says. “When you sit at the steps of the pool and look across, you have the spa spilling on one side, the water scuppers spilling on the other, and the negative edge floating out over the desert in front of you.”
Staples agrees: “When you see the reflection of the trees, it gives you the feeling of being in a pond. This pool is not stark. When you’re in the water with the trees hanging overhead, you feel like you’re in a dream land.”