You’ve got to expect the unexpected when you specialize in desert pools. That’s what this Arizona husband-wife, designer/builder team has learned.

Once an employee of theirs stopped by a client’s home to check on a project — and got a big surprise.

“He called me from outside and asked, ‘Did he get a new pet? Because there’s a mountain lion lying on the rocks,’” recalls Deborah Malone, president of J.P. Malone Construction Inc. in Scottsdale. “I said, ‘He doesn’t own a mountain lion! I’d get out of there if I were you.’”

Apparently, the animal had ventured down from a nearby mountain and was sunning itself on one of the boulders in the client’s yard.

“It was so natural back there that the mountain lion was perfectly content to be lounging around,” Malone notes. She and her husband, Kevin, were glad to hear that the big cat had been fooled into thinking it found a natural sanctuary. It meant they’d met one of their most important design goals: Preserve as much of the site’s topography and vegetation as possible, and convincingly mimic it where necessary.

To impress their human clients, the Malones not only build to suit the property as it existed before construction, but also design the elements to work together. During the design phase, they bring together everyone involved in the project to make sure they’re all on the same page.

Synchronizing sites

With Kevin’s understanding of construction and Deborah’s interior design background, two things have become important to the duo: creating a completely integrated site and designing it so it’s easy to build.

Kevin, the project manager and corporate secretary/treasurer, likes to include pool builders, landscape architects and other tradespeople in the design phase. That way, they’re assured they can deliver on what they promise, explains his wife.

Environmental preservation is the goal of these teams. Existing trees, cacti and rocks often will determine the pool’s shape.

“We consider the house as an afterthought,” Deborah says. “The site is the canvas that we paint from. The site is what will dictate where things go.”

To help do this, the Malones keep the pools as close to the homes as they can. This enables them to build while disturbing as little of the natural rock and plant life as possible.

“We’re truly desert builders, so we try to contain our homes within 5 feet of the building,” Deborah says. “We try to keep the environment around the pool and home as natural as possible.”

The sites don’t always make this task easy, though — and neither do the clients. Some properties have no natural elements to speak of. Some clients might insist on tough-to-integrate features such as lap pools, or they might want to import different styles into the desert.

But with the tools at every designer’s disposal — the right materials, line, vegetation and gut-level ingenuity — the Malones go above and beyond the call of duty to create desert masterpieces.

“Our mission statement for our company,” Deborah says, “is to create livable works of art, which is part of a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright: ‘A house is more of a home when it’s a work of art.’”

Following are three desert pool projects from the Malone design team.

A Tropical Touch

Pool built by Creative Water Concepts, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Happy Compromise

Pool built by Pinnacle Pools, Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Perfect Accent

Pool built by Pinnacle Pools, Scottsdale, Ariz.