An empire falls: Where there once was a koi pond fed by a rubber-lined streambed now sits a free-form, inground spa that invites guests to soak like Caesar, surrounded by imperialistic touches — fallen columns, fire features and a monolithic fountain. Much of this already existed, so designers didn’t get to start with a blank canvas. That meant informing the homeowner that his award-winning backyard was going to be reduced to rubble to make way for the new spa. “When I showed up, I told him we’re going to destroy all of this and put it back better,” says Jim Larson.

An empire rises: The Romans were known for their sophisticated aqueducts, but a rubber liner doesn’t exactly shout ingenuity. So it was with some delight that Jim Larson and Jason Stryker rebuilt the river as part of the spa’s circulation system. Now water flows from a reservoir, about 40 feet away, along a concrete streambed tiered in three places. “We created little pooling areas that spill down off of the rocks,” Stryker says. “It was meant to add some interest; to hear the water flowing and to see it.” The cascades guide the eye to the main attraction: a 39-foot perimeter spa. Guests can sit in comfort, arms resting on ledges a few inches below the water’s surface. The ledges also serve as a buffer between bathers’ backs and the rough flagstone lip. A 10-foot-tall fountain is another Romanic gesture, while desert plants and flagstone pavers reinforce a Southwest style.