This Memphis fountain started out as a simple idea. Yet it soon became a one-of-a-kind design. “It’s different from most fountains you see, probably the only one like it in the city,” says Mark Reed, vice president and construction division manager of Memphis Pool Supply Inc., a Master Pools Guild member and a Pool & Spa News Top Builder.

With a few basic shapes — a square, circle and line — the installation skillfully carries out its original intent. The final product is a modern, elegant take on a traditional courtyard fountain.

Simple solution

Homeowners Aileen and Pace Cooper wanted water near the residence to provide a soothing sound during quiet times. The couple also needed tranquil background noise for the cocktail parties they envisioned hosting.

The backyard design team placed a pool toward the rear of the lot, about a foot lower than the house. However, the courtyard needed a gentler note. “We wanted something that would have a little bit of a fountainesque feel to it — something soothing,” says Pace, a professional in hotel management and development.

Browsing through a magazine, Aileen found a picture of a formal English garden owned by singer Elton John. It included a fountain at one end with a runnel (a long, straight canal of water) connecting it to a larger vessel. She was sold on the concept.

“It was a perfect picture. It just told the story,” says Carolyn Allen, former sales director of Memphis Pool.

A runnel would bisect the courtyard and run through an opening in a 3-foot-tall retaining wall. It would then spill over a limestone weir at the pool wall’s halfway point.

This arrangement added another sonic dimension and a sense of mystery. “As you’re standing in the courtyard, you can hear water running, but you don’t know what’s there until you step down further to see the pool,” Allen says.

An imported Italian stone fountain basin was placed near the home by Terry Barham of the now-closed firm Terry Barham and Associates in Memphis. Serving as an eye-pleasing focal point, the dark beige monolith consists of a round, bowl-shaped basin set inside a square frame. The perfect circle of the bowl lines up with a round skylight in the home, which cuts through three stories and is outlined in copper on the roof.

From the pool area, you can see the circle on the roof and how the fountain lies directly below it. A simple bubbler shoots up from the bottom of the bowl, as if to reach out to the skylight above.

A deck of bluestone, with the rectangular pieces set randomly, complements the warm tones of the home and fountain. Coping of the same material is used throughout the project. On each side of the runnel, pairs of small sky pencil holly trees stand guard.

The runnel and fountain catch pool feature a black pebble finish with flecks of a gold material. It’s dark enough to create drama, but not too intense. “It gives off a fool’s gold look,” Allen says. “It’s black, but it shines day or night. I just thought it would look good to keep some sparkle in there all the time, [similar to the way] champagne bubbles and sparkles.” Color-changing fiberoptic lights outline the entire waterfeature.

For the duration

The long, narrow design of any runnel makes it vulnerable to ground movement. To ensure this one’s longevity, Reed built it with 12-inch-thick walls and floor. Post-hole supports, or narrow piers, also ground the vessel. “We definitely overengineered it,” Reed says.

For easy maintenance, an in-floor cleaner was installed. “We wanted the maximum flow through it to be sure that we lifted the debris off the bottom and suspended it in the water, so it would go over the waterfall,” Reed says.

As it turns out, that is one of Pace’s favorite things about the waterfeature.

“It happens in the middle of the night, so we never hear or see it,” he says. “But each night there’s a self-sweeping that goes on, so it’s low maintenance for us.”