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Mystery In Blue (as seen in Pool and Spa News)

Pool Design article by Rebecca Robledo about Dave Penton

The Designers

Alison Terry
Principal landscape architect/owner
Terry Design Inc.
Fullerton, Calif.

David Penton
Fluid Dynamics Pool and Spa Inc.
Fullerton, Calif.

What the judges thought:

The first thing that stands out on this design is, of course, the bold blue use of tile, but the more I look at this design the more I find things about it that are extremely well done. It is beautifully integrated with the house, it uses levels and grade changes to create three-dimensional interest, the detailing is flawless, and water in transit is used purposefully and artfully. – Kate Wiseman

Conversion to light: This project began as a 1980s-style L-shaped pool in desperate need of an upgrade. Massive brickwork not only trapped the yard in time, but also weighed it down visually. Some of the elements, such as a massive planter, were misplaced and hampered flow in the yard. So when Jimmy Reed of Rock Solid Tile in Calabasas, Calif. was called onto the job for a retile, he saw much more potential and called builder David Penton and landscape architect Alison Terry.

Once the homeowner decided to do a complete renovation, she truly committed. In addition to a straight materials swap, she hoped to add a spa and perhaps showcase a piece of art. Other builders had said the difficult elevations, ground conditions and setback requirements made it impossible to add a spa. But they assumed the homeowner wasn’t willing to pay for what it took. Penton, on the other hand, knew it could be done with the right engineering. He brought in Watershape Consulting of Solana Beach, Calif., to engineer the project, which required caissons. “She wanted a spa and we gave her her spa,” Penton says.

The design process took about a year, with 12 to 15 versions of the design rejected before they landed on the right combination. It was not only the structural demands that translated into a high bar for performance. The client brought a very refined aesthetic, and each detail had to meet her standard. “She’s very particular and she didn’t want to have extraneous things,” Terry says. “She didn’t want a lot of fussy details. I really credit her with setting the tone on the job and the level of craftsmanship on the job.”

The result is this multi-level masterwork with the original pool in addition to a new spa and cubical sculpture platform. Concrete steps make it easy to switch back and forth between elevations. Both of the smaller bodies of water are perimeter overflow. A tall, linear water wall brings that same subtle water flow, connecting the two upper bodies with each other and bridging the elevation change to the pool below.

Even that connecting wall required a lot of time and attention. “It’s a really simple-looking feature, but … I’m scared to even count the amount of hours trying to detail that out and figuring out how to build that,” Penton says.

Balancing act: The waterscape is bathed in a vibrant blue glass mosaic that lightens the yard considerably from its previous state. Poured-in-place flatwork in a paler gray provides contrast while keeping the yard airy.

“At one point we were a little hesitant to do the blue tile over all the surfaces because we felt like it might be too much of a statement,” Terry says. “But I think overall the way that it reads, it’s almost like a geode or a gem set within these modest humble landscape materials - the concrete and the wood. It’s like this unique sliver erupts from the concrete.”

It would be easy to overwhelm the yard with the vivid color, given the square footage to be covered. But the team balanced the tone, using the other materials and the transitions between.

“We didn’t want to have a lot of seams where we were changing materials because that would make it too busy,” Terry says. “So that’s why we ended up wrapping everything in the tile, kind of like a skin.”

The detailing is just as obviously precise as the tile is vivid. Crisp edges abound, from the yards of overflow around the spa, art pedestal and water wall, to the squared-off cantilever concrete coping that precisely follows the contours of the deck steps that abut the pool, to the dead-on consistent, fraction-of-an-inch gap between another set of concrete steps and an all-tile sidewall to the side of the waterscape.

On display: For the artwork, Terry and the homeowner envisioned a sculpture that was more curvilinear to contrast with the straight lines of the pool and house. They searched for an artist whose work approximated what they wanted to achieve. After finding Damon Hyldreth, they supplied him with the dimensions they wanted, as well as the materials. They asked for something that would look good from all directions and that was more of a matte finish, to ensure it would not create unnecessary glare in the home.

“It’s like the flowing counterpoint to all the lines and rigid geometry of the pool and the site,” Terry says.

Penton would build a perimeter-overflow, 4- to6-inch-deep water pedestal for the piece, which would be installed so its base sat level with the water, giving it the appearance of floating. To create this effect, Penton worked with Hyldreth to create the right sculpture base. It had to be large enough so that, when its legs were placed toward the center, they could not be detected to the casual observer.

Penton also built the water pedestal with nearly invisible drains so there would be no distracting drain covers. They were custom fabricated of stainless steel at dimensions that could perfectly accommodate the chosen tile on top. So the resulting appearance is that of a very subtle rectangular slot outline.

The team even took pains to choose the right LED light bulbs. They wanted the illumination to match that in the pool, but they had to account for the much greater depth in the larger vessel. Penton rejected the first two sets of bulbs he installed because they had too much of a warm yellow tinge. “The pool is much deeper, so when the lights are on in the pool, they read this very deep blue, and yet the light colors that we had in the sculpture platform were a more natural warm yellowish light. At night they weren’t relating to each other, even though they were both white lights.” So Penton experimented with different kelvin levels and landed on a set of 5,000 to 6,000-kelvin bulbs that gave a much cooler effect. “The higher the kelvin, the more blue it is, the cooler it is,” Penton says. Dimmers allow the homeowner to control brightness.