The Pool As Mirror

As seen in…

Harness the power of reflections to maximize emotional impact

 
WHY ARE REFLECTIONS so compelling? We see them used to powerful effect in poolscapes today and in the world’s most famous bodies of man-made water, such as the reflecting ponds in front of the Taj Mahal and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Yet even in their most iconic applications, the exact appeal of reflections remains somewhat elusive.

Hacienda Modern

A mature ironwood tree was selected for its sculptural form, and serves as the reflected focal point enjoyed from all of the home’s views. Primary colors were woven in to elicit a higher energy vibe, in keeping with the client’s request for “hacienda modern.”

My personal theory is that it comes down to two primary factors: First, reflections present an inverse image of the surroundings. You might be desensitized to seeing something beautiful to the point you don’t notice it anymore, but when you see the same thing inverted in a reflection, the shift in perspective catches you unawares. The element takes on new meaning and has a fresh, enhanced impact. Second, the smooth reflective surface needed to get the reflection subconsciously signals that the water is tranquil, which calms down our nerves.

Still water, still soul.

People come to the water’s edge for that sense of peace and comfort. Reflections by their very nature inherently convey that quality in a visceral way.

THE “AHA” MOMENT

As designers, we’re working toward that big moment when all the elements come together to create a finished environment. We can do our level best to predict and project the completed scene using drawings, photos and computer renderings, but ultimately, the whole process is a leap of faith that the final result will be better and more exciting than what we and our clients imagine.

From the fire pit destination, the pool mirrors the architecture of the home and also a strategically placed ironwood tree, held in place by rugged stone walls that serve to bookend the room. The composition as a whole bounces your eye to the iconic praying monk outcropping and head of Camelback Mountain.

That moment when the water is in the pool and it all comes together is the big payoff for what has been an expensive, complex and in many ways disruptive process. We spend weeks or even months looking at the concrete structure and the various levels of chaos that attend the construction process.

During that time we’re imagining how the materials, colors, shapes, proportions, spatial relationships and landscaping will all conspire to create something beautiful. As the work nears completion we can start to see the eye candy developing around the pool, but in reality, it’s not until we see what the water itself adds to the scene that we can truly grasp the overall visual impact.

If we’ve done our job correctly, applying tried and true design principles to how we proportion and organize the space, the impact in that first moment when they see it full will excite the clients like their first ride in an a glass express elevator. What was previously mostly only imagined all of a sudden becomes realized. To a very large extent, it’s the reflections that deliver the wow factor.

COLORFUL DISCUSSIONS

For all of the elusive and even mystical appeal of reflections, there are still very specific ways of designing with reflections in mind that we can apply to maximize the effect. Inside the pool itself, I always make the interior surface color a big part of the conversation with clients. Oftentimes, they simply are not aware that going with a darker color will dramatically support reflections. Instead many tend to think that darker colors will look murky, which is all part of why light colors or even pure white are still popular.

While dark interior colors make water more reflective, vivid colors and/or bright illumination are the finishing touch needed to get subjects to “pop” and show up well in the reflection, even if the water is disturbed.

So there’s an education process we often go through as we explain the range of color options and why thinking differently about color — and specifically, choosing a deeper one — will create a powerful effect that’s difficult to fully anticipate until all the visuals are locked into place. Generally speaking, I don’t go any lighter than sea-foam green, and generally, I prefer to go with darker colors. It’s important that the colors are selected from the palate the site and surrounding materials suggest, with greens being by far my favorite. I don’t necessarily default to using black, although it can look great in the right setting and delivers the most intense mirror effect.

Turtle bay for “green” and ocean blue (when there are a lot of grey tones in the surroundings) are go-to colors that I use a lot. Bordeaux is a great color when the site has a lot of warm desert tones in the vicinity.

(As an aside, I too am one who loves to use greens when there are enough greens in the surroundings to draw from. The idea that they make the pool water look like it’s riddled with algae just isn’t true. Instead, greens create a soothing family of hues that look great reflecting landscape and architectural elements. When reflecting the blue sky the effect is a beautiful aquamarine color that is extremely inviting.)

The goal for this project: bring the mountain and desert back- drop into the backyard seamlessly. Mature trees were set inside the rebar fence to blur the line from inside to out (and to reflect of course). Having just the right angles and heights to capture the reflection of the peak itself was a delightful surprise bonus.

When clients gravitate towards a lighter color, like sea foam, I make sure to show them visuals that demonstrate how they’re trading the intensity of the reflective character for an effect that is more about the water color itself. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s just a different mood that you want to do on purpose. If you go any lighter than a mid-range tone, however, you will be vulnerable to having the pool look like a bathtub. Instead of reflecting, you fi nd yourself looking down into the vessel itself. (That works well in Mykonos, for different reasons. There, the effect is to create a pristine, crystal-clear, spa-like feel, and it does that well, but reflections are sacrificed as a result).

Once clients see the value of reflections, they appreciate the recommendation to shift to mid-range and darker colors. They fall in love with the reflections and the heightened awareness they bring to their setting.

TREATING EDGES

One way to consider reflections is to think of the water as a picture placed in the yard as a deliberate and distinctive work of art, a way of displaying a mirrored rendition of the immediate surroundings. As we know about pictures and paintings hanging on walls, the frames that surround them can change the way we see the image contained within the boundaries.

We called this project “Slice of Sky.” The mountain and landscape
beyond are left dark so as to distinctly frame the pool that mirrors only the western sky and one lone saguaro.

In pools and other bodies of reflective water, the edge treatments are the frames.

There are infinite types of edge treatments: tile, coping, raised-edge details and cantilevered decking as well as vanishing edges and perimeter overflows. Within that tremendous variety, all edge treatments, more or less, fall into one of two categories.

First are the edges that create a visual border. It’s important to keep in mind that with reflections of edges, you are in effect doubling the width or amplitude of the edge. In other words, if you have 4 inches of tile line above the water’s surface, topped by 2 inches of coping or deck material, that creates what reads as 12 inches of border that separates the reflection from the environment around the pool.

Or if you have a raised spa that is 18 inches above deck, it’s going to be 24 inches above the water, and then when you add in its reflection, wow. It’s a block 48 inches tall in the scene. That can be heavy. Lower that spa! Less is more.

This midnight blue Pebble Tec Pool provides just the right depth to reflect the columns and open air living spaces while delivering a deep aqua blue-green from other vantage points.

Using the doubling effect can be a wonderful way to draw attention to features around the perimeter, be they architectural details or landscaping you want to accentuate. On the other hand, if you don’t think it through, the thickness of edges reflecting in the water can inadvertently shrink the pool visually and be an unpleasant division. Also, edge reflections can provide important visual transitions to surrounding structures that essentially lead the eyes through the composition.

The important thing to remember is that with reflections, you always amplifying the visual impact by a factor of two.

Water-in-transit details — i.e. vanishing edges and perimeter overflows — provide the opposite effect. Like a painting hanging on a wall with no frame, these clean knife-edges make the image standout purely on their own aesthetic merit. The edge quite literally vanishes, leaving the reflection to dominate the scene. Unsurprisingly, water-intransit edges work particularly well with contemporary design motifs, which typically favor clean lines and distinct visual boundaries.

Sometimes, when standing by a pool with a vanishing edge or perimeter overflow design, one gets a sense of vertigo that makes the image in the reflection even more dramatic. It’s like cutting a hole in the earth and seeing a piece of the sky beneath you instead of above.

SENSE OF PLACE

Perhaps the most significant aspect of reflections, and how to work with them, is what they mean in context of the overall setting. I’m among those who believe that pools and hardscapes should integrate with the composition of the surroundings, and they should amplify one particular feature of the setting you want to showcase, be it architectural or natural. They are the band and setting while an artifact highlighted from the scenery becomes the diamond. I also believe that the biggest shortcoming in aquatic design is a lack of understanding that very fact. Too many projects I see are loaded with multiple conflicting features all vying for attention. As a result, these projects lack a primary subject to anchor one’s gaze upon — and therefore, they lose a sense of place, the reason for being there at all. Too many elements trying too hard to be noticed, without a clear hierarchy, equates to clutter, visual noise and tangible discord that you can feel. You may as well be banging randomly on an untuned piano; that’s how much peace you are going to bring to your client.

The structural truss from which the spanning aqueduct is suspended keeps the weir perfectly level, borrows from the homes architectural motif, and is an abstraction of the mountains beyond. These composed elements reflect in an ocean blue pebble sheen pool as a striking first impression enjoyed from the front door and main living space.

When you start to harness the power of reflections in your designs, you must first ask, what is it that I will be reflecting? This helps you to prioritize your composition and gives the setting that often-missing sense of visual purpose. The reflections double the visual impact of the most important element that you have chosen, which conveys order and intention. There’s a reason for being there. You capture that content, that visual narrative, so to speak, by where you place the pool and how you shape and frame the water’s surface. If, for example, there’s a soaring hillside adjacent to the property, one could position the water to bounce the eye to the vista beyond. Or the mirrored surface could provide a reflective view corridor to direct the eye to key focal points seen from inside the home or other desirable destinations in the surrounding deck and landscape.

By positioning and capturing the reflection relative to key viewing areas, you are choreographing the visual movement through the space, controlling the experience and emotional impact of simply letting your eyes, mind and spirit wander.

This 360 overflow vessel creates a mirrored first impression when entering the courtyard. It reflects a diagonally placed ironwood tree whose sculptural embrace now canopies the space several years later.

Using reflections also means you can influence where people travel with their feet. In the simplest terms, on one side of the pool looking from the house, you might capture reflections of surrounding trees or other natural features. But when you move to the other side of the water and look back, you’ll capture a reflective image of the house. What you are asking people to fi x their gaze upon will lead them to walk toward that subject. Thinking about reflections causes us to think about those key focal points and organize the space so that moving through the landscape rewards the viewer as it unfolds around them.

JEWELS FOR THE EYES

As mentioned above, pools and hardscape are like the setting in a diamond ring. The diamond, the jewel that gives purpose to the setting, is the specimen plantings. I go to great lengths to choose specific trees and other plants for their sculptural qualities to make strong visual statements. These focal elements in the landscape work in harmony with the pool and should not be an afterthought or a place to slash the budget. Go light in other areas that can grow or be added over time if need be, but to get the most out of the visual music you are trying to compose, make sure your plantings are powerful. Here in Arizona, we have a plethora of fascinating plant species that quite often have a beautiful sculptural quality.

High contrast, primary colors and a bold 4-inch cantilevered coping accentuate this reflecting pool, capturing sunsets and an olive tree silhouetted within in its frame.

Again, reflections play a key role in the way they elevate the role of the plantings, from ordinary space fillers you easily overlook to art pieces worthy of our admiration. When you position a specimen relative to the water’s surface this way, and draw out its beauty that we otherwise take for granted, you create a powerful emotional impact by causing us to pay attention to things that are around us all the time. That effect can be enhanced even more at night when the landscape lighting comes on and dramatically accentuates the form and texture of our key plantings.

The imposing retaining wall was painted dark so as to
recede, allowing an array of lightly colored arbors, specimen plantings and pots to pop forward as a lyrical backdrop motif. Here we see the lesser reflective potency of sea foam green played here for its vivid turquoise hue, which resonates with the ochre of the rusted steel planters.

Intentionality. Impact. That is what will come to your work when you incorporate the power of reflections. When you put some deliberate thought into making the most of water’s reflective qualities you’re likely to find a design element that can add tremendous interest and value to any aquatic setting.

This article was originally featured in Aqua Magazine’s July 2017 issue.

Las Estrellas Streamlined

A Sleek Solution, Streamlined

This edited, lighter design still features overlapping rectangular forms to unite the varying locations in the yard.

This refined version of the previous design shows that it is really the underlying layout that drives the design. As long as that is intact, a lot of elements can be reduced to their essence without detracting from the overall effect.

In this example, all of the raised planter walls have been eliminated and the landscape is flush to the ground plane, yet the organization and grouping of focal elements remain the same.  The spa that was once raised 12″ above grade, is now only slightly so. Seven inches above water makes it flush to the ground plane.

The backdrop to the fire, instead of a wall with a cantilevered trellis, has been distilled down to three vertical trellis panels. A lighter version that still defines the space and distracts ones view to the neighbors house beyond. The same vertical motif was repeated at the spa in lieu of the Saguaro cacti.

An element that is retained is the tile retaining edge at both planters and lawn. Small details like this are affordable and have a great impact toward dissolving the defined edges of the pool, allowing it to be more seamlessly integrated in the space.

Kirk

 

Las Estrellas Design One

A Sleek Solution

Overlapping rectangular forms were crafted to weave foreground, central spaces with distant corners of this elongated, shallow yard.

To create interplay between distant spaces,  strong focal elements were established throughout the yard, and edges were erased by thinning boundary profiles to their thinnest component. The result is that panels of lawn then merge seamlessly with panels of water, while slightly elevated rectangular vessels serve as weighty sockets for key landscape features to plug into, drawing the eye from afar.

An art wall does double duty, serving also as a screen wall (to shield a view to a neighbors house beyond), and as a structural support for an elongated, cantilevered trellis. The overhead element lends both shade and a sense of intimacy to the “floating” couch beneath.

A sun shelf in the foreground perfectly aligns to a slightly elevated planter behind, showcasing a specimen Joshua Tree viewed directly from the main living area. Nine rills of water also accentuate this focal point, serving as the main water feature. Westward to the right, a similar socket continues the language and features organ pipe cacti, to be viewed from the master bedroom. Relief is interjected between these two weighty elements by visually lightening the wall that connects the two planters.  Tile facing set 2″ higher than the connecting wall allows it to be covered over with granite, obscuring it and rendering its mass wafer thin. A similar raised tile profile on the foreground pool edge allows the lawn and water to merge visually, blurring the edges even further.

Continuing the theme of interlaced rectangles, the diagonal focal point of the yard is a vanishing edge spa, with a fire feature just beyond. The flames were set to dance and reflect in the spas mirrored surface, while casting a warm, inviting and flickering light over the more secluded side of the yard.

Enjoy the tour and let me know your thoughts below!

Kirk

Curvilínea

A Serene Sanctuary Calls for Reflection

CorvinoEnhanced

Near the base of the Superstition Mountains, this modern, curvaceous home was begging for a more appealing yard and landscape design than just the typical closed in pool and patio. Joe and Diane Corvino, while living out of state for nearly the entire project, entrusted Kirk to bring his insights to their AZ home-away-from-home. Bianchi, delighted at the opportunity, sought to reflect and integrate the surrounding desert landscape of boulders and cacti to create an expansive, seamless-with-nature outdoor living experience.

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Several large mature “salvaged” trees are craned in while the pool is yet under excavation, positioned in key locations to provide reflections from multiple living areas, both indoors and outdoors.

Three elements would be instrumental in Bianchi’s approach: unobtrusive fencing, an “edgeless” pool that blended into the native surroundings, and several large scale mature salvaged trees, craned in place, to bring the desert context right into the patio area.

By introducing a vanishing edge overflow detail to reflect the surroundings, Bianchi was able to take advantage of the incredible mountain backdrop and create a visually seamless transition between the patio, pool, and natural areas. Bianchi wanted the viewer to feel as though the desert spills down into the back patio.

The colors and materials were also key in blending the setting to the surrounding. Richer than your average travertine pavers were selected, to pick up the amber and caramel tones found in the home’s stone cladding and the desert floor beyond. A steel colored tile was used for the pool overflow, and a glass spa, crowning the jewel of the yard, was also blended by selecting a tile that pulled from the yellow brittle bush flowers and palo verde greens immediately behind the setting.

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The amber and grey green glass tiles were chosen by Bianchi for the spa to visually merge the coloration of the mountains and desert landscape.

The stone cladding of the home was further distributed around the yard as well, adorning several site walls, seat benches, and even the bbq facing.

Barely visible, the rebar fence is the key to this scenes success. It’s lack of a top horizontal bar, and staggered height, dissolves the line that would otherwise catch ones eye and enclose the space.

Bianchi, loving to collaborate with experts in their craft, brought designer Morgan Holt of EarthArt Landscape in to further the planting and lighting design, and then implement the construction of the site work, while Tyler Matthews of Natural Reflections was instrumental in bringing the pool to fruition.

Holt crafted a fence that blended perfectly into the landscape, made of 1” rebar stakes, 4” gaps to keep out large animals, and rust-colored to match the desert coloration. Each stake is at a different height in order to dissolve what could otherwise be a clearly delineated and distracting fence line. The staggered heights make it harder for the eye to follow, rendering the fence all the more invisible.

CorvinoGoldenBarrelsWalkway

Holt carried over the vanishing edge and modern design from the swimming pool to create a showpiece front entry planter.  The symmetrical cacti flow straight into the desert landscape echoed the concept of the vanishing edge pool.

One of the striking characteristics of the home was a sweeping radius arc that delineated the roofline and shape of the back patio. Always looking for cues and precedent, this line could not be ignored. Instead, Bianchi reinforced this feature by carrying the same curvatures out into the patio and form of the pool itself, so that the elements then played off of each other.

The swimming pool borrowed lines from the home’s curvaceous architecture, and was positioned to reflect the mountain and vegetation from every angle.

“It was a privilege to bring this site to its full potential for the Corvino’s,” Bianchi says. “When one enters the space, immediately you feel light, and your cares lift away, and you never want to leave! THAT is what I do. Pools, landscape, lighting, these are merely tools to bring about that emotional response. For every client, no matter the scale or setting, I seek to create that perfect place to live out every day, the place you long to come back to, the place to call home.”

 

Paradise Restored

The artful touch of Bianchi Design on this home unlocks the jewel hidden within.

A neglected ’60s ranch in Paradise Valley, Az, situated along the north face of Camelback Mountain was not only dated, it was never designed to take in the spectacular setting afforded by its prime location in the first place.

Recognizing the opportunity at hand, Bianchi was entrusted to craft and unveil a vision for this property that would completely transform it into the gem it longed to be.

Celebrate, share, and watch as the metamorphosis unfolds!

A Complete Metamorphosis

A complete metamorphosis was needed to bring out the buried treasure hidden beneath this yard, and a family of five rattlesnakes had to find a new home!

A glass tile vanishing edge spa becomes the foreground focal point.

Here’s the short list of the awkward elements that had to be remedied:

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View of neighbors living room and kitchen windows, and corner ramada from the no-room-to-stand patio.

First, the neighbors’ living room window peered perpetually (like, all the time) and directly into the yard with no privacy whatsoever. None.

Second, the vast deep end swallowed up the patio and provided no place for furniture, or walking. Only tripping and treading water was allowed.

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Closeup of lawn pit and the why-would-I-come-here ramada.

Third, the sunken lawn must have been an arena of some sort! Intentionally excavated from natural grade a full -42″ from the patio, for no good reason.

Fourth, the not-worth-a-visit ramada was the focal point for the entire yard. See it up close! It’s gone.

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A spa is way over there. Don’t step in the boulders. Don’t fall in the trough. Or the deep end.

Fifth, the spa was shoved against the farthest wall and provided no invitation. It was so bad, it never had a photo taken! See the statue peeing between the two short columns? It’s over there. Peeing in the corner as all little boys are want to do.

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How do I get over there, and, do I want to?

Sixth, the bbq and fire place were non-functional and equally uninviting, and here’s a better view of just how crowded the furniture is. Don’t fall in!

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View from the matador’s arena. What else could it have been for?

Last, we will not mention the boulder pile droppings distributed around the yard. Oops! Sorry.HoosePool5.29.14The first order of business was to spend several weeks tearing out everything but the pool shell. Then another few weeks were spent wheelbarrowing in a few hundred yards of top soil (there was no access) to fill the matador pit flush to a more relatable -18″. The large gaping trough was then discretely hidden with large removable stones, so it was out of sight but still serviceable.

Second, the neighbor was screened instantly with a row of mature Texas Ebony trees in a raised planter, that also housed a sculptural ironwood tree as the focal point of the property, soon to be reflected in the pool’s richer Midnight Blue pebble tec finish.

A hundred or so yards of shotcrete filled not only the reclaimed deep end, but also created a sun shelf and spa ledge, now the focal jewel in the foreground as a 360 overflow vanishing edge spa clad in Pewter glass tile from Oceanside Glass, and viewed from all the interior living spaces.

The BBQ was tucked around the corner out of sight but still easy access. The fireplace for two gave way to a large inviting built in banco, with a splashes of colorful fabrics to draw one out. The fire pit serves about 10 people easily, for hours at a time.

Last but not least, the foreground of the pool became a sweeping entry shelf extending the full length of the pool, bedecked with fiberoptic starlights and six glowing bubblers set low, to just barely break the surface of the water, giving a lovely and tranquil sound while sleeping away with all retractable doors wide open.

Simple. Serene. Self-evident.  That is the remedy.

If your project needs a similar touch, more or less, drop me a line and we’ll figure out a plan.

Enjoy the before and after pictures below!

Kirk Bianchi

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