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Striking Gold

Desert Flora and a Dramatic Waterscape Define a Landscape at the Foot of the Superstitions

Anyone who has built a home knows it can be a process fraught with delays, broken promises and unexpected costs. And if the homeowners reside hundreds of miles away, the results can be disastrous.

Not so in the case of Joe and Donna Jean Amstadt, who were living in Chicago while their home in Gold Canyon, Ariz., was being built. The successful combination of talented designer and hands-on builder resulted in a stunning pool and landscape.

Drawn by the area’s tranquility, the couple purchased their first home in Gold Canyon in the late 1990s. Eventually, they sold the house and purchased a different lot in the same Superstition Mountain development for its mountain views. With construction of the house well under way, they turned to Ted Miller, owner of Sapphire Pools, for the outdoor area.

“Ted built a free-form pool with boulders at our first house, but we wanted something a little different for this one,” Joe recalls. “We knew Ted would be the guy for the construction, but when we talked about design, he told us about a young man named Kirk Bianchi.”

Bianchi, recognized as a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest in March 2005 for his unique pool creations, revels in designing waterscapes that perform as functional art. “Waterscape as art can only be created by giving first consideration to the inherent qualities of the site, the landscape, and the architecture of the home itself,” says Bianchi. “The pool cannot be a stand-alone element or an afterthought. It must fit like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.”

Bianchi’s first rendering of the pool, with its skewed geometric lines, invisible spa, and patio jutting over into the water, proved elusive to the Amstadts at first. “We were a little hesitant because it was so different,” says Donna Jean. “It was hard for us to imagine how the spa would be invisible.”

“They couldn’t see it at first,” Miller adds with a laugh. “It was just too extraordinary, especially when trying to visualize the finished product from two-dimensional drawings.”

However, the Amstadts gave the project the green light, based on their trust and confidence in Bianchi’s artistry and in Miller’s attention to detail. Of the finished project, Donna Jean says, “We are just thrilled. Now we’re known as the house with the really neat pool.”

Central to the pool’s design is a stacked-stone wall crowned by three pots. Water burbles in two of the pots, and the center bowl functions as a fire pit. Starry skies and the fire’s glow are reflected in water that flows under the pots before trickling down the face of the stone wall.

On one end of the pool, a vanishing-edge spa appears to meld into the water. “For this design, I sought to blur the boundary between pool and spa while still retaining the ability to regulate the spa’s temperature independently,” Bianchi says. When breezes ripple the pool’s surface, the spa remains as motionless as glass. Donna Jean notes that desert quail and other birds drink from this pool of quiet water on dusky winter evenings.

Bianchi specified a simple plantscape for the front and back yards, using brittlebush, ironwood, red yucca and creosote to mimic vegetation found in the wash behind the property.

Incorporating many of the elements and materials from the back yard, he designed a stone archway for the home’s entrance. A stone walkway meanders from the driveway, leading visitors through the archway and over a large but shallow pool flanked by a stone water wall.

Since the landscape’s completion five years ago, the Amstadts spend as much time at their Gold Canyon home as possible. “It’s like a private retreat for us,” Joe comments. His wife adds, “It gets harder to leave every time we go.”

The couple enjoys inviting their children, grandchildren and friends to their Arizona home, noting that people often are amazed at their stories about having built a home and pool without being present. Joe says it was possible because of Miller and Bianchi. “It’s refreshing to know there are still people out there who you can trust and have confidence in,” Joe says. “We built this house and pool from 1,800 miles away, and we’re all still friends.”

Phoenix Home & Garden – Kim Hill