Shell Games

by James Atlas

Part V

Flood of Details

hgtv pool
Indeed, it wasn't long before we were very happy we'd provided room for expansion: After we'd set up and buried the outdoor chase under tons of gravel and concrete, the project evolved to include 16 substantial change orders that called on us to use just about every available line we'd set up. What had been just a swimming pool now became a complex including an outdoor hot/cold therapy spa, a play pool, a waterfall and elaborate fire and lighting effects.


The therapy spa is accessed by a set of steps adjacent to the channel leading into the sauna, the thought being to create an indoor/outdoor therapy zone. The spa's elliptical shape echoes the design of the indoor pool, and it features multiple jets as well as tile inlays from Craig Bragdy Design and a pedestal for a piece of sculpture (yet to be selected).

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Shooting the outdoor pool was a major exercise in logistics, with multiple crews working in various areas around the site until they all came together to take care of the main pool's huge floor. Once the shell was ready, another stunning tile composition was set in place to mark a swim lane running the full length of the 60-foot pool.

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This is Part II of long article which was originally featured in a 2009 issue of Watershapes Magazine. They ran the lengthy treatise in two large parts: The first one outlined the planning and actual construction of this elaborate project, and the second took more of a photographic look at the finished product. We will feature excerpts from these articles as a 13-part serial. We will include an embedded video in each of the serial postings of HGTV's Million Dollar Rooms, in which the project was featured.

hgtv swimming poolShell Games




©2009 WaterShapes. Reproduced by permission.



The process of building the indoor pool was complicated by the fact that, in addition to the shell for the pool itself, we were also setting up the adjacent spa and wading pool as well as the swim channel and the support for a clamshell detail of an as-yet-undetermined nature. It was, simply put, a complex forming process and shoot

Coming to Terms 

As one example of just how creatively ambitious she could be, one of the bathrooms in the pool house is painted from floor to ceiling with a mural of a fox hunt: Every person in the painting is a family member,with the visual space separated between the living and the departed. This level of expression reaches throughout the project, as evidenced by another spectacular detail in the form of a ceiling painting above the indoor pool that features accurate renderings of constellations lit with fiberoptic stars.

But the pool house also was to have a utilitarian side, including a full kitchen, laundry facilities, vast amounts of custom woodwork, 18th-century stained-glass windows imported from England and an elevator. Suffice it to say, this was a client who observed no limits when it came to doing as she pleased.

At first, our scope of work was limited to an indoor swimming pool to be installed inside the pool house as well as a freeform outdoor pool. But that was just the beginning, and before long the project grew to include multiple watershapes and a long list of design details. Even for a firm that specialized in outsized projects, this soon became one of the most challenging we'd ever tackled: Truly, it pressed us to our creative and technical limits.

In addition to the two pools,we eventually were engaged to design and install an indoor spa, wading pool and fountain as well as an exterior wading pool and spa, an outdoor hot/cold therapy pool, a waterfall, a swim-in sauna and a sliding acrylic door that was to separate the indoor and outdoor pools – this last being by far the toughest single element of the project. The outdoor pool was to have a vanishing edge, extensive rockwork and various sculptural, lighting and fire features. The vanishing-edge basin alone became so large that it is essentially a watershape unto itself.

And those were just the key physical features: In addition to those large tasks,we also tackled a seemingly endless string of small details, from extraordinarily elaborate tile mosaics including a coral reef and "cave paintings"in the sauna to a massive, all-tile clamshell that cantilevers over one end of the indoor swimming pool.

All of this had to be engineered and built by a company familiar with complex structural issues, construction techniques and hydraulic efficiencies. And everything was made even more challenging by the fact that success was a moving target: The project went through numerous design iterations through the years, and those of us who stuck with the project for the duration (basically us and the general contractor) had to deal with a steadily changing cast of contractors and subcontractors.

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 Once we were done with the shell of the indoor pool and its associated waterfeatures, we stepped aside so the pool house could be built over and around what we'd done.

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