Zen of Outdoor Design

By Josh Atkinson

My entrance into design was somewhat accidental. In the midst of a recession, our company, like most, was reduced down to skeleton staff. We received a call by a potential client to speak with them about building a pool, and I was essentially the only one available to speak to them. Although I had grown up in the industry, and worked full time for nearly 5 years, I had not really been involved in the process of designing a pool prior to that.

A few years of good and bad design, hiccups, and company contraction and expansion will teach you a lot about who you are, what your design process is, and why you should do things the way you feel is right. It can not only harden a passion, it also develops skill. It really wasn’t until I spent three days with David Tisherman and Genesis instructors where I truly discovered I even liked design, drawing or architecture as much as I do now. One simple design oriented, continuing education program kicked off an obsession. It was an entryway to discovering an interest I never knew I had. Especially one I never envisioned enjoying as much as I do today.

It is safe to say my team and I have developed a design tenet and style. In our opinion, we live in one of the most picturesque and beautiful cities in the world. Everything about what we do is designed not to distract from it. The basic pillars of what we do is to keep it simple. It might sound cliche, but as we know, less is more. After all, what good is a design if it is a distraction from the organic beauty of its own space.

In this particular project, my client was referred to me through a mutual friend. I drove to meet him in one of Charlestons most iconic spaces. In fact, the ground in which he built his house was once the location of an infamous Civil War battle. The as built survey and all neighboring properties actually include easements to preserve old battle fields, makeshift gravesites for confederate and union soldiers, and monuments. There are challenges within the location, not to mention the preservation of history all around it.

Our first meeting was somewhat mixed, as he was originally speaking with several other companies. He showed me some thoughts on what others had shown him, but he certainly wasn’t enthralled about what he was seeing. We walked the space and discussed his challenges, his thoughts, and what he ultimately wanted. Near the end, I was unable to unearth his main request. He wanted to include a statue of Buddha to commemorate the loss of his partner. To me, everything centered around this one precept, and it was the most important things we could do for him.

The space was asymmetrical, but the architecture and style dictated we do something that followed its form and function. A spa, water features, and some fire features were requested by my client. The challenge to me was not to let them overwhelm the property or the architecture of the existing house, but to allow them to accentuate the space.

Our first concepts, as you see, were smaller and a little bit varied from the final product. Originally a small shade structure was included, but was in the end cut from the final design layout.

Master Plan by Gary Stoddard

Master Plan by Gary Stoddard
Master Plan by Gary Stoddard

Ultimately, we lengthened the pool, increased the width and changed the deck spaces from their original layout. Organically we made changes along the way, as all projects do after shotcrete. I always tell my clients to let the project breathe after shotcrete, you will now live with a pool for the first time in your yard.

At the heart of it all, the focus of our design was to let Buddha be the focal point, and to allow the other features to merely be an accent to it. The next challenge was finding a Buddha that would be complimentary in scale. We ultimately ended up using one sized at 35” x 32” x 47”, and surprisingly only weighed 72 lbs.

We placed the Buddha on a slightly elevated plinth in the deep end. The origin of our thought was to locate the monument so you could see it from all angles. From the spa, the fire pit, the steps, upstairs, and as you entered the property. It was paramount for it to be the focal point.

We used a level forty three 1” x 2” glass tile for the pool, spa, and raised water feature walls. In fact the name of the tile was nearly a match to the client’s favorite color. The pool was finished in a deep blue Wet Edge Technologies finish, and the deck was finished in Silver Travertine.

The spa has a custom jet system, with a cluster of 4 jets in one area and also a separate seat with four in line array jets inverted so they run down the spine. We plumb all of our spas with independent floor jets, and they also double as the main heating system. All of the spa jets are independently plumbed and run from their own air/water injection system. We do this for several reasons, but mostly to make heating the spa more efficient. It is also gives the customer the use of spa jets without disrupting their capabilities to use the pool and its features during summer months.

As we do with most pools, we used a Paramount PCC 2000 in floor cleaning system.

Pebble Tec fire and water bowls, in hammered copper, for the raised wall. For the separate fire pit an Outdoor Plus fire pit insert was used and tucked away in the sitting area.

Everything is fully automated with Jandy Pro series equipment and runs from the iAqualink system on their app.

At the end of the project, the landscaper, who is a very good friend of mine, opened up the canopy and the rear tree line to expose the creek system and salt marsh behind the property. From years of neglect and lack of upkeep it had been hidden to almost everyone. The tree’s and landscape were up lit to fully expose the natural beauty of the oaks. It was a new exposure that no one could see before.

— Josh Atkinson of Atkinson Pools