Sparkling jets, musical notes, and the movement of water made Eckbo's garden feature a mid-century masterpiece. These same components work well in contemporary gardens created by Kameon's firm, Elysian Landscapes. "Many of our gardens are in urban and suburban contexts," Kameon points out. "There are neighbors, you can hear traffic noise—but the sound of water can mask some of that. It can transport you away from city life."
Eichler owner Margaret Chester of Concord agrees. "It is lovely to have the water sound which echoes around the house when all of the sliders are open," she says. The self-contained sculpture and fountain that Chester purchased at a Berkeley garden pottery retailer and installed in her atrium provides delightful music to her surroundings in a very practical way. The fountain does not require a plumbing connection or drain; it is filled with water manually and needs an electrical outlet and occasional maintenance.
John Quick of Pacific Water Art, a Sunnyvale-based company that specializes in the design and construction of custom fountain mechanical systems, reminds clients early on of maintenance considerations. "It is critical that everyone involved in the project understands that fountains and ponds aren't natural systems, even though they might look very realistic," Quick points out. "They require attention in order to function well and look their best. This is true whether you are talking about a backyard pond or a large-scale corporate fountain complex."
He suggests that homeowners start with a construction and maintenance budget and then work with their designer or contractor on a water feature that can be achieved within that budget. Quick has seen people become "very disappointed when they can't build a project that they have fallen in love with because of the cost," he says.
Judy Kameon offers similar advice. "At Elysian," she says, "we are site-specific designers. Our clients often suggest certain ideas and we use them as the jumping-off point. Then we look at how the idea can be executed in a way that is sensitive to the site and responsive to the client's tastes and resources."
Because water features can be expensive to build and maintain, the quality of the materials and construction are important considerations. "That's why we are a design-build firm," says Kameon. "That approach allows us to be involved from the very beginning with all aspects of the project. This ensures that the design is implemented and executed as intended."
The design-build approach is not limited to professional installations, however. In fact, any homeowner who undertakes the construction of his or her own fountain is doing design-build. When Tom Borsellino and Monika Kafka moved into their present Eichler home, it came equipped with a custom-cast concrete planter that had been fabricated in the 1960s by the home's original owner. The couple had lived in the neighborhood before buying their current house, and Borsellino recalled that they had always noticed the planter—in part because of a tall dead tree that occupied it, but primarily because of the planter's appealing shape and size. Kafka marvels that neighbors have even asked them if they wanted to sell the planter. "There is something about the shape of it—Eichler homeowners just seem to love it," she says.
When the garden became theirs, Kafka embarked on a design-build water feature that included creative reuse of the vintage planter. She relocated it to a more appropriate spot in the back garden, provided electrical power and a pumping system, and added a colorful ceramic sphere that was drilled to accommodate a fountain outflow. She also built a companion fountain in the atrium that complements the design of the larger backyard fountain. "When you walk into our atrium," Kafka points out, "you can see through the glass walls of the house. Both fountains are visible. It makes for a very relaxing environment."
Borsellino estimates that the project took about a month to complete and cost in the neighborhood of $200, not including the unique planter. Kafka feels that it was worth that price, and more. "My children are always outside in the garden, and they love to play with fountain," she says. "This is really what outdoor life is all about."