Modern Water Features - Page 3

Going with the flow: mood-setting water features bring drama, movement, sound to a modern home

cast iron

Fortunately, many smaller-scale water features are not technically difficult and may be completed over several weekends by a handy homeowner. Michel Graff estimates that his project cost around $2,000, most of that expense going to the mason who built the concrete block planter. Graff stretched his construction budget by completing the built-in bench, planting, and fountain mechanical work himself. Margaret Chester's self-contained fountain cost approximately $400 and required only the help of a couple of strong friends to put it in place.

San Jose Eichler owners Tim and Carol Bermudes managed to bring a fountain with strong architectural presence to their patio for an astonishing $67. "Nothing fancy for our 1954 Eichler," Tim says. "A $13 concrete mixing tub, $10 worth of cinder blocks, a $30 pond pump, and a $10 pond light."


glass fountain


  • There are many resources available to homeowners who want to undertake a fountain project. Books and periodicals describing how to go about building your own water feature can be found at local booksellers or on the internet. The California Landscape Contractor's Association is a good place to start when looking for builders of fountains and pools. Their web site includes many excellent suggestions on how to find and select a contractor.
  • Judy Kameon and Elysian Landscapes are online at
  • For more information on the design work of Thomas Church and Garrett Eckbo, see two new books by author Marc Treib: 'The Donnell and Eckbo Gardens: Modern California Masterworks' and 'Thomas Church, Landscape Architect: Designing a Modern California Landscape' (both from William Stout Books).

The Do-It-Yourself Frugal Fountain

frugal fountain

Fountain design: JC Miller

Photographs of Tim and Carol Bermudes' fabulous and frugal fountain inspired us to try our hand at a water-feature design of our own appropriate for the modern garden.

Our goals were simple; we wanted an interesting design, and it had to be inexpensive. We used only readily available materials and gave ourselves a budget of $100.

We started our own 'frugal fountain' project with a trip to IKEA, one of our favorite places for affordable creativity. After wandering a while, we came across a set of stainless-steel nesting bowls with a very appealing half-sphere shape.

With the bowls as our starting point, we prepared a quick design sketch that helped us determine the materials that would be needed to complete the fountain project.

With a materials list in hand, our next stop was a large home-improvement store, where we picked up a fountain pump, tubing, a plastic bucket that would function as a reservoir, and some necessary hardware items (a length of threaded pipe, nuts, and rubber washers).

Back home in the workshop, we drilled one-half-inch-diameter holes in the bowls to accommodate the threaded rod and a drain tube. We opted for a smaller bucket than the one shown on our original sketch—primarily because we didn't want to dig a deep hole. This means that the fountain will need to be filled more frequently.

Assembling the fountain took approximately an hour and required an electric drill with large drill bits, and pliers to tighten the nuts. We added painted blue rocks to the bottom of the fountain to give it a greater sense of depth.

cost breakdown

When we eventually placed our fountain, we followed designer Judy Kameon's advice and tucked it into a planting in an atrium corner. The sound of splashing water now beckons visitors into the space and invites them to sit down and relax. The spot that we chose also allows the fountain to be seen through the glass wall of the living room—enhancing the connection between the two spaces.

Our new fountain is self-contained, so it does not require plumbing or a drain. To power the pump, we ran an extension cord rated for outdoor use into a grounded outlet in the atrium, and then tucked it out of sight behind a bamboo hedge.

The total cost for our 'frugal fountain' project surprised us—and made us proud. We came in at $63—$4 less than the Bermudes inspiration!

Photos: David Toerge, JC Miller, Marc Treib, Michael Greene; and courtesy Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abbey Archive, Elysian Landscapes, Tim and Carol Bermudes, Margaret Chester.

Special thanks to Renee Adelmann of for location assistance.

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