A fiery optical illusion and cool glass add drama to this modern oasis.
By Rebecca Robledo
In planning this backyard, the team at Phoenix-based Venetian Backyards knew it would be a years-long process. It was being built in conjunction with a home by DRRL Construction, a custom home builder based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sitting in the hills of northern Phoenix, the job would have the normal start-stop cycles that come with multiple projects and crews on the same site.
The waterscape needed to not only showcase the hills and mountains of northern Phoenix, but also carry the view indoors, as 20-foot-high sliding glass doors would essentially blend the indoor and outdoor spaces. Needless to say, materials and lines had to reflect the modern home. After more than two years of design, planning and construction, the homeowners were greeted with the view pictured above. With its use of elevation, luxury materials and lush plantings, it’s understandable that this backyard was recognized as one of Pebble Technology’s 2021 World’s Greatest Pools.
View to a hill
Where many designers place the spa near the home, and spill the pool’s vanishing edge toward the yard’s perimeter, this team flipped the script. Instead, they placed the spa at the far end of the waterscape, and set the pool’s vanishing edge to flow toward the house.
They chose this positioning to differentiate the project from others, but also to showcase the prime view of a nearby landmark — Camelback Mountain, north of Scottsdale, Ariz. — by perching the spa up.
“When you’re in the spa, you have this incredible view of the mountains,” says Trevor Tipton, president of Venetian Outdoors. “It also works as a fire pit: You don’t have to be in the spa, you can sit around the firepit and still have this continuously awesome view of the mountain.”
The back half of the spa is encircled by fire to create a couple optical illusions.
“As you look [from] the spa, it looks like the water is spilling into the fire,” Tipton says. “And when you’re looking up at the pool, it looks like the fire is floating on the water.”
He and his partner at Venetian, Matt Coyle, created this illusion by placing the fire in a planter that horse-shoes around half the spa. An approximately 6-inch-wide, custom-fabricated metal channel with slot and grating system sits underneath the fire glass so the water spills near the flame.
“The fire pit itself is built out of masonry, and then the grating system is built into that masonry,” Tipton says. “That way, the fire feature sits on top of there with the fire bar, and the gas run to it.”
Pebblesheen in Blue Surf provided the water color the client wanted. To arrive at this color, Tipton and Coyle reviewed different natural bodies of water with the clients to find out what color they preferred.
A mix of glass mosaic tile in tans, golds and black enhanced the modern desert look of the architecture and yard.
For the deck and masonry, the team used the same cream-colored stone as was used on the home, which was cut to scale for the decking and floating pavers interspersed in artificial turf.
Venetian Outdoors also designed and provided the softscape for the yard. Knowing that construction would take about two years, they planted the large ficus trees and hedges around the yard’s perimeter early in the schedule. This way, the specimens could mature as the project was being built.
“Once we’re able to get power to the house, we’ll run temporary irrigation around the edge and the outside of the house,” Tipton says. “So when the clients move into the house, [the plants are] looking a lot more developed and mature.”
Depending on the lot, they protect the plants in various ways, perhaps using perimeter walls as a shield. Pygmy date palms of medium height are planted throughout the yard. “They visually and architecturally gave us another layer and another level in the property,” Tipton says.
Four televisions are placed throughout, so there’s a view from just about every spot in the yard. A putting green keeps the homeowners busy.
“They’re golfers, so we worked the putting green into the backyard so you can use it from the upper level or you could chip at it from the lower level,” Tipton says.
The final product aptly tiers to the hillside view and provides a stunning view from the home.
“We encompassed the whole yard into this project to be able to follow the [view] up, and at the same time we kept up with the modern design,” Tipton says.