Exposed and sitting high above a pool, the spa John and Susan Major inherited with their Rancho Santa Fe,
California, home was far from dreamy. It immediately went on a remodeling wish list, then languished there for years while the Majors dedicated their energy to refurbishing other outdoor entertaining spaces.
By the time garden designer Scott Spencer was charged with making over the spa, a new guesthouse overlooked it and the pool, encroaching on the limited privacy even more. “There was definitely no mystery to the spa,” Spencer says. “It was just a cul-de-sac above the pool.”
Spencer put to work a three-prong fix-it plan that called for repositioning the spa’s steps, reusing existing rocks, and adding screening plants to give the spa its own identity and a sense of destination. He began by demolishing the short, abrupt, and hazardous steps and replacing them with gently sweeping steps featuring long treads and short risers in a new location. The new steps now are hidden by the guesthouse.
With the direct visual link between the pool and spa broken, Spencer saved money by keeping the original stamped-concrete spa decking rather than changing it to match the pool’s new pebble-aggregate surround.
The position of the new steps also extended the existing spa slope around the corner, but the new area near the stairs was unlandscaped. To integrate old with new, Spencer reworked an existing boulder waterfall, creating a unified rockscape that swings around the new steps. Careful spacing of the boulders left planting pockets on the steep and narrow slope. Tall, vertical-growing plants, such as maidengrass and cannas, now add screening, while low-growing Bacopa ‘Snowflake’ softens hard edges.
Some days Jim and Barbara Snody’s small backyard is host to grandiose parties for 60 and other days it’s a restful place for the empty-nester couple to bask in the sublime weather in La Jolla, California. But every day it offers views that rival the nearby ocean, thanks to a well-staged spa and mini pool.
“From the minute you open the front door, you can see the feature out back through a wall of windows that open onto the patio,” Barbara says. “It lends a whole other dimension to our home by making it feel larger. It also entices and enhances the view all day long.”
Things weren’t always so pretty, but landscape architect Rick Pyles has a long history of helping Jim and
Barbara make magic from mud. By balancing function with form, Pyles turned a typical spa and pool combination into a clever water feature. He raised the spa so water spills into the pool below, but kept it at seating height to make entering the water a simple affair.
Wraparound steps that double as benches are hidden inside the spa.
The 19 x 9-foot pool below the spa stops just a few feet from the Snodys’ family room, extending the visual appeal of the water duo. But it’s a
simple white stucco wall fitted with a spitting lion’s head that finishes the feature and lends it a double identity. “We wanted the spa to serve as the focal point of the design,” Rick says. “The wall makes a dramatic backdrop.”
The water feature’s cobalt blue tiles are a striking playmate for the white stucco wall and evoke an island mood, which is supported by tropical landscaping Pyles planted years ago along the back fence to screen the adjoining home. Today, the hedge is a 20-foot-tall wall of green, the dozens of palms are jungle-quality, and the neighbors are but a figment of the Snodys’ imagination.
“We actually had to tie some of the palms back to build the wall for the spa,” Pyles says. “Now their canopies dangle over the area, and the spa feels nestled into the foliage, not stuck in the middle of the yard.”
Sense and Sensibility
Gasps of delight are a sure sign that guests have discovered Mark Besner and Barbara Quinn’s secret. Down a wooden walkway off the back of their home in Sidney, British Columbia, sits a secluded Asian-inspired bathhouse complete with changing room, shower, and spa.
Although a saltwater pool lies just a little farther along the path, Mark opted to create a separate zone for the spa. “I wanted to use it to help break up the yard,” he says. “And I wanted it to be a place you could go by yourself. Besides, what’s better than a spa tucked into the woods?”
The couple’s city property isn’t exactly a wooded nature preserve, but visitors would never know that. Tall trees paired with a towering grove of black bamboo and hibiscus bushes trimmed into hedges successfully screen the spa. Adding to the space’s rustic appeal as well as its privacy is unstained cedar fencing. It varies in height to take advantage of views from the water, but gracefully cocoons the spa on three sides. The fourth wall is the back of the cedar changing room and shower Mark constructed with the help of a carpenter.
“I wanted it to have a roof that
rises almost like a pagoda, along with a tranquil atmosphere and the wonderful fragrance of cedar,” Mark says.
The Asian theme is carried throughout the garden; Mark bordered the top of the fencing with open rectangles and squares.
From leftover fencing wood Mark crafted a raised deck for the spa to give it a built-in, permanent look. In addition, the decking hides a concrete slab under the spa and provides room for spaside lounging.
After a dip in the pool or on winter evenings when the stars are clear, there’s no place Mark and Barbara would rather be. “We can see mountains in the distance,” Mark says. “It’s just the perfect place to relax and ease away the stresses of the day.”
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