In southeast Michigan, Dave Butz and sons Erik and Steve are carrying on a family tradition of building pools through the business founded by his father-in-law in 1967. But while patriarch Albert Assemany installed the era’s standard plaster-walled rectangular structures as Riviera Pools, Dave and his sons renamed the company AquaScapes in 1995 to reflect their modern vision of design.
“Custom shapes are 90 percent of what we do,” Dave said.
While choosing a form comes before adding fun features including tanning shelves and raised spas, how the space will be used and by whom are factors of design as with any home addition, he added. But first, AquaScapes suits watershape to the architectural style of the building site: The result must look like it ‘belongs,’ whether as an organic extension of the home or a central element in the overall natural setting.
“The water and its perimeter — whatever we use for the geometry of it — is the art,” Dave said. “The surrounding landscape is the frame.”
Nestled in Nature
Art is what comes to mind when touring the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate on Gaukler Point, an 87-acre historic site framed by nearly a mile of Lake St. Clair shoreline. The couple’s love of water and the natural world is reflected in their Cotswold-inspired mansion and permeates the expansive grounds, designed by famed Danish landscape architect Jens Jensen between 1926 and 1932.
Renowned for his visionary “prairie style” landscape approach, Jensen’s design combines woodlands, meadows and wetlands enhanced by ponds and fountains, and what he considered the “jewel” of the estate: a large free-flowing pool set between two birch woods that cascaded over a rock garden into a man-made lagoon, and then at one time, out into Lake St. Clair.
Stretching 132 feet by 40 feet, the pool is surrounded by native plants such as Solomon’s seal, Jacob’s ladder, flowering dogwood and brilliant azaleas. The Fords and their four children often lounged poolside with friends on summer afternoons, listening to the Tigers games on the radio.
“As you come from the house to the pool you walk through this loose grove of white birch trees, and on a hillock behind them there are hemlock trees — it still has this feeling of being nestled in the woods,” said Bob Grese, a noted Jensen historian and director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan. “Wildflowers are planted all around the edges, and as you look out you see Lake St. Clair in the distance. There’s this feeling like you’re connected to that larger body of water.”
Jensen also built a nearby peninsula the family called “Bird Island” by dredging and relocating 80 cubic yards of lake bottom onto a sandbar, handily answering two requests from the Fords: a cove for Edsel’s many watercraft and an area for the couple to go birding. Heavily planted with a variety of native species, the spot still draws migrating birds to the area each year — and plenty of tourists.
The house and grounds, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now a museum open for tours.
As you come from the house to the pool you walk through this loose grove of white birch trees, and on a hillock behind them there are hemlock trees — it still has this feeling of being nestled in the woods.
— Bob Grese
Custom Resort Luxury
Jason Haywood’s clients envisioned a resort-inspired setting to host frequent large gatherings when they purchased their existing Mediterrean-style home in Cascade.
“They really wanted it to be a showpiece,” said Haywood, owner of Signature Outdoor Concepts, an Alto-based landscape firm. “They were looking for the big elements, the ‘wow factor.’”
Haywood delivered it all in a living space that took nearly two seasons to complete.
A backlit water curtain framed by large columns, a spa, a sunbathing shelf, a fireplace, fire bowls, a grotto, open-air cabana, beach entry, and laminar jets create inviting spots for gathering and basking in warmth. In the pool, a scrolling pattern of mosaic glass tile inlays on the floor, walls and swim-up bar echoes the same custom detail in the outdoor kitchen.
To enhance the home’s Mediterranean character, Haywood chose a dense and warm Brazilian hardwood for tongue-and-groove woodwork in the cabanas and kitchen area, and warm, brown-toned veneer stones. He noted that the pool’s deck, constructed with specially-sealed Travertine (a natural stone) stays cool in the summer while also tying into the setting’s theme.
The New Living Room
More than just a place to recreate, pools have become a “backyard living room,” said Tom Neibauer, president of Unilock Michigan, in Brighton. Outfitted with creature comforts, the project showcased on this page features an outdoor kitchen, waterfall, hot tub, separate spaces to entertain and the highlight, a bridge to a pool “island” featuring a fire pit.
A hardscape frame of Unilock pavers helps make the transition while defining these spaces and pathways. “We’ve seen a trend toward more natural textures and larger slabs,” Neibauer said. He added that when Unilock started 40 years ago it offered two shapes of pavers in two colors; now there are more than 20 hues and 40 shapes from which to choose, and plenty of new innovative ways to use them.
Freelance writer Cyndi Lieske resides in Howell.