Outdoor living enthusiasts already know them as the ‘top three pond builders in the world.’ For the uninitiated, the time has come to meet Greg Wittstock, Ed Beaulieu and Brian Helfrich — Owner, Vice President, and Construction Manager, respectively, of Aquascape Inc. (St. Charles, IL).
Why? Here’s the buzz. The trio’s gifts for creating beautiful water gardens recently came to the notice of a television producer, and the new reality series — “Pond Stars” — was born. Each episode will feature the trio going about their day-to-day activities of designing and building water features for all kinds of people and situations.
Whether one fits into the category of already loving one’s backyard, or just wanting to love it, this series will be filled with the inspiration you hanker for. Having spent time with them at a recent waterscape event, Deck and Patio’s own Bill Renter came home convinced their series will do for backyard retreat lovers what Forensic Files is doing for crime puzzlers, and Dance Moms is doing for, well, pushy Moms.
The premiere episode, “Time for Turtles,” has Greg, Ed and Brian rushing to complete two projects: the first for an environmental center where the pond will be used as an outdoor classroom for an upcoming kids camp.
Will they get in done in time? Will the kids see the center’s rescued turtles happy and secure in a water garden? Of course! The fun is seeing them do it…under pressure…with maximum difficulties, all the while informing us of how a backyard retreat gets created.
Perhaps one way to show how enticing the episodes will be is to feature several Deck and Patio ponds, where we’ve used the stars’ own Aquascape products and expertise. So mark your calendars. “Pond Stars” premieres Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 10 p.m. EDT on NatGeo WILD.
At one time, enjoying something as relaxing and restful as reflections in a pond was occasioned by a lake-side holiday or visit to the mountains. However, with the growth in popularity of backyard escapes/oases, homeowners, in increasing numbers, are bring that experience home.
Indeed, there is something mystical and restive in pausing alongside pristine still water. It is especially restorative to study the reflections of the surroundings that such water throws back — including distant delights like the clouds and the moon.
As a student of nature and avid outdoor enthusiast, Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter, believes that water features such as man-made ponds, when correctly designed, positioned, and constructed, can provide a transforming experience in one’s life: a ‘little world all to oneself’ to paraphrase Thoreau.
The following two projects are such examples.
Recent published statistics from the North American Decking and Railing Association (NADR) show that America’s love affair with residential decking is not abating. It is rising (4.8% last year). As the economy continues to improve, experts predict future demand will be even higher.
One reason for the increase could be that Americans, like most humans, do not want to be hemmed in. We often feel constrained in our professional life, but when we come home, it’s Home, Home on the Range. Our inner DNA hungers for open space, blue skies and starry nights.
But why decks, in particular? Sometimes, we choose between a deck or patio because of topography alone. One will simply work better than the other. But a key element in favor of decks has to be: as much as we love looking at grass — in decades past, a picnic was considered the pinnacle in outdoor living — today, we want to be off the ground and track as little of it as possible back into the house. Decks allow you to be somewhat above the soil, sitting comfortably on an outdoor extension of our kitchen, den, master suite, etc. And there is no doubt that decking materials, be they wood or wood in appearance, add to that sense of extension.
There might be some financial considerations as well: “Perhaps not on its own, but when a deck helps stage an attractive backyard lifestyle, it will definitely add value to a home,” says Jacquie Lewisy, residential real estate agent at Signature Premier Properties’ (Huntington corporate office).
That’s some of Deck and Patio’s thoughts. Why do you think we love our decks so much?
Boasting a spectacular view of Long Island Sound, this award winning project is one that Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter, is understandably proud of. Complete with large patio areas, infinity pool, large spillover spa, waterfall, pond with wooden bridge, and spectacular LED lighting, its design took into consideration how it would appear at different times of day.
The vanishing edge pool brings the dramatic view of the shoreline right up to the backyard — creating a variety of changing images depending upon whether it is day, evening, or night. And not only the pool and patio offer these fabulous sights. The custom spa was also positioned to take in these “vanishing edge” vistas.
The same care went into the design of the upgraded and expanded pond area. Its beautiful details are delightful during the day, intoxicating at sunset, and oh so romantic at night.
The entire project comprises: vanishing edge pool with five water pumps, 3,000 square feet of Techo-Bloc tumbled stone patio, an outdoor kitchen with patio bar, two natural gas campfires, and extensive landscaping that includes large evergreen trees that flank the left and right side for privacy. In the pool, there are two waterfalls, five bar stools in front of a swim up bar, three staircases, and in-floor cleaning. (Note: this project garnered several awards, including three gold awards.)
We invite you to look over the photos and tell us what time of day do you think showcases this project best.
“Incorporating the latest outdoor living technology, beautifully hidden in natural surroundings, is one of my passions,” says Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter.
That passion is vividly expressed in this backyard sanctuary comprised of a new in-ground vinyl-lined pool, large patio area, outdoor kitchen, outdoor shower, fire pit, two streams and two waterfalls.
Its first, and most challenging, major hi tech component is an automatic pool cover attached to the vinyl free-form pool. These covers are difficult to attach to the free-form pool style and shape. In fact, previously, the homeowners were told it wasn’t possible to do so.
“We were glad to assure them that we could bring together all the expertise necessary to design and build it all,” adds Renter. “And when not in use, the cover retracts out of sight.”
Other technology: To heat the pool, we added a hybrid system that uses both a gas heater and an electric heat pump. The heat pump acts like a reverse air conditioner, pulling in warmth from the air and transferring it into the pool. This design not only adds heat taken from the air — and not from electricity — but the gas heater can act as back up when the air temperature is very low or when creating heat more quickly is required.
The “variable speed pump” Deck and Patio used is an extremely efficient pump that allows low energy use by slowing down the motor dramatically. It decreases the amount of energy the pump uses. It can run twenty-four-seven much more efficiently than others pumps that are used only a few hours a day.
This elegant multi-level deck, expansive landscaped lawn with play area, and pool/spa with patio surround were designed to both enhance the traditional look of this Long Island residence, and to fit harmoniously within the contours of its sloping property.
Making use of property gradations, Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter, designed a multi-level deck with separate functional areas open to different sections of the lawn, including a close-by play area.
For the deck levels, stairs, rails, benches and plants, he chose Trex composite materials, in a gray tone that perfectly blends with the siding on the house. As an added benefit, Trex is manufactured from reclaimed and recycled materials, and does not require preservation treatments.
The spacious wide wraparound stairs were placed to maximize the view of the pool area. The landscaping was also planned to enhance the property’s scenic views. A bluestone stepping stone path meandering to the pool ensures that too much hardscape does not disturb the pastoral scene.
The geometric vinyl pool includes interior steps, loveseats, an acrylic spillover spa, tile walls; a Nicolock multi-level patio creates an elegant surround. An aluminum estate fence winds around the property, blending with colorful evergreen and perennial plantings.
An accessible cedar barbecue cabinet with a built in stainless steel weber grill was installed close to, but out of the view from, the kitchen doors. Future plans for this property include a pavilion at the pool with a wet bar and refrigerator.
This project was an interesting one for us. Our clients’ Long Island, NY, home is part of a beach community where properties are close together, and where shade and privacy is at a premium.
Our planned backyard upgrade included new amenities such as: patio, shade pergola, wood-burning fireplace, fire pit, attractive landscaping — and, a small herb/vegetable garden. The only problem was the homeowners feared the larger of their two dogs would trample any garden created. Some sort of fencing would be required, but would that detract from the limited natural space they had?
Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter, considered their concerns as work began. And when they were cutting down a large overgrown bush in the yard, a unique idea occurred to him.
“I remembered they also have a ski lodge in the Catskills and it occurred to me that a fence made from the old bush would offer a whimsical piece of Catskill design to the yard.”
The result is the bush clippings didn’t end up at the dump, and, instead, were used to good effect. The custom pergola beautifully provides shaded areas in their backyard, as well as privacy around the sitting areas. Cool evening ocean breezes are eased by the fireplace and fire pit, and the couple has fresh herbs and vegetables already budding — unmolested.
Note: Many will also wish to know that their cherished larger dog hasn’t gotten into any trouble — at least because of any harm to their garden.
Understanding what Travertine is, its strengths and weaknesses, and how it reacts in different areas, is something Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter, has discussed with stone experts from around the world. He has also studied existing Travertine projects over a period of years to see what actually holds up — and what doesn’t — in our climate.
Travertine natural stone has been in existence for thousand of years. It comes in many different colors, ranging from reddish orange, beige, to white, and is sometimes mistaken for marble. Italian Travertine, revered for its hardness and porosity, is what the Coliseum in Rome was constructed of, so the durability of Italian Travertine is not in question, although it can be expensive.
However, Travertine is quarried from around the globe and is widely used beyond Italy — mostly in tropical locations for patios, walks, terraces, etc. Although it is typically used indoors in colder climates, there has been an increase in its usage outdoors, in and around pools and homes. But can all Travertine stone be used this way?
The answer is no, or at least it shouldn’t for best results. The three most common locations where Travertine comes from are: Italy, Turkey, and Mexico. Mexico’s Travertine is a much softer and much more porous and does not hold up well in our frost zone. Turkish Travertine, is very common and, in most instances, is less expensive than the Italian. It does hold up quite well in our Northeast’s freeze/thaw climate.
Be aware, however, that some companies offer very inexpensive Travertine for use outdoors and may seem to be a great deal. However, they may be using stone quarried in, say, China, where the qualities of such stone differ considerably and will not stand up to certain climates. Just because a stone is called “Travertine,” don’t assume it’s all the same. It’s not.
When a pond water feature is well designed and built, koi will naturally help balance the entire pond ecosystem. However, many pond owners fear that the fish will be harmed or will not survive.
Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter, offers encouragement: “While it’s true that koi can be tempting to cats, raccoons, and herons, etc., there are precautions one can take that will mitigate these threats.”
For example, adding koi castles and tunnels at the bottom of the pond will give fish a safe place to hide from many predators. Also, including rock overhangs around the outside of the pond, which first and foremost will make any pond appear more natural, also discourages cats and raccoons from reaching into the water after the fish.
In addition, planning a water feature with sufficient water depth can dissuade raccoons and cats further, since neither enjoy swimming to get their dinner. Plus deeper water at the edges (more than 18” deep) discourages heron wading. Another helpful idea is adding a waterfall feature. The continuous movement of its water, or even water from nearby sprinklers, we have found will put off many avian predators.
Other precautions koi pond owners can take is including scarecrows, such as owl statues. In the end, if all else fails, a netting can always be installed over the pond.
Here’s some of The Deck and Patio’s favorite award-winning pond features. And, yes, even if not picked up in the pictures, there’s koi in each and every one.