Our company is quickly earning a reputation for taking old things – stuff that many would consider junk – and repurposing them in a new way.

We do this not because we are part of the green movement, although there is certainly nothing wrong with that way of thinking. We don’t do it to save money – on the contrary, it’s often an expensive proposition to properly use reclaimed materials in our designs.

We do it for the simple reason that everything carries energy.MIN Nautical Legendary Escape (20)

All the stuff in life, all the materials that go into the things we build, has its own energy. Everything carries a sense of where it came from and the history that it has witnessed. It is this history, this sense of past, that helps to create a rich and complex atmosphere in our projects.

Take barn wood for example. In my travels around Michigan, I often come across really old barns – 100 or 200 years old –in danger of collapse. I enjoy talking to the owners and seeing if they’d be willing to part with the wood. I make it clear that I’m not going to burn it or destroy it, but rather lovingly and respectfully incorporate that material into a new project.

When we use this type of material, which by its very nature is a limited resource, we don’t have the luxury of cutting it up any way we want and wasting any bit of. We can’t just run to Home Depot and get more if we make a mistake.

Using these old materials makes us more careful and more present with the project. As an artist, it forces me to think the project through in a caring manner, respecting the energy of the material and what it brings while limiting waste as much as possible.

Some people we’ve talked to ask how we can assure the quality of the reclaimed materials we use. Isn’t it “safer” from a quality perspective to buy brand new materials?

If you think about quality from a strictly scientific perspective, maybe…but then again, just because something is new doesn’t mean it is well made. Look at how quickly those expensive phones break down and become garbage.

Quality, to me, comes from the emotional connection we have to the materials we use. It’s an esoteric kind of quality, not measurable with scientific instruments, but with the heart.

The weathered and worn feel of reclaimed material has a richness and warmth that can’t be replicated with new materials. I believe this kind of craftsmanship can truly enrich our customers’ lives.

The idealist in me likes the idea of taking something that’s outlived its useful life and giving it a new purpose — like the old ship’s lantern that was taking up space on a collector’s shelf. By wiring it with low voltage lighting and building it into the project, we were able to return it to its original purpose of lighting a particular space, with a modern treatment that makes it practical and highly functional.

About CharacterMIN Nautical Legendary Escape (10)

Our aim is to create a backyard environment that has “character.” I remember when I was a kid; the family room was for family and daily living, while the living room was for guests only, with its plastic covered furniture that screamed “don’t get too close.”

We don’t create our pools for company; we create them for hanging out, for the family. We like our pool environments to say “come and play with me, come enjoy me.”

Certainly there are some stunning high end pools that are absolutely beautiful to look at but don’t do much to invite us in to play, linger and relax. Using reclaimed items helps us create that old style of comfort that draws our homeowners in and beckons them to experience the entire pool.

For example, we recently used an old ship porthole built into the back of the grotto that you can actually open and stick your hand through. It adds great natural light in the grotto, and makes an interactive experience that was unlike anything we’d done before.

We design our pools to be an organic experience from the start, which gives us the flexibility to create room for just the right piece. In our latest project, we initially proposed a “theming” budget to our customers, but the homeowner didn’t really understand what that meant and decided not to add it in. As the project began to take shape – especially the waterfall and grotto features – the homeowners were able to walk into the grotto and have a look.

They were immediately reminded of a favorite childhood movie, “The Goonies,” and mentioned that to our team. This got the creativity flowing, and we began to look at the grotto as a hideout for shipwrecked pirates who used the timbers from their ship to support the walls of a cave so they could live there.

Hand-carved cement “timbers,” old rum barrels, even a custom crafted treasure chest complete with lighted “jewels (part of the low-voltage lighting) will turn the grotto into a magical experience for all the kids – young and old!MIN Nautical Legendary Escape (22)

We are mid-way through our pirate adventure and the homeowner is so excited about their “themed” grotto, which they more clearly understand now that they can see how it is seamlessly incorporated into the overall design.

As an additional treat for the homeowner, our team was absent from the project for a couple days to travel to the international pool show, and we planted a pirate flag in our absence as one more fun surprise and point of conversation while we were away. It’s this kind of magic – the relationship with our customers – that is the end result of the all the creative energy we pour into our work.

Al Curtis is the designer and builder for Legendary Escapes Pools. He has pioneered the hybrid vinyl liner/gunite swimming pool, and is known for his unique and innovative custom designs. Also known online as @askthepoolguy, he blogs, does video, training, and events for the pool loving public and fellow industry professionals. He can be found online at www.AskthePoolGuy.com.


(Originally Published in AQUA Magazine 2014-2015)

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