Pure As A Mountain Stream
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 6/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
An entertainment lawyer, the man we'll call Herr Schmidt represents the most famous young Hollywood couple in the universe. Back down on planet earth, you'll find him spending summer evenings with his family in the backyard of their 1900 stucco villa in Zurich—a setting that looks decidedly Californian, despite its location notched into a newly terraced hillside about a 15-minute walk from the shores of the Zürichsee.
That's not entirely coincidental. Though one of the installation designers, ArchitekturBureau Garzotto's Thierry Garzotto, is from Zurich, he graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Then he went on to earn a living as a professional snowboarder on the one hand and a production designer on the other. (He's credited on videos for Whitney Houston, Angie Stone, and Korn.) It doesn't take much to imagine a showbiz crowd, say Schmidt's famous clients and their international brood, lounging poolside in these crisply ecological surroundings.
The Schmidts' backyard steps down the hillside, thanks to a reinforced-concrete retaining wall with an integrated staircase that connects a tiny garden at the top to a terrace below. Silver-flecked granite surfaces the stair and some of the terrace, while the rest is lightly weathered decking of untreated ipé. The focal point of the terrace is a swimming pool. Because it's not large, at least by California standards, there's a jet for stationary swimming. But the pool's most important feature isn't readily apparent. It's a two-stage biological filtration system.
"At the same time that I'm displacing nature, I'm bringing nature back in," Garzotto explains of the scheme, which he developed in a close—but essentially virtual—collaboration with David Fletcher from San Francisco–based Fletcherstudio Landscape Architecture + Urban Design. The Zürichsee supplies the water, which then enters a closed-loop filtration process. It starts when water from the bottom of the pool is pumped through pipes leading to a trough filled with gravel and planted with bog grass. Besides removing bacteria, sediment, and debris, the grass grows up to 6 ½ feet tall over the course of the summer, partially obscuring a Balinese bas-relief set into the wall behind—for what Garzotto calls "an Indiana Jones effect." From the trough, the water is pumped through another pipe. This one leads to a small lily pond, where further purification takes place with the help of sand. The pond's trickling waterfall quietly provides aeration while delivering the water back to the swimming pool.
Acknowledging the water's noticeably emerald cast, Garzotto dips a cupped hand into the pool and splashes some algae-infused liquid into his mouth. "Harmless," he states. "Plus, it's very good for the skin." Alas, the adjacent whirlpool is chlorinated. "Look at all the chemicals," he says, surveying the pump room with regret. "You just have to kill everything."
At the far end of the terrace from the whirlpool, Garzotto placed the outdoor kitchen, demarcated by an ultralight powder-coated aluminum trellis that hangs on angled steel cables from a stand of steel columns along the property line. The counter, again of silver-flecked granite, rests on a stack of plain granite and incorporates a supersize stainless-steel American grill. When the Schmidts fired it up the first time, Garzotto says, "All the men came running." But initial culinary experiments were "gruesome," he admits. "Europeans really don't know how to barbecue." Fortunately, he was quick to instruct them. Architecture wasn't his only course of study in California.