the desert lagoon

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by Jessika Salopek
photographs by Jesse Ramirez

A simple backyard transforms into a cherished oasis

What started out as a simple plan to add a pool to the Gonzales family’s backyard soon spiraled into something much more elaborate. “We had a pretty decent backyard—mostly grass with a sprinkler system and a 30-person firepit in one corner,” Carlos Gonzales remembers. “We were just going to do the pool with a hot tub, but when we started going over ideas and wants, it turned into a bigger pool, two hot tubs, flagstone decking, a waterfall feature, a grotto, an outdoor kitchen, an outdoor restroom, and a music entertainment system.”

The swimming pool is the cornerstone of the space. Instead of planning for a customary rectangular version, Gonzales hired Miguel Mercado of the award-winning Dorian Construction Group to create a shapely lagoon with red tile trim and a built-in cocktail table. At one end, the open air hot tub invites up to 12 guests to take a soak. At the other end, a second hot tub is cozily enclosed in an Italian stone grotto.

Gonzales says the grotto was inspired by pool-building shows on television and private homes he’s visited in California. “I had a mental note in my head of what I was looking for, and I knew it had to be something special,” he says.

To that end, the grotto features water overspills from both the sides and the top, while a built-in speaker system helps set the mood. Tucked behind the entrance is a set of stairs leading to a flat roof where brave swimmers can take a high-dive jump. The less adventurous can get to the pool by gliding down a slide carved into the rocks.

“Mr. Gonzales said, ‘Anything you can do to make it spectacular.’ That allowed us to put in the waterfall that takes up the whole back wall, which is pretty unique.”—Miguel Mercado

A sculptural wall of boulders juts from the grotto and spans nearly the entire length of the pool, creating the backdrop for a massive, 30-foot waterfall feature. Color-changing LED lights add to the visual effect.

“This particular project was memorable because Mr. Gonzales said, ‘Anything you can do to make it spectacular,’” Mercado explains. “That allowed us to put in the waterfall that takes up the whole back wall, which is pretty unique.”

With such an elaborate creation dominating the space, the rest of the backyard naturally had to follow suit. The small kitchen they’d originally planned no longer made sense, so they upped the ante, opting instead for a stacked stone and granite eating area with all the trimmings: two refrigerators, a double sink, and a 48-inch barbecue grill. The wraparound bar offers seating on three sides to accommodate up to 10 people. An overhead speaker system and a fire pit built into the countertop ensure all the senses are stimulated.

“We have gatherings back here with family members and close friends. During the summer break, the younger kids are in the pool all day long, and my wife is in there as often as the kids are,” Gonzales says. “My favorite part of it is just the look of it; the aesthetics. When I stand out on the back retaining wall and take it all in, it makes me happy because it’s just a really nice place to spend time.”


Dorian Construction Group