The people have spoken! We've tabulated the ballots and checked them twice to bring you the winners of the 14th annual AQUA Choice Awards. As always, the result is a gallery of your peers' best projects presented to honor the winners and inspire AQUA readers.

As you enjoy the beauty, ingenuity and craftsmanship of the winning projects, we hope you'll be inspired, too. AQUA Choice isn't just a beauty pageant; it's an idea book for you and your clients, too. New concepts for design details, materials plantings and accessories are on every page and across every category. Enjoy!

Water features WINNERS

2ND PLACE Black Creek Canyon

This water feature was designed to enhance a custom outdoor kitchen, bar and entertaining area.

A mix of interesting materials keeps the senses happy: A granite countertop in the kitchen plays counterpoint to a custommade osage bar top, which is lit from underneath. The steel bridge clad in earthy pavers is flanked by hollowed-out osage logs planted with flowers and it leads to upper patios and a fragrant herb garden.

Black Creek Canyon mixed stone used in the house construction with Colorado moss boulders in the waterfall, lending a sense of unity.

Lockport, IL

Location: St. Charles, IL | Depth: 18"

Cost of project: $125,000

3RD PLACE Goddard Construction Services

Villa Curva de Fiume is the 80-acre estate in northern California that serves as the setting for these impressive, natural-looking waterfalls built on a massive scale by Goddard Construction Services.

The moss-rock waterfall required 550 tons of moss rock trucked from a location outside of Yosemite National Park. The largest of these weighs 25,000 pounds.

Three thousand gallons of water course down the 125-foot-long falls each minute, feeding four ponds and two streams. A 32-foot-long bridge spans the waterway.

The greenstone waterfall is 12 feet high and 60 feet wide and also runs at 3,000 gallons per minute and boasts a 25,000pound rock.

Woodbridge, CA

Location: Woodbridge, CA | Flow: 3,000 gallons per minute

1ST PLACE Black Creek Canyon

A burbling stream originates at a line of spruce trees and meanders around and under a rustic, custom-made log bridge providing these lucky homeowners with a sylvan vista from the bar area inside the home.

For night viewing, colored lights illuminate the pond, and uplights animate the trees and landscape, including over 40 varieties of grasses, ground cover, shrubs, evergreens and roses.

Natural-gas tiki torches light the way across the paver-clad patio to custom-cut slab stairs and over the bridge to the rear yard.

Lockport, IL

Location: St. Charles, IL Depth: 18"

Cost of project: $135,000

Custom Spas WINNERS

2 ND PLACE Black Creek Canyon

The client wished to fill a space that overlooks a scenic terrace and garden with an elegant marble and tile spa.

The house was a Frank Lloyd Wright design so the mosaic tile and marble were a great mix, along with special chrome lids, vent registers and air controls. All of the fixtures in the spa are black to match the marble.

Lockport, IL 

Location: Orland Park, IL | Size: 12’ x 12’ | Depth: 36” | Cost of project: $110,000 

3 RD PLACE 

What they didn't do on this project was almost as important as what Innovative Pool Design did do: They did not disturb the trees. They did not change the already beautiful landscaping. They did not change the natural appearance of the backyard.

But they did give the customers a quiet, cozy spot to relax under the stars while listening to the gentle trickles of water from the Texas moss rock waterfall. The onyx pool surface enhances the natural look and the deck, constructed of irregular Oklahoma Wiester stone, serves as a visual transition from nature to human environment.

Houston, TX

Location: The Woodlands, TX | Size: 5' x 13' | Depth: 3' 

Cost of spa: $37,000

Cost of project: $46,000 Innovative Pool Design

1 ST PLACE  Deck and Patio Company

This client really wanted a pool, but did not have the space for one. So Deck and Patio Company suggested a swim spa with a cascading waterfall.

With three sides of the property exposed to neighbors, privacy was a concern, so layered trees and shrubs were planted to screen the view and add a cozy, natural feeling.

A natural-gas fireplace makes the spa a year-round retreat. The waterfall was handmade by a skilled mason who selected and placed the stones to create the sheeting waterfall that feeds into the spa. The spa sits on the edge of a rustic tumbled-paver patio that is an enchanting retreat whether one is soaking in the spa or just lounging. The automation system makes the lovely setting carefree.

Huntington Station, NY

Location: West Islip, NY Size: 8' x 10' Depth: 42"

Cost of spa: $20,000

Cost of project: $70,000

Portable Spas WINNERS

2 ND PLACE Poolman of Wisconsin

The owners of this Hot Spring spa wanted an installation that would capture their feelings about the vineyards of Italy right in their own private sanctuary.

In order to make their dream a reality, Poolman of Wisconsin had to reinforce the floor and framing to accommodate approximately three tons of tile and water. And because the owners wanted the spa, surround and steps to be completely tiled, a plumber had to design a special drain system that empties to the outside of the house.

The homeowners are very pleased with the way the tiled spa flows into the background scenery and recreates their images of Italian wine country.

Eau Claire, WI

Location: Fall Creek, WI | Size: 7'3" x 7'3" | Capacity: 400 gallons | Cost of spa: $16,000

Cost of project: $20,000

3 RD PLACE All Seasons Spas

The clients wanted a simple and attractive private spa area that would be easily accessible from the master suite and create a transition to the outdoor kitchen and living space below. Deck landings, steps and raised block planters create the visual and functional transition, while softening the effect of the house's two-story facade.

The in-ground Sundance spa was installed in a raised wood deck with a tumbled-block surround, with an equipment vault below. The arrangement provided a challenge when it was time to plumb the spa to the spa pack, but All Seasons says a very creative, skilled — and skinny — service tech was able to disassemble the spa pack and then reassemble it in cramped quarters, properly attaching the plumbing, air and electrical connections.

The secluded privacy of this installation allows the homeowners to easily enjoy a nightly therapeutic soak.

Hilliard, OH    

Location: Hilliard, OH | Size: 5'9" x 6'10" | Depth: 30" | Capacity: 240 gallons

1 ST PLACE  Tumber & Associates

A multi-million -dollar Frank Lloyd Wright-style home was — ironically — desperately in need of cohesion with its environment. The steep slopes of the escarpment property created challenges. However, the elevation change provided the opportunity for an extensive water feature combined with multiple walkways and terraces on several levels.

One of the many points of interest is the hot tub nestled right into the stream itself. Rushing water tumbles over boulders and into pools while the hot tub soothes away aches and pains. Native grasses around the water feature naturalize it and help blur the line between man-made and natural.

Orangeville, ON 

Location: Mulmer, ON Cost of spa and water feature: $200,000 Cost of project: $314,000

Vinyl-Liner/Package Pools WINNERS

2 ND PLACE Roodbergen Pool & Spa

Many different companies worked together coordinating time and materials to make this homeowner very happy. The homeowner originally asked for a lush, tropical oasis-themed backyard. But as the design process moved forward, he came to embrace this minimalist design with its simple lines and clean edges. The negative-edge waterfall and the geometric, raised sunning island are counterpointed by the smooth sweep of the bridge's curve and the rusticity of the jump rock in the diving area.

Automated systems for filtration and sanitization make this pool all play and very little work.

Portage, MI

Location: Portage, MI | Size of main pool: 44' x 33' | Size of upper pool: 19' x 21'

Cost of pool: $135,000

Cost of project: $260,000

3 RD PLACE Waterscape Concepts

This pool is proof that vinyl-lined pools have come a long way in the past few years; builders can now build just about any shape they want to.

These clients wanted a backyard that's a vacation in itself, so Waterscape Concepts gave them the works. A spa island is accessed by a stone bridge, a sunken dry bar and bar stools lend resort-like ambience and a slide built into a planter bed gives some waterpark fun. Fiber optics illiuminate nine pool lights, the perimeter and water features. The outdoor kitchen has a smoker, fireplace and grill, and two firepits add a little more warmth. A 10-foot retaining wall was built to elevate the grade and eliminate the need for a lot of steps.

The pool's systems are completely automated so the homeowners feel like they are truly on vacation all the time.

Goodlettsville, TN

Location: Brentwood, TN | Size: 65' x 51' | Depth: 3'6" to 8'6"

Cost of project: $225,000 

1 ST PLACE Deck and Patio Company

Rock, and lots of it, was the key ingredient in this resort-inspired outdoor living space with play areas for both kids and adults.

Fifty cubic yards of crushed stone helped level out the 12-foot elevation change from one end of the pool to the other. Waterfalls and retaining walls called for 120 tons of moss rock trucked in from New Jersey. Moss rock serves as the coping with several boulders notched so the rock meets the water.

Five tumbled-paver patio areas are connected by boulder steps and bluestone paths that meander through lush gardens and planting pockets.

Huntington Station, NY

Location: Dix Hills, NY Size: 46' x 32' Depth: 42" to 9'

Cost of pool: $69,000

Cost of project: $250,000

Fiberglass Pool or Spa WINNERS

2 ND PLACE Able Installations

The client was clear that the pool should be the centerpiece of the multi-million-dollar oceanfront home. Because of the volatile beachsand setting, Able Installations encased a fiberglass shell in 20 yards of low-psi concrete, providing stability and permanently bonding the plumbing to the shell.

Six palms, encased in planters made from the stone used for coping, add a tropical flavor, and each is highlighted with its own laminar-flow fountain. Perimeter fiber-optic lighting is synchronized with the pool, spa and fountain lights for spectacular ambiance after dark. A fully outfitted outdoor kitchen completes the oasis.

The project came in on time and on budget; the very happy client christened the project "The Last Resort."

Wilmington, NC

Location: North Topsail Beach, NC Size: 10' x 40' Depth: 3' to 8'

Cost of pool: $30,654

Cost of project: $134,765 

3 RD PLACE Blue Water Luxury Pools

Natural materials and colors, low maintenance and an elegant, versatile space for entertaining topped this client's wish list. Blue Water Luxury Pools faced the challenge of providing all that while working in a tricky spot with a steep drop off.

By placing the pool at an angle, they were able to satisfy the clients and the city codes. The homeowners are also pleased with the automation system that lets them control all the pool functions from inside the house.

Mississippi bluff rock is the backdrop to interchangeable, flush-mount water features and at night, fiber-optic pool and landscape lighting can be orchestrated remotely.

Bettendorf, IA

Location: Bettendorf, IA | Size: 14' x 28' | Depth: 3' x 6'

Cost of pool: $55,000

Cost of project: $100,000

1 ST PLACE San Juan Pools of Monterey

The client originally wanted a concrete pool with a vanishing edge, but after some research, he decided on a fiberglass vessel with a vanishing edge for this 10,000-square-foot estate on a Carmel Valley mountainside. The sweeping views made the vanishing-edge choice an easy one.

The materials were chosen to match the quality of the materials used on the estate. A challenging detail was fitting the automatic cover below the tiled steps.

Laminar-flow deck jets and a spill-over spa add movement to the serene design, which is lit with a fiber-optic system.

Carmel, CA

Location: Carmel Valley, CA Size: 16' x 40'

Cost of pool: $80,000

Cost of project: $160, 

Concrete/Gunite Pools WINNERS

2 ND PLACE Natural Design

This swimming hole is tucked into a natural clearing on a slope in the forest about 300 feet from the house. The goal was to create a completely natural-looking body of water with waterfalls and natural entry points.

The "rocks" were hand carved from concrete by Natural Design's team of sculptors, and they are integrated into the "sandy bottom" pool floor. The natural slope of the land allowed for several waterfalls; one pours over a grotto with a below-the-waterline bench.

At one end is a shallow beach area with a cascading waterfall for younger kids. At the other side is a beach entry with large flat sculpted rocks leading into the water. Areas of flat rock serve the purpose of patios, and are joined by stepping stones with woodland plants growing in between them. Hardy indigenous plants provide much of the green while towering pine trees offer shade.

The pool has an automatic water-leveler and the falls are adjustable with remote control. Old-style oil lamps light the path through the forest to and from the pool.

Auburn, CA

Location: Nevada City, CA | Size: 23' x 27' | Depth: 1'6" to 7'

Cost of pool: $75,000

Cost of project: $90,000

PLACE 3 RD Smart Pools

To accompany his new 12,000-squarefoot Mediterranean-inspired estate, this client wanted an elegant, formal pool. His initial request was a Roman-style pool at grade level; but designer Dave Klohr, Sr., offered several ideas, and the final design included a rectangular raised fountain centered in the courtyard leading to a raised Grecian pool with concave and convex spillways flowing back toward the courtyard. The upper spillway pours into the pool over copper weirs, while the lower one empties into a tiled basin.

The raised design required waterproofing inside and out and the entire perimeter was double cut to accept the marble veneer. The copper weirs were placed partially in the water to moderate the temperature because the intense Nevada heat can cause expansion, detaching the metal from the bond beam.

The very meticulous homeowner was appreciative of Smart Pools' attention to detail.

Las Vegas, NV

Location: Las Vegas, NV | Size: 20' x 40' | Depth: 3' to 5'

Cost of pool: $150,000

Cost of project: $350,000 

1 ST PLACE  PJ's Concrete Pumping Service

This project takes advantage of a sloping grade overlooking a lake. A large upper pool flows into a lower kiddie pool via a stone-faced vanishing edge.

Above the large pool, a slide, the top of which is located just steps from the residence, wraps around a cave. A seating area and natural light, along with a cascading waterfall across the entrance, make the stone-covered cave a fun hideaway.

With all these levels, nooks and perching spots, this family can play its own game of Survivor.

Barrington, IL

Location: Lake Carroll, IL Size: 24' x 90' Depth: 6" to 5'6"

Cost of pool: $175,000

Cost of project: $250,000

Pool and Spa Under 600 s.f. WINNERS

2 ND PLACE George Neiderer Pools

In many parts of North America, if you want to swim year-round, an outdoor pool is not the pool for you. But this exquisite indoor pool and spa can be enjoyed rain or shine, snow or sun.

A custom tile inlay on the pool's floor adds a distinctive touch to this space, which blends traditional and contemporary styling.

Hanover PA

Location: New Oxford, PA Size: 12' x 50' Depth: 5'

3 RD PLACE California Pools & Spas

While soaking in the warmth of sunny California, this family can also take a dip in its geometric pool and spa, highlighted by quartzite spillways, a swim-up bar and stools, and a shallow tanning shelf for children to play in.

Landscaped with large queen palms for a tropical look and feel, this complete outdoor environment also has a firepit and barbecue area adjacent to the pool. Building this sunken barbecue area next to the swim-up bar required extra time and attention, says California Pools & Spas.

The pool's interior finish enhances the tropical look, while the tumbled-paver deck provides a space for swimmers to dry off and relax.

Plus, says California Pools & Spas, "It was no difficult job scheduling and making our customers' dream come true in a short period of time because we have our own in-house construction, masonry, landscape and decking departments."

Coachella, CA

Location: La Quinta, CA | Size: 14' x 33' | Depth: 3' to 5'

Cost of pool: $70,000

Cost of project: $100,000 

1 ST PLACE  Brian Cullingworth

With a site next to water, it's hard to resist building a pool with a negative edge. But creating that vanishing effect is no simple chore — the pool's interior finish has to be just right. On this pool and spa, Brian Cullingworth certainly achieved the seamless look. The client had asked for a natural setting with custom features, like the swim-up bar. Cullingworth says the rock work, palm trees and other plantings throughout the project help create the desired natural look and help the project blend into the backyard space.

The greatest technical accomplishment on this project, notes Cullingworth, was building the 6-foot freestanding wall on the negative-edge side of the pool.

Temecula, CA

Location: Temecula, CA Size: 20' x 28' Depth: 3'6" to 8'6"

Cost of pool: $150,000

Cost of project: $200,000

Pool and Spa, Over 600 s.f. WINNERS

2 ND PLACE Artisan Pools/Chux Landscaping

The goal for this project was to create a naturalistic mountain edge pool and spa, taking advantage of the natural topography and woodland edge, where the client could escape the stress of the city. The clients wanted a large pool and entertaining area, which seemed to grow larger at every meeting.

The awkward topography was remedied by good design and an experienced excavator who had to use a rock hammer to get through the solid rock at the deep end of the pool.

The boulder beam, retaining walls and waterfall were built with moss rock. The pool tile band of Rocky Mountain quartzite complements the gray DiamondBrite interior finish. Hand-chiseled, irregular Tennessee crab orchard stone was used for the coping and the wet-laid decking.

The clients have been very pleased with their garden and pool oasis and continue to refer Artisan/Chux.

Pine Brook, NJ

Location: Montville, NJ | Size: 53' x 18' | Depth: 3'6" x 8'6"

Cost of pool: $82,500

Cost of project: $152,900 

2 ND PLACE Smart Pools

The young professionals with small children that live in this enormous home perched on a hillside overlooking the Las Vegas Strip wanted a backyard wellequipped for family fun and evening entertainment for grownups.

The children got a beach entry, an 8-foot-by25-foot shallow wet-deck with in-floor bubblers and a swim channel around the spa. At the other end of the pool is a swim-up bar with built-in stools. A fully equipped kitchen including a grill, side burner, refrigerator — even the kitchen sink — is convenient to the bar. A floating island spa with a cantilevered access bridge is fun for the whole family.

A separate firepit area and gas-fired tiki torches provide evening atmosphere and even a little warmth on chilly desert nights.

The whole system runs like clockwork and the project far exceeded the homeowners' expectations.

Las Vegas, NV

Location: Las Vegas, NV | Size: 30' x 60' | Depth: 2' to 6'

Cost of pool: $175,000

Cost of project: $225,000 

1 ST PLACE  Pool and Spa

The clients for this project wanted a lagoon-type pool with several different areas for swimming and playing. They also asked for a firepit in the pool with stepping-stone access. California Pools & Spas selected natural stone and boulders to reflect the surrounding mountainous landscape, and broom-finished concrete in a harmonious color for the deck. Natural chocolate-brown boulders create a rustic path to the firepit and seating area.

The sunken firepit was an engineering feat; the builders had to run the gasline to the firepit, make provisions for drainage and build the steel armature for the bench seating before shooting the gunite.

This pool provides entertaining space, an area for kids to play in, and still provides a 75-foot lane for lap swimming.

Location: La Quinta, CA Size: 75' x 48' Depth: 1' to 5'

Cost of pool: Over $200,000

Cost of project: Over $300,000

WINNERS Coachella, CA California Pools & Spas pg_0018

Editors' PICKS

A work of art can be enjoyed on many different levels — that's part of what makes a work of art. As readers made their decisions and cast their votes for the 14th AQUA Choice winners, they drew on their own backgrounds and areas of expertise. A builder may have been impressed with a particularly well-executed edge detail. A landscape designer might have been swayed by an unexpected but innovative use of plant material. And a sales professional may have chosen a project that presented a well-known product in an entirely new way.

The AQUA staff includes writers who are also parents and homeowners as well as a scuba diver, a small-business owner and a swimmer. We took off our AQUA editorial hats to choose our favorite projects from the 14th AQUA Choice Awards.

Kirstin Pires, Editor

Blue Water Pools

I love water. I know that's not particularly unusual, nor is it much of a surprise, given my line of work.

I've almost always lived near water: the Gulf of Mexico, the Delaware Water Gap, the Farmington River, the Hudson River and Lake Michigan have all been my next-door neighbors. My present home is a few hundred steps from Lake Mendota. And I swim several miles each week.

I've chosen this project built on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan by Blue Water Pools because it presents water — in the pool, in the spa and in the lake — so beautifully. The structure doesn't call attention to itself; rather it creates a series of frames and settings through which we can experience water. The pool is large enough for swimming laps (although I might add a current for stationary swimming, if this were my pool) and the spa has a simple bench seat so my arthritic dog, Kady, could enjoy some hydrotherapy with me. Lake Michigan's magnificent, endless horizon inspires both awe and peaceful calm, making this project the perfect water experience for me.

Barrett Kilmer, Managing Editor

Tumber & Associates

A lot of clients say they want a pool or pond that looks natural, but given budget and space limitations, they usually end up with something that's beautiful but that bears signs of human involvement. This pond, on the other hand, looks like it's been there since the glaciers retreated from North America, oh, roughly 10,000 years ago. The plantings around the pond are also free of fussiness, so the project blends in exceptionally well with the landscape behind it. In addition to being largely wheelchair-accessible, the feature includes a trout-fishing pond and a gazebo that cantilevers out over the water.

Karen Erstad, Senior Editor

California Pools & Spas

A firepit in the pool — now that's pretty cool. And innovative. I love seeing these new twists to backyard design as I page through the AQUA Choice Awards. Just as there are no new stories, but there's always a new way to tell them, pools will always be holes filled with water, but there will always be new ways to design them.

Another thing I like about this project is the large shallow area, perfect for young children, which I now have two of. And if I ever got a moment away from helping them toddle through the water, I could even swim a couple laps in the 75-foot lap lane. Though I'd probably opt to rest in the spa if I got a break.

Becky Strauss, Associate Editor

Deck and Patio Company

The more natural a backyard landscape looks, the more I tend to like it, so my choice is the beautiful koi pond by the Deck and Patio Company of Huntington Station, N.Y. The splashes of different shades of green, as well as the colorful aquatic plantings make the pond look organic, as if it has always been there. The rock waterfall — the focal point of the project — also blends seamlessly with the pond. That stone, as well as the pieces creating the perimeter of the pond, offers a nice visual contrast to the more-traditionally colored stone on the patio. Taking a cup of morning coffee out to the pond to feed the koi and listening to the water tumble down the rock waterfall sounds like a great way to get away from it all.

Scott Maurer, Art Director

Tumber & Associates

Once again there were many beautiful projects entered in the 14th annual AQUA Choice Awards. The builders and designers have really pushed the limits of creativity and usability. The ability to enjoy the pool/spa environment and have no worries about its function is a key feature to me. There are few things as satisfying as a good soak in a hot tub as the snow falls gently around you. Add to this the peaceful sounds of a bubbling stream, and I think I've found my favorite spot. I imagine that this spa and water feature by Tumber & Associates would make the perfect setting for the ultimate spa experience. I really appreciate the natural integration the tub has with the landscaping and the adjoining natural stream. This spa perfectly fits into its environment complementing the flat stone steps and native plants.