Installing a man-made pool and stream in a natural setting requires meticulous landscape design and a bit of illusion to make it appear as though Mother Nature herself was the artist. That was the undertaking faced by landscape designer Nick Williams of Nick Williams & Associates when the owners of this home in Ojai, California, asked him to make over their backyard so it would reflect the beauty of the surroundings. The yard offered stunning views of the Topa Topa Mountains, but was lifeless and uninspiring, with little more than a large concrete pool.

Nick Williams of Nick Williams & Associates often incorporates a “shoreline” in his landscape designs, working back away from the pool with beds of gravel, water plants, and scatters of mixed stone and gravel to make the whole scene look completely natural. Photo by: Nick Williams & Associates.

“The homeowners wanted to extend the visual experience and integrate the property with its natural environment. They decided to do away with the existing pool and replace it with a natural-style pool nestled in a quarry of tumbled boulders and fed by an artificial mountain stream and small waterfall,” says Williams.

The poolscape also includes an adjacent spa and stream, accented by artistically crafted faux boulders combined with nature's own. Photo by: Nick Williams & Associates.

The transformation began by filling in the old pool, removing the walls around it, and building the new pool farther back in the yard to expand the space. This not only widened the property, it also eliminated all artificial boundaries. With this more expansive space, Williams and a team of rock specialists, masons, earthworkers, and pool installers were able to create a natural-style pool and stream accented by both real and faux boulders. An adjacent spa was also added and made to look like a small pond. At each end of the pool is a natural pebble beach that gently leads down into the cool, refreshing waters. Native plantings at the pool edges make a seamless transition into the landscape around it.

A close-up of the beach entry shows the various sizes of pebbles used to create a natural shoreline. Photo by: Nick Williams & Associates.

For many years, Williams has specialized in designing poolscapes that mirror and merge seamlessly with the geography of their surroundings. His biggest challenge during this transformation was to coordinate the activities of five different contractors and artists to create the poolscape. Many of the boulders are faux and were handcrafted and sculpted onsite by artisans to create the impression that they always belonged there. The mechanical equipment for the pool is hidden behind a wall attached to a guest house to maintain the look of a natural pondscape. To create the pebble beaches leading into the pool, Williams mixed different types of stone with pieces of concrete in various sizes to simulate a natural shoreline. In positioning the stones, he considers how light interacts with the water to create the illusion of depth in certain areas by transitioning from light stone to darker colors.

Trees were handpicked and placed purposefully, and tall rushes and grasses were planted to lead the eye out into the adjacent landscape. Photo by: Nick Williams & Associates.

This amazing attention to detail, with every feature thoughtfully sculpted as if by nature, resulted in a true a work of art. To see more of Williams’ poolscape creations, visit

Plant List:

  • Cedrus deodara
  • Arbutus marina
  • Chitalpa
  • Nyssa sylvatica
  • Liquidambar
  • Alnus rhombifolia
  • Feijoa sellowiana
  • Statice
  • Varieties of rushes and grasses
  • Oak trees (Quercus virginiana and Quercus palustris)

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