Anyone who thinks a swimming pool is a chlorine-filled rectangle for cooling off and doing laps hasn't met Anthony Archer-Wills. The British landscape artist has been designing water gardens since the 1960s in England and Scotland, and he has created 2,000 water features in the U.K., Europe, South America, Turkey and the United States. Now he's bringing his natural approach to swimming pools to TV in the Animal Planet series "The Pool Master," premiering the first of three episodes on June 20.
"I have been fascinated by water since the age of 9 years old. I loved natural pools and to me they seemed like underwater gardens. The life and movement to me was magical," says Archer-Wills, who built his first pool in 1963 and started his pool company in 1965.
He jumped at the chance to take on challenges like the one presented in the series' first episode, in which he's hired to build a pool at the edge of a cliff for an adventurous Kentucky couple with a cabin rental business. Subsequent episodes take place in Ojai, California, where his clients "own an organic restaurant and want a pool to mirror their epicurean lifestyle," edible garden included; and in Sonoma, California, "where I construct a wine lover's pool."
Going into each project, Archer-Wills considers client requirements, the near and distant landscape, relationship to the house, making the pool look comfortable in the chosen setting, and budget. With the aid of his excavator and contractor, he has to dig out, relocate, and reposition rocks — some of them boulder-sized — and make it seem like they'd been placed by nature. His ability to achieve this is uncanny, but he insists, "There's nothing mystic in this. It is mainly intuition and an ability to see the potential in something that may be upside-down, half buried in soil or mostly obscured behind trees. The rocks seem to almost call out for my attention, although some play hard to get!"
He's aware of the surrounding natural environment at all times, which he believes is "essential to achieve a naturalistic result," but also for humanitarian reasons. "I think we should respect plants and creatures as they are also entitled to their lives," he says. In the opener, he rescues a blueberry plant from being crushed by the earthmover and incorporates it into the landscaping.
His biggest pool installation was in Kent, England, but his favorites were ones he built in the south of France, "mainly because the client was so delightful and it gave them so much pleasure. Another, because the client was so enchanted by the finished product that he wrote, 'You have given us the Mona Lisa.'" He's enjoying his work in the U.S. now, and finds the people "for the most part, very enthusiastic, accepting and friendly."
Archer-Wills is nothing if not eccentric, but he says he's even more so than how he's portrayed, and always has been. "I would love to make explosions at school, and in my twenties, was quite happy to drive my 1936 open Bentley in pouring rain with no windshield or top!"
Has he considered teaming up with Animal Planet's treehouse specialist, Pete Nelson? "I would love to meet Pete, whom I admire and may have a project for him in New York," Archer-Wills affirms. In the meantime, he hopes "Pool Master" viewers will come away with "a broad smile, a wider sense of what can be achieved, an open mind, and the spirit of adventure to try something special, even if it temporarily lightens their wallet."
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