Before you step into the swimming pool, you walk across a spectacular coral reef — or at least a stone and porcelain replication of one that has colorful small fish, eelgrass, starfish, a shark, jellyfish, coral and even a mermaid and Neptune.
Each of the hand-crafted 350 porcelain designs is set in a mosaic of thousands of hand-cut pebble stones, or Indonesian beach stones.
As one of the owners of the pool and adjoining house in Old Saybrook put it, “It's more than we ever expected. It's like having an artist working at your house.”
The artist in this case is Richard Beyer, owner of Pataya Flooring and Stone Supply of Niantic. It was something of a risky venture since even Beyer wasn't sure how it would turn out. A friend of his, a stone mason, gave him a warning.
“He told me that I was crazy, that I had really lost my mind,” Beyer recalled.
But, Beyer said, he never had any panic attacks while tackling the project.
“If you have doubts, it's not going to turn out successfully,” he said.
And successful it is. The end result of three months work this summer provides a one-of-a-kind pool deck that is both eye-catching and attractive. The bright-colored porcelain figures fit into subdued pebble stones in a way that doesn't shock the visual senses.
The edge of the coral reef is cut unevenly. Imagine this being the irregular shoreline, or the line where reef meets higher water.
The project wasn't in the works until this summer, but Beyer purchased the porcelain figures in California eight years ago, waiting for an opportunity to use them. “When I travel,” he said, “I look for things you don't see on the East Coast.”
This turned out to be the perfect locale. The owners of the property, who asked not to be identified in this story, have the pool bordering a large expanse of tidal wetlands. A beautiful garden, complete with a man-made waterfall sits off to the side.
The original deck was made of concrete, and cracking. The plan at first was a fairly modest plan to install traditional slate decking. “Then,” one owner said, “he showed up with these fish.”
The two owners fell in love with the coral reef concept. The first month was spent by Beyer and his worker, Willie Vallejo, setting the foundation for the overlay, taking strict precautions that the top layer won't crack as a result of cold New England winters and steamy summers.
Beyer didn't plan on paper how he would configure the coral design. It was all by feel and instinct. “You go to bed at night thinking about where you're going to place something. And then the next day, you do it, and it works out. Creative work is what I really enjoy, even though it's stressful.”
The mosaic is multi-faceted. There are schools of fish. In one section there is a shark in pursuit of a fish. That fish has large eyes that belies a sense of impending tragedy.
“You can see the shark coming after the fish and you can almost see the fish saying, 'Oh my God.' “ Beyer said.
He said that when his son Richie, age four at the time, saw the design for the first time he called it “Finding Nemo,” after the Disney production.
Beyer augmented the original plan a bit as time passed.
“A friend of mine asked whether I planned to include a mermaid and Neptune,” he recalled. “I said that I hadn't, but thanks for the idea.”
This is the third project Beyer has done at this home. The others were a bathroom, which has some unique touches of its own, and the kitchen. One of the owners said she trusted Beyer with the deck design because she had seen his imagination at work on the other projects.
The deck work was painstaking. Each of the pebblestones is hand cut to make room for the odd-shaped porcelain figures. Beyer couldn't say how many thousands of the stones surround the pool. He lost count after a few days into the project.
On the hottest of days, Beyer would have to stop working by noon. It was just too hot for the new decking to dry correctly. On some days, they would use an awning or umbrella to offer protection from the heat.
In the end, Beyer felt great satisfaction. He clearly welcomed the challenge.
“I'd much rather have this than someone come to you with a magazine, point to a picture, and say, 'This is what I want.'”