Choeff Levy Fischman designed this outdoor living space to create a gentle segue from outdoors to inside. Photograph by Lifestyle Production Group

How to Bring Peace and Harmony to Your Outdoor Spaces

Four designers explain how they center tranquility and relaxation in their outdoor living spaces.

Whether it’s for pure relaxation, an energizing yoga session, or a mental escape from the world, a serene outdoor setting under a blue sky is the way to go. 

As wellness trends have accelerated, pool designers and landscape experts are taking a sophisticated step in the design of outdoor settings that awaken all the senses: beautiful architecture, fresh plantings, cascading water features, and lighting, all working together to help create a blissful state of mind.

The Miami firm Choeff Levy Fischman specializes in tropical modern architecture and design, with a focus on sustainability. Arresting natural components—exotic stones, South American woods, and exotic plants—combined with refined water features around pools and reflecting ponds, create a soothing setting. Many of the firm’s designs include spa-like features and yoga decks that subtly connect with infinity pools and the home’s interior by way of a gentle segue from outdoors to inside.

Principal Paul Fischman, raised in South Florida, is intimately acquainted with natural tropical environments. He and his staff design properties in the Caribbean, Dubai, and Central America, as well as the US coasts. “It’s cool to be healthy; it’s a whole new renaissance,” Fischman says.

One client, a sports professional, wanted multiple fitness opportunities in his home on Florida’s west coast. The firm designed a waterfront gym with a 12-foot-wide deck, where the homeowner practices yoga and other, more physical regimens. With a gentle connection between the home’s interior and the outdoors, he is free to move among settings. 

In the shade of a double cabana is another world of relaxation: a spacious barbecue area, television, fridge, and kegerator. “A lot of our clients are in athletics or the finance world,” Fischman says. “We want them to feel like they left the hustle and bustle and walked into a Zen spa.”   

In the Florida Panhandle, with a mesmerizing view of the Gulf of Mexico, Choeff Levy Fischman just began creating a large landscaped area for a couple who are dedicated to wellness, with a connecting pool, decking, and atrium. The woman is a Pilates instructor and her husband counts on workouts for mental and physical health. For her, a comfortable area features an elaborate perimeter, with a green wall of flowering vines and a grass surface, perfect for a yoga mat. Meanwhile, he has plenty of space for his workouts.

Serene and modern design by GW Oliver Construction. Photograph by Bret Lovetro

Guy W. Oliver, principal of GW Oliver Construction in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was cleaning pools for a living 20 years ago. Today he and his in-house designer, Bethany Williams, create upscale pool settings for such clients as the New Orleans Saints, as well as families who are seeking options for activity and tranquility.

One stunning design for a couple focuses on texture and color to create a space that is equally beautiful day or night, and relaxing and functional year-round. The centerpiece is a fire feature in a soft turquoise shade that runs the width of the swimming pool. A surrounding wood deck softens the fire effect and is perfect for her yoga practice. The color was a balancing act, Oliver says. “Too much color is like too much salt in a dish. Just the right dose and you can make something gorgeous.” 

An infinity spa near the pool keeps the tiles glistening and adds another layer of movement to the project. 

Another couple, both doctors who need a regular dose of serenity, asked Oliver to design a pool with visual beauty. “The wife wanted serene and modern; he’s a triathlete who wanted an exercise pool.” The pool affords both, with a 55-foot tiled mark lane for him, a separate area for tranquil swimming and relaxation for her, and a hot tub for relaxing soaks for both. The easy-on-the eyes design features a custom hand-mixed white concrete that can be enhanced with a splash of color and stepping pads round the pool with polished black river stones between. “We hit a home run on this one,” Oliver says.

Aqua Garden, a water-focused design by Justin Fox. Photograph by Jeri Koegel

Justin Fox recalls the day that clients with a big family—seven children ages nine to 26—approached him to create a pool setting that would suit everyone, including space for pure serenity. Fox is the founder and lead designer of the design firm FoxTerra, and founder and creative director of its sister company, California Landscape Studios, a pool construction business, both in Irvine, California. Fox is currently creating a line of outdoor lighting and furniture, for a full design service.

Fox has been exploring outdoor design since his childhood and was intrigued by the homeowner’s request. “They asked me to create something they had never seen before,” Fox says. Fox embraced the challenge and created the space he calls Aqua Garden, where water is the focal point, in many different forms. “I wanted to show off, and move, water.”

Fox started with a unique water feature, a “fire fountain” over a floating deck at the edge of the pool, which draws the eye immediately upon entering the home’s back property. Fox placed picturesque bowls, which appear to levitate, in a section of the pool and corner spa. A light spring of water gracefully drops over the fire, for a transfixing, meditative effect. 

The area is lined with mosaic tiles, in organic shapes, that gently reflect the tiled wood floor in the nearby California room. “The idea was to blend the tile that starts in house and suggest they’re ‘falling’ into the water,” Fox says. The image is further enhanced by a color segue in the tiles, ranging from light to darker shades. The pool is rimmed with 33 lights, and nearby is a tree with thousands of twinkling LED lights. One of the couple’s daughters was married there last year; and Fox attended the wedding and says the effect at dusk was magical.

Danny Wang incorporates calming, resort-like features into his designs. Photograph by Jimi Smith

Nature comes in close all around, including a mesmerizing sound of a natural brook that emanates from the pool’s infinity edge. For time alone, the couple often grabs a bottle of wine from a special fridge in the guesthouse and relaxes with a view of the water and the fire. “We wanted to create a lot of intrigue with multiple layers,” Fox says.; 

Danny Wang has an elemental connection to design that calms even the most frayed nerves. “Most of my designs are very Zen, very calming,” Wang says. “That’s my design philosophy.” The Asian approach to serenity is imbued in his work.

Wang started in pool construction years ago, but soon gravitated to design. Simply the act of design is calming, he says. “It balances out the chaos.” 

When clients reach out to him, they are almost always looking for an escape to another world. “Most of my clients are very successful and want a resort look,” he says. “When they come home, there is that sanctuary.” 

Just looking at a Jacuzzi spa in one of Wang’s projects is a Zen experience. Against a backdrop of the pool, the deep-blue, transparent spa is mesmerizing. On another property, a pair of small sculptural Asian warriors frame an outdoor fireplace.

Naturally, water abounds in and around his creations. One client, a prominent restaurateur in California, wanted an outdoor space that included a sophisticated kitchen. Behind the home, Wang set the scene with a four-poster outdoor tearoom near a welcoming kitchen. The tearoom is a mix of new and old, including a Chinese antique plaque – some 200 years old – set off by antique corbels on each end. The nearby kitchen is stripped down and modern. The two coexist beautifully. 

Water, a constant 18 inches deep, pools around the structures, a constantly changing work of art. As Wang says, there’s just something special about water: always changing, always mesmerizing, always a joy.   

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