The observation that “Water is life,” attributed to UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Audrey Hepburn, expresses its importance to human survival. We need clean water to drink and to wash our hands to deter germ spread. But water can also enhance our health as part of our home environments, and is an increasingly popular architectural feature for building professionals to suggest to homeowner clients.
“There is a growing trend to create relaxing and tranquil spaces in homes. The ‘bring nature home’ idea was popular during the pandemic and continues to be popular now,” emailed Sean So, the founder and principal of Water Studio, a Los Angeles-based designer and builder of custom water features. He sees them trending both indoors and out, he wrote. “Many of our clients see our work in public spaces (hotels, businesses, etc.) and want to have them at their home.”
Mental Wellness Benefits of Water
“Spending time near water profoundly impacts our emotional and mental well-being. According to research, the presence of water, or ‘blue space,’ can reduce stress, improve mood and promote relaxation,” observed sports medicine physician and co-founder of the Women’s Sports Forum, Gregory Charlop, M.D., in an email. “Different types of water features, such as fishponds, waterfalls and fountains, can have varying effects depending on personal preference. Many folks enjoy the soothing sound of a waterfall, while others may find peace in the ripples of fish in a pond.”
Physical Wellness Benefits of Water
As someone who works with athletes, Charlop also sees its physical benefits. “Cold water immersion sharpens the mind and tones the body. A chilly bath might reduce inflammation, improve cholesterol, and help athletes recover from injury. The ideal temperature depends on your goals and personal tolerance,” he noted, adding that “cold water immersion, typically around 50-60° Fahrenheit, can cut swelling and speed muscle recovery.”
At the same time, he is not a cold plunge enthusiast, he wrote. “The sudden cold shocks the system, and most of us would have difficulty handling it. While there are some theoretical benefits, like reducing inflammation, improving circulation, and aiding muscle recovery, the risks are too great for most,” he explained, further warning: “The abrupt breathing and blood pressure changes could trigger a heart attack in untrained swimmers.” In contrast, “Warmer temperatures, such as those in hot tubs and spas (around 100-104° Fahrenheit), can help soothe muscles and promote relaxation,” he added.
For indoor environments, “Most popular are water walls that are vertical and visually dramatic with minimum space requirements,” wrote So. “Outdoor water features with falling streams (or rivulets) of water (to create tranquil sounds of water) are popular,” he added.
Orlando area architect Phil Kean and Southern California-based designer Danny Wang both include water features in their residential plans –indoors and out. Both also own design-build firms that oversee the planning and construction of their projects.
“The most popular water feature request other than pools is a sheer descent fountain on a feature wall,” wrote Kean. “The waterfall trickles down over a decorative tile or a wall finish with a little more texture, like a stacked ledgestone.”
Wang’s three most popular requests, he noted in an email, are “water feature walls, fountains, and reflection ponds.”
Indoor Water Features
You don’t need a yard or deck to add water features to your home, the pros agree, and they offer numerous benefits. “A water feature in an entryway or indoor atrium not only enhances the home’s design, some believe it brings good luck,” commented Kean.
Wang suggested, “For indoors, they can incorporate water feature walls that trickle down from the ceiling on to a wall.” People like the sound and visual, he noted: “It’s very relaxing!” His clients often see his work on social media, where he has more than 1.1 million followers on Instagram alone. If they’re not requesting versions of the imagery he posts there, he’s typically suggesting it, he said.
Kean pointed out a bonus wellness benefit: “Water features are great natural noise barriers. When I’m designing a home that is located near a busy road, I like to use a water feature to drown out the sound of traffic.” This can work indoors or out, he commented.
Outdoor Water Features
“Pool deck jets and cascade water features are great solutions for softening unwanted noise and create a relaxing visual effect as well,” Kean added. Fountains and ponds are also popular features.
“Large fountains that surround the house right now are extremely popular,” shared Wang, observing that people like to have water filling their floor to ceiling height views. Water feature walls can also block unsightly outdoor elements that a homeowner can’t eliminate.
Water Feature Enhancements
Lighting is a popular add-on to water features, as anyone who has thrilled to the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas can tell you. But you don’t need to own a casino to have this amenity. “Having music also adds to the atmosphere,” Wang said, “especially when it can be programmed to dance with the beat. One new thing we have been incorporating is LED lighting that can move and animate,” he added, bringing some of that Bellagio beauty home.
“I’ve created several ‘water tables’ with glass tops to provide poolside dining as you watch the water flow through the tabletop and cascade into the pool,” shared Kean. “I particularly enjoy incorporating LED lighting into this design as it creates an incredible wow factor in the evenings as the colors reflect off the water to create a magical ambiance.”
Wang also likes the wow element lighting can bring to water features and adds one more: “Fog can add atmosphere,” he suggested.
So pointed to automated or programmable options (auto-fill, timer for lights/pump, variable speed pumps, flow control, etc.) as popular enhancements. “Sculptural water features with one-of-a-kind water effects are also popular to make the installation unique and contemporary,” the water specialist noted. “In general, designers and homeowners want innovative designs that utilize the latest technologies and materials.”
He also suggested that if you have a dated water feature at home, or one you really want to enhance, firms like his can do that. “Any changes are possible as long as the existing water feature has a pool or basin that does not leak. Popular options include adding a contemporary water feature or water sculpture inside existing pools/ponds and adding a free-standing/low flow water wall that does not splash,” he said.
Water as a design feature is salutary, but without proper precautions it can become a safety hazard or insurance claim. “A poorly designed and built water feature that leaks can cause major (and costly) water damage to a home,” So warned, advising homeowners and specifiers to partner with a firm that has a track record and and a willingness to test the feature before installing it.
Charlop also pointed out that, “You need to consider water quality, sanitation, and temperature regulation to minimize the risk of infections or injuries. Regular professional checkups are the best way to go for most folks.”
If water is life and home is where we do much of our living, then bringing the healing properties of water features to our home spaces can have add tremendous wellness benefits to both.