Now you see it

By David Tisherman*
Thursday, 03 July, 2014

Now you see it

Ten years ago, watershapes designer and builder David Tisherman wrote this article about his design inspirations for WaterShapes magazine. His insights are as relevant today as they were ten years ago.

Some people seem to believe that designing is all about reinventing the wheel every time they go to work on a new project or need to create a new detail of some kind. Truth is, however, that most great design ideas and details are derivative of things that have been done before.

This is why I’m such a strong advocate for education - especially the sort that involves venturing out into the world and seeing things with your own eyes.

You can see pictures of things in books and watch slide shows in classrooms, and that’s extremely valuable for the way it opens your eyes to the world of ideas. But as I see it, there’s no substitute for walking up to something, looking at it from every available angle, getting some sense of what’s involved in making it come together and converting what you see into something you can do back home.

There’s something satisfying about seeing the work of craftspeople of ages gone by and looking at their work with an active appreciation for how their ideas can be used, refined, combined and re-appropriated in the here and now to create new works of art and beauty. This is why Frank Lloyd Wright spent time in Japan. This is why the artists of the Renaissance spent time studying Greek and Roman and Moorish sites scattered all around the Mediterranean Sea. Travel is indeed broadening. Fun, too.

In my own case, I give travel credit for inspiring a detail I’ve written about a lot in the past few years - that is, my treatment of drain grates … One of the reasons I keep coming back to this particular detail is that I’ve long been appalled by the effect white PVC grates or drain covers or skimmer lids can have on the way a watershape looks.

I came to these simple yet important ideas by seeing, up close with my own eyes, how great designers and artisans of the past treated their grates and drain covers. I’ve retooled those ideas in accordance with available materials and modern technologies, but the basic concepts I apply are certainly not original.

Here’s a case in point. I recently travelled to Italy with a small group of friends … One of our destinations was Florence, where we had an exquisite time wandering the streets, gardens, cafes and galleries [- and especially] the famous Boboli Gardens.

Entering the site, you’re greeted by a series of swales that are part of the complex drainage system for the hillside property. If you look closely, you’ll spot small slits and holes in the granite material from which the swales were fabricated - subtle and virtually invisible. They still work after centuries of use and, best of all, don’t do anything to disrupt the shapeliness of the swales.

I saw another drain treatment in the Boboli Gardens that was similarly beautiful. In this case, conical openings had been recessed into the curbs … My guess is that these details serve primarily to shield the drains from debris from the garden’s lush greenery. Again, it is functionality coupled with a wonderfully subtle yet elegant decorative treatment. Rather than disrupt the visuals of the hardscape, these drains actually accentuate the beauty.

It may be more easily affordable to go to Las Vegas. But for me, the richness of experience and inspiration that is gained from leaving the familiar behind is what living - and design inspiration - is really all about.

This article reproduced with the kind permission of WaterShapes magazine. To read the original 2004 article in full, click here.

*David Tisherman is the principal of two design/construction firms: David Tisherman’s Visuals of Manhattan Beach, California, and Liquid Design of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He is also an instructor for Artistic Resources & Training (ART). For information on ART’s classes, visit

Image credit: ©

Related Articles

How to build rapport in the first 90 seconds

Making a good impression during your first face-to-face encounter is more likely to win you the...

Letter to the Editor RE: 'Multiple pools on one set of equipment'

While in most cases to connect three pools to one pump and filter may not be the best thing to...

Let's be clear

Queensland-based Allan Cockerell has been offering specialist consulting engineering services...

  • All content Copyright © 2020 Westwick-Farrow Pty Ltd