Danville Express

- June 15, 2007

What a cool pool

Back yard is an oasis for family and friends to enjoy

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Five years ago, the Hamblins' spacious back yard had an old deck and a big grassy portion directly behind the house.

Richard Hamblin would sweep his arm toward the area and talk about his plans.

"I'm going to build a pool here, with rocks up the side you can dive or jump off, and a water slide," he would tell visitors.

Today - after much planning, toil and perseverance - his dream has come true. Behind the Hamblin home is a tropical lagoon, with the 9-1/2-foot-deep pool surrounded by palm trees, exuding a sultry atmosphere in the dry Danville climate.

The pool has been the site of a Gilligan Island party and a Pirate Party with sunken treasures in the bottom, in addition to spontaneous gatherings.

Becky Hamblin said she wanted a really fun pool so her house would be the place her children and their friends wanted to gather. And she reports her ploy has worked with Josh, 14; Alicia, 11; and Brandon, 10.

The Hamblins were well suited to planning their own pool: Richard is a contractor who has done a yard or two although he deals mainly in kitchens and bathrooms; Becky does interior designing and staging. She owned Rebecca Long Design when she lived in Santa Barbara, and that beach town provided some of the inspiration.

"My wife had always wanted to live in Santa Barbara again, and since I couldn't afford to live in Santa Barbara, I decided I'd better bring Santa Barbara here," said Richard.

"There was a Florida design magazine with one pool both my wife and I fell in love with," he recalled. "It was, like, a $1.2 million pool."

Richard and Becky designed their own, with Richard doing the architectural drawings.

"I had a quote of $120,000 and we did it for close to $35,000," he said. "Basically we started with $20 worth of marking spray paint and we were sitting there spraying late at night with our drawing."

"We thought how neat it would be to have a cliff with a Jacuzzi up top," he said. "The interesting thing is what you draw on paper and what you draw on the yard and what actually happens are three different things."

They chose a black bottom both for its natural appearance and to retain heat, which is important with a 9-foot depth and 50,000 gallons of water. It is about 20 feet at the widest point and nearly 50 feet long.

Solar panels on the roof provide heating.

"When it gets to 90, we turn it off," said Becky.

The depth was important to Richard because he chipped his tooth diving into a pool in junior high at the old Hayward Plunge on Mission Boulevard.

It was an adventure to excavate for the pool, Becky noted, because when you dig that deep you aren't sure what you are going to find.

"When we dug down we found a river bed and river rocks," she said, adding they were thankful not to find any bones.

The pool has a salt chlorinator, which takes salt granules and, through the process of electrolysis, water passing over the chlorine generator cell produces chlorine, resulting in water that tastes fresh.

"Originally we wanted to have a sandy beach in the sense of waves of sand but we settled for this," Richard explained, pointing to the layers of flattened gunite slopes that lead down into the water on one side. "We are probably going to put a pebble sheen in the grooves."

The gunite requires more maintenance than a plaster pool, he said, plus the Hamblin pool used 130 yards, while a normal-sized pool needs 45 yards.

Becky found the concrete process to form the "rocks" fascinating.

"They took a handful of concrete and threw it into place," she said. "Then they put on aluminum foil to 'weather' it. I'm an artist so to watch them do it is incredible."

Their artisan rock carver had used the same process at the Oakland Zoo and the Monterey Aquarium, she said.

Purchasing and planting the dozens of palm trees was another adventure.

"I was doing a kitchen in Walnut Creek and the neighbor had two big palm trees," recalled Richard. "They mentioned their neighbor didn't like the palm tree in front."

Richard paid for a crane to remove the tree and for a big rig to transport it to his Danville home. Otherwise the 40-year-old tree cost nothing, and the Walnut Creek couple was glad to have the removal done for free.

Lighting was another project. The pool has four underwater lights, plus Malibu lighting is focused on some of the palm trees.

The Hamblin house itself, which is off Green Valley Road, has been undergoing an expansion for the last several years, transforming from a two-story ranch style home to a stately Mediterranean dwelling.

"I wanted to incorporate the Mediterranean flair," said Becky. "I love Julia Morgan and her sense of curves and iron."

Richard bought the house in 1989, and he and Becky were married in 1990. The house was built in 1964 and originally sold for something like $12,000, said Richard. It was painted all black with an orange door.

"It was known as the 'Halloween house,'" he recalled. "I bought it to fix up and turn around and sell it."

He also was thinking of splitting the lot, since it is almost double-sized. But when the housing market was stagnant in the early '90s, those plans were put on hold. And after their children were born, the Hamblins appreciated the location, within walking distance to Green Valley Elementary, Los Cerros Middle and Monte Vista High schools.

The house and the greater back yard are works in progress. But the swimming pool is completed, a haven for family and friends.

The pool makes the yard appear larger, Richard noted.

"People who saw it before are in awe," he said. "They say, 'Hey, I don't remember the yard was this big before.'"

"For me, doing back yards is therapy," he added. "I enjoy the creative part of the design of the back yards. It's the same with Becky in her business. We enjoy the creative process."

"I've always dreamt of having a pool for my kids so they could have their friends come over," said Richard, echoing his wife's sentiments. "It's an oasis to enjoy with their friends.


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