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Fountain Is Off the Wall

March 21, 1992|PATRICK MOTT

Before you rush out and plunk down your money for a Harmonic Cascade, you might want to recall a telling scene in "The Right Stuff."

Alan Shepherd, soon to become America's first man in space, has been sealed inside his Mercury capsule atop a Redstone rocket for hours, as his flight countdown is held again and again. Cut to his wife, pouring coffee in her home for several other astronaut wives. She comments that her husband had drunk several cups before going to work that morning.

Cut to Shepherd, suffering. Cut to more coffee, spilling over the rim of the cup and into the saucer. Cut to bubbles gulping up in a water cooler bottle. Cut to Shepherd, sweating audibly. Cut to technicians hosing down the launch pad. Cut to Shepherd, contorted and frantic.

You get the idea. Now, take a break and pick up the next paragraph when you come back from the bathroom.

Right. Now we can comfortably talk about an indoor waterfall, which is what the Harmonic Cascade is. Manufactured in Boulder, Colo., by former Southern Californian Steven Wander at his company, Harmonic Environments, it's a kind of indoor wall of water that sheets down over a mirrored, metallic or art-glass background. It can be free-standing or built into a new or existing wall.

Wander whipped up the idea, in part, because of homesickness. In Boulder--the New Age California-in-the-Rockies--he still lacked one beloved and familiar aspect of his formerly laid-back life in Laguna Beach: the sound of waves. Before he headed for Boulder, he said, he lived "on a cliff over the water and I got used to the whirling, swirling sounds of the waves. Now I live at about 8,500 feet and I wanted to replicate that experience."

Wander touts his invention primarily for its appeal to the care-worn psyche.

"People just gravitate magnetically to wherever there's water," he said. "It just has a universally calming, soothing effect."

You may need a bit of soothing after paying for one of the larger standard models. If you go for something ceiling-sized at 10 feet tall, it'll cost you around $11,000. Tabletop models at two feet tall go for around $1,500.

Wander also will take custom orders for truly Gargantuan models and will craft such extra goodies as backlighting, fiber-optic lighting, original artwork or photo murals on the backing, and various materials and colors for the cabinet.

Also, said Wander, the entire machine can be built into a wall or can remain free-standing and therefore able to be moved like any piece of furniture.

What about the water? It's self-contained and recirculated by a motor that can't be heard over the sound of the water. And it doesn't splash away from the wall at all.

It does, however, clean the air, according to Wander. The negative ions in the moving water attract the positively charged ions in dust, he said.

(That sounds about right to me. In the lobby of The Times' plant in Orange County is a huge stainless steel sculpture that is set into a pool in the floor. Water bubbles out of the top of it and sheets down the sides. It's striking, and I've never seen any dust in the lobby. It's also a nice place to retreat to whenever life gets stressful.)

Just how blissed-out can one get in proximity to a Harmonic Cascade? Dentist Randy Cockrell and his wife, Ann, are betting that an entire waiting room full of phobic patients is going to be gurgled into a happy state of preparedness by the machine.

Working with Peggy Kisielius, owner of Interior Solutions in Tustin, they had a wall-size Harmonic Cascade installed in their brand-new office in Anaheim Hills. Backed by black metal and surrounded by gray Corian, the waterfall will be lit with a soothing blue light and the rate of water flow (which can be regulated) will be turned down from merrily cascading to merely babbling. Wander calls the variation "anywhere from a light rain to a river effect."

Ann Cockrell, who acts as her husband's office administrator, said that she and the doc had seen a Harmonic Cascade display at a state dental convention in Anaheim and decided to include it in the new office.

"We wanted something low-maintenance that looked modern and wouldn't go out of style soon," she said. "I just love it, and for a dental office, water is very calming. The one thing people dislike most while waiting in a dental office is the sound of the drill, and the water covers that. I hope everyone has strong bladders when they come in here, though."

(Note to potential patients: the bathroom's just down the hall. I checked.)

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