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Water Works

In an Increasingly Stressful World, the Fountain Brings Peace as It Proliferates on Office Desktops


Take a look around your desk. Is there anything sitting on it that doesn't stress you out? You've got your computer, your phone, your Rolodex, your appointment book, your in-and-out box, your fountain. . . .

Did things suddenly slow down? Did you just shift out of overdrive? Did you just rock back in your chair and lace your fingers behind your head?

That reaction is bringing smiles to the lips of manufacturers and retailers of tabletop fountains. The shelves of gift shops, design stores and other outlets around the country are filled with the latest in a series of mini water sculptures designed to be easy on the eyes and even easier on the psyche.

The current popularity of the scaled-down Trevis, say industry insiders and others, has much to do with our natural human attraction to the sight of running water and, more compellingly, to its sound. Call it minimalist primal.

"It's more auditory than visual," said Bobbi Nesheim, a family psychotherapist from San Clemente who keeps a tabletop fountain in her office. "We don't tend to stare at it. The looks of them can be very pleasing, but the sound of the water is what gives us the sense of it. Water has always been a symbol of our emotions being calmed."

Her fountain, a simple bowl shape filled with tiny river rocks over which the water flows, helps to put her clients in a more receptive and contemplative frame of mind, Nesheim said.

"Research has shown that negative ions, which the fountain puts out, have a very calming effect on the body, which is one reason people go for their R and R to places with water," she said. "The negative ions help my clients to take deep breaths and relax."

The fountains also apparently act as humidifiers.

"The biggest comments we get," said Norbert Roessler, owner of Roessler Designs, a fountain manufacturer based in Scottsdale, Ariz., "is 'Oh, it's so soothing' and 'Oh, it's so healthy because it adds moisture to the air.' I've talked to people from the East Coast who buy our fountains even in the middle of a cold winter and I ask them how they could possibly do that and they tell me that it's because of the moisture that it adds to that dry air."

The fountains are technologically simple, if sometimes artistically adventurous, and their cost can vary widely. The most plentiful type of tabletop fountain in the country is generally manufactured in Asia and is made from molded resin. This, manufacturers say, allows for intricate detail and low price; resin fountains can often be had for about $30.

But, said Bob Gibson, owner of Pottery Plus, a fountain and furnishings store in Fountain Valley, you may get what you pay for.

"The market is actually flooded with tabletops right now," he said. "And there are Chevrolets and there are Cadillacs. The resin fountains have a cheaper pump and they just don't hold up as well. They're cute, but they're just not as good. The most important thing is to have a reservoir that's deep enough so that the pump is submerged and the water doesn't splash outside the fountain. If the reservoir doesn't have enough depth or hold enough water, you'll be filling it up with more water every day. And if the pump runs out of water, it'll overheat and burn out."

Many of the tabletop fountains in Gibson's store carry price tags ranging from about $200 to more than $1,000. The determiner, apart from a durable pump, he said, has to do with materials and complexity of design.

Roessler said one of his designs that sells particularly well in Southern California involves "plain stacks of slate with water trickling down. And we do one with dolphins that seems to be a generic favorite nationwide."

Tabletop fountains are beginning to see use in feng shui, a form of Chinese environmental design that relies on creating harmony and balance, partly through the use of natural elements. Bridget Skinner, a Newport Beach landscape designer and a consultant on feng shui, said design philosophy "has really exploded recently and people are really trying to create much more harmony in their homes and offices, something that will support them."

Tabletop fountains fulfill the requirements of feng shui, she said, by addressing the Tao (a connection with nature) and the chi ("the Chinese word for energy, which simply means walking into a space that feels good or doesn't feel good"). But, she added, the water flow in the fountain should be adjusted "so that the sound is appealing. You don't want it to be so loud you can't hear the phone."

Gimmicks abound. It's possible to buy everything from a lighted tabletop fountain with a rotating crystal ball supported by a flowing skin of water to a fountain that emits scent.

"We came up with that twist," said Paul Bracci, marketing director of Al's Garden Art in Colton. "We call it our scent and sound series. It has running water, but it holds a tea-type candle that heats up a botanical sachet in a glass jar. It's a first in the industry."

Still, the sound's the thing. Kathleen Chapman, the director of the San Diego campus of Chapman University, keeps tabletop fountains on her patio at home and on her desk at work. The desk model, she said, has helped to smooth many a potentially prickly encounter and has even turned her office into a kind of stress-free zone.

"I'm pretty much in a high stress kind of position with a lot of people in and out, and I figured if the fountain was relaxing for me it would be for others too," Chapman said. "I've actually had faculty members run into my office and say, 'I just need to come in and relax for a minute.' "

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