APRIL FREITAG is studying the situation from her kitchen window. Water spills over the ledge of her pool perched 10 feet above the lawn, and glistening liquid sheets cascade down a stone wall. No problem.
"It's the focal point of our backyard," Freitag says of the dramatic water wall at her Pacific Palisades home. The water gently tumbles down over Oklahoma Chief Cliff stone into a decorative catch basin and then is pumped back up into the vanishing-edge pool.
"People love it," says the mother of two girls. "It has a Zen feel, and since we live in Rustic Canyon, which has creeks running through it, we wanted to retain its sense of serenity."
The H2O element du jour is the custom water wall, a vertical surface awash in a smooth film of water that is less splashy than a waterfall and more refined than a fountain. Outside and inside, these water carriers are adding elegance and camouflaging city noise. They're used to conceal necessary but unsightly structural walls and sometimes pool pumps and other equipment. In Freitag's yard, the moving water masks the retaining wall that reinforces the upward slope and supports the pool on top.
Free-standing water walls -- catch basins can be as narrow as 1 inch at the base -- are popping up in front and side yards and even indoors. They give a spa-like feel to master baths, and because of their theatrical effect and their compactness, they can bring drama to otherwise claustrophobic spaces such as hallways.
Water walls are now the tasteful way to create a sanctuary, says Rebecca Robledo, a senior editor of the Los Angeles-based trade publication Pool & Spa News. "People are steering away from the big sound of a waterfall," she says.
Water walls are better dressed too. They're wrapped in pricey glass tile, imported stone and even brilliant metals including bronze and copper. "You name it," says pool designer Randy Beard of Pure Water Pools in Costa Mesa, who says requests from his clients for water walls have quadrupled in the last five years. He's building a three-sided one for the entry of an Irvine home that will cost $130,000 -- more than the price of the outdoor pool.
It used to be that water walls were only in corporate lobbies, then vacationing homeowners started seeing them at resorts and spas and the idea -- like cabanas, the beach entry and furniture in the pool -- came home.
"It reminds people of their travels," Beard says, "and it's something to brag about."
Homeowner Freitag had another reason: Her architect, Michael Kovac, needed to invent a graceful way to wedge a pool into her backyard. The level part behind the first floor of the house was too small, so he came up with the idea of placing the pool at the top of the inclining property. That cleared room for a 28-foot-by-15-foot pool and a wood deck.
Shimmering water in the pool and gliding down the wall are the focal points from the nearby second-floor master bedroom. A remote control adjusts the color of the lights in the catch basin as well as the flow of water and its resulting sound.
"People hike miles to see water falling," says Kovac, a Los Angeles architect. "But this family can look out the windows of their house and it's right there."