From model and actor to successful businessman, Steve Sandalis is living his dream. Born in Queens, New York, the Sandalis family moved to Long Island when Steve was just a boy. Sandalis remembers vividly the stream running through the property his parents bought in Commack, Long Island. Little did he realize how much his boyhood memories would influence his future. Sandalis loved the beach and there was no shortage of them around Long Island, where he could be found whenever he had the time. Upon graduation from high school, Sandalis attended the University of South Florida in Tampa.
One day, while on the beach in Florida, a woman approached him. This sounds like one of those fairy tales you only read about, but she started to ask Sandalis all kinds of questions. She wanted to know if he'd ever thought of being a model, if he had ever heard of Fabio, and if he was familiar with romance novels? He replied "no" to all of these questions. She soon revealed that she was a scout, and then asked if he would be willing to fly to New York to do a photo shoot.
Heck, fly to New York -- all expenses paid -- where he could visit with his parents; why not? So off to New York went Sandalis. He tested well and, lo and behold, he was offered a huge contract to model on front covers, exclusively for a leading romance publisher. Of course he signed the contract, who wouldn't? He also began to study acting, and pursued an acting career as well.
Sometime later, Sandalis felt that he needed to be closer to where the action was if he wanted to further a career in movies and television, so in 1996 he moved to Los Angeles. He wanted to be available for more casting calls, while continuing with his modeling career.
Shortly after moving to L.A., Sandalis met Katy Wallin, a casting director and television producer. They married in 1998, and bought a home in Encino, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. "I had a nice backyard and wanted to do something with it," said Sandalis. "I remembered the stream that was running through my parent's property in New York and how much pleasure I got from it. I decided that I should have one here in my home. I felt there was something personal about a pond or a stream," recalled Sandalis.
"Maybe it is the artistic feeling within me, but whatever it was I felt, I could not relate to a contractor. So I decided I would attempt to build it myself." Sandalis went out and purchased a pond kit and proceeded to build his pond. Through trial and error he eventually got it done, and he was pleased with the results.
As a young actor, with his wife a TV producer, the Sandalis did a fair amount of entertaining. "People would visit us and ask who built the pond," said Sandalis. "When I told them that I had built it with my own two hands, they looked at me in amazement. 'How about building one for us?'"
So he began building ponds for friends and neighbors. He loved being able to create what he envisioned in his mind. If he could make a living building ponds and waterscapes, wow! Before he knew it, he was building ponds for paying customers. "Acting is good, but you don't control your own destiny," says Sandalis. "If I could learn to be a good businessman, I could do what I love to do and be my own boss." Sandalis formed Mystic Water Gardens and was on his way.
When Sandalis bought the pond kit, he was impressed with the information he found in it but he was hungry for more. He went on to buy books on pond building. He got so excited about the prospect of making this his future career that he set out to gain the knowledge it takes. He attended the Pond College at Aquascapes Pondemonium in the Chicago area. He wanted to learn all he could about pond building, waterscapes, etc. He went on to get his certification, and is now among the top 15 certified pond builders. Not new to contracting, Sandalis came from a line of contractors. His father was a building contractor, his uncles were electrical contractors, and at the age of 10 he was putting up sheetrock for his father. Hard work didn't hurt Steve Sandalis.
Sandalis has a crew building ponds for landscape contractors who don't want to get into the pond business. He is also expanding his horizons, building larger projects. He is completing a large lake outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.
"Nobody can build a water feature like my crew," says Sandalis emphatically. "If a pond or waterscape is built incorrectly, you can see it -- problems start creeping up. Eventually, maintenance becomes a nightmare."
He runs a seven-to-ten person crew, and is available to travel anywhere. Sandalis believes that every pond and water feature he builds is a signature piece. "Each waterscape is built a little differently," he says. "Placing the rocks in a certain position, with larger rocks that have a special look, this is the art and it evokes a feeling." The Sandalis have one son, Stefan, age 5. Sandalis spends his spare time coaching Little League. The family also enjoys weekend trips together.
On the cover of more than 700 romance novels, with a few movies and some television to his credit, Sandalis enjoyed that career and still, on occasion, does some acting -- but his heart is in the rocks and the waterscapes he creates.
Steve Sandalis can't believe his good fortune. "If this is a dream, don't wake me up, please."