The sound of water

By Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano

The music of four different fountains takes the edges off this thoroughly modern home, making it a tranquil retreat from the hubbub of urban Dallas.


When Glenn Bonick first started his company back in 1982, he never imagined that he would someday win major awards for designing lush landscapes with six-figure budgets. Yet here he is, the winner of a 2018 Gold Award from the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association for the project named “Ursula Lane.” It just shows you what can happen when you turn a creative contractor loose to let his creative juices flow.

The CEO and founder of Bonick Landscaping grew up in North Dallas and began his company the way many other landscape contractors have. “I came out of high school mowing lawns, and it just kind of evolved from that,” Bonick recalls. “After I installed my first full backyard landscape, complete with a gazebo, I decided not to go to college but to pursue the landscape business.”

That turned out to be a good decision. No longer a simple lawn mowing operation, Bonick Landscaping has become a thriving multiservice business that employs around 80 people. “We’re a design/build firm and a pool builder. We do a lot of hardscape construction as well as landscape management and garden care. It’s really grown into a wonderful company with great people who are very passionate about what they do,” says the proud owner.

A place for the kids to play

The path to the TNLA red carpet began to be laid about seven years ago, when Bonick was hired to design and install the landscape and hardscape for a 6,500-square-foot house to be built on an acre-and-a-quarter lot in an upscale Dallas suburb called Lobello Estates.

“We were hired to do the landscape for this home, sort of a Texas Hill Country contemporary style house,” Bonick says. “We were involved before the construction even started and were able to collaborate with the architect and the interior designer.”

Thus began phase one of a project that would see completion some three years later.

The reason the home and its accompanying landscape and hardscape are so much in harmony is probably due to the fact that Bonick was involved from the very beginning. The first step was meeting with the clients to get a handle on what their needs were and a sense of their personal style. The couple is in their early to mid-40s. The husband is a production home builder, and the wife, a modern art collector.

One of the couple’s priorities was to have a big backyard lawn where their three young children could play. “We talked about having an element of water at the front door, and we came back with a design that we felt fit their needs,” Bonick says.

From the start, Bonick found that he and the home’s owners were pretty much in sync. Working with cooperative clients right out of the gate made his job much easier. “They were very open to all of our ideas, and there were very minimal changes from our original plan.”

Bonick’s is pleased with the procession up to the home’s front door, with a lightly sandblasted concrete pathway tinted brown. “It’s really nice, with the native grasses on both sides as you come up.”

A series of colored concrete steps with gravel joints leads visitors from the driveway to the front door. Solid limestone benches flank the walkway to provide a pause as the guest approaches the home’s front door, greeted by the soothing sound of water.

Water features everywhere

That soothing sound comes from a striking water feature stationed at the home’s front. It consists of two large decorative native rock boulders, “about three tons’ worth,” says Bonick, that had to be set in place with machines. One boulder is tall, and the other one is short. The contrast creates a pleasing composition, balancing the vertical height of the trees nearby.

It’s the water features that really make this landscape sing. This double-boulder piece at the front entrance is just one of four on the property. “They separate the house from whatever’s going on in the neighborhood and provide a sense of tranquility,” says landscape designer Jon Raney, who worked with Bonick on phase two. He says it’s the water features that give the home its tranquil ambience.

“It might seem a little over the top to have four water features, but as you walk up to the front door, that sound of running water welcomes you; it’s also heard in the more intimate space of the master bedroom,” Raney says.

In the backyard, three low concrete planters in the shape of bowls form “disappearing” fountains. A massing of prickly pear and Mexican feather grass separates them from the pool deck. The overflow goes into the gravel below and is recirculated.

Moving to the swimming pool, one sees a row of side-by-side stainless steel square scuppers with water pouring out of them. Seeing these for the first time, I thought they were ornamental spouts used for filling the pool. They’re not, though. They’re part of a third water feature that can be run continuously.

“The sound of water is a major theme to the residence,” adds Raney. “It’s something that can be heard all over the house.”

A cozy outdoor living space

Like most people these days who are building a new home or renovating an older one, this couple wanted an outdoor living space where they could entertain their large extended family and groups of friends. The one Bonick initially built for them included a covered outdoor kitchen fitted out with Wolf appliances, including a grill, a custom vent hood, an ice maker and a refrigerator. There was also a fire pit and a big seating area.

After the family had lived in the house for a while, they realized they wanted things to feel a little bit cozier in that outdoor space. “Their driveway always had vehicles parked on it,” Bonick says. “They wanted to be screened off from that and to have more walls in their outdoor space. So, in phase two, we put a wall behind the grill to hide the driveway.”

The fire pit was removed. “The way it was designed, you couldn’t really access it from the far side anyway,” says Raney. “The owners decided they wanted more of an architectural element to be the focal point of the room, so we replaced the fire pit with a limestone fireplace with a stainless steel surround.” These changes gave the space more of a living room feel.

A recent trend in exterior and interior design, especially in homes with a modern look, is an expanded use of concrete. You can see this in the outdoor living area. “All the countertops in the kitchen area and the surround of the fireplace were all created from a poured-in-place concrete product,” says Bonick.

The pool

The centerpiece of phase two is the spectacular, resort-worthy 1,000-square-foot rectangular swimming pool. As Bonick explains, “At the beginning of the project, the owners were nervous about having a pool, as their children were still very young. So, we did the project without it.” The couple opted for a larger play area instead.

About three years later, Bonick was rehired to add the pool and complete the transformation of the backyard, this time with the help of Raney, who designed the pool.

But putting the pool in at this point presented a bit of difficulty. “Sliding around and through the existing trees, trying to do minimal damage to them was a real challenge,” says Bonick. But the extra care paid off, and no trees were harmed during phase two.

The pool and spa are trimmed with 2-inch-by-8- inch matte glass white tile. The wall to the left of the deck is made of limestone blocks.

That deck is worth mentioning, too. Wooden decks are notorious for needing to be replaced after a few years. Not this one, though. It’s made of Ipê wood, a premium lumber valued for its longevity, fire and insect resistance. “It’s a Brazilian hardwood that’s very, very dense,” says Bonick. “You have to drill it first before you can drive a screw into it, and you can only use stainless steel screws because other types will rust out very quickly. That deck will probably be good for better than 30 to 40 years.”

One of the pool’s most unique features, and one that Bonick takes particular pride in: the stunning outdoor shower. The awards application form describes it as “a shower with mosaic tiles in tones reminiscent of a Texas sunset.”

“The master bathroom had this really great courtyard built around it, so we created this outdoor shower, surrounded by a bamboo enclosure,” Bonick explains.

But this is no mere shower; it’s also yet another water feature! Within the shower wall is a limestone rain curtain, backlit for nighttime drama, appropriate for something that runs all day and all night. It also provides a nice focal point for the view from the master bedroom.

This water feature fulfills a wish of the homeowners, who wanted to be able to hear, inside the master suite, once again, the sound of water — in this case, the sleep-inducing sound of falling rain.

Though the house and the pool have lots of modern clean lines and angles, nothing about this landscape design looks “boxy.” Nor does the pool scream “added on later!” This is, no doubt, due to the talents of Bonick and Raney. The landscaping and hardscaping fully complement the home and set it off perfectly.

“The heart of the house, the interior, is in much more of a bold contemporary style, not as soft,” says Raney. “We designed it so that as you go out to the limits of the property, the lines start to soften, and that was done with the choice of the materials, such as the Mexican feather grass that comes between the house and the end of the pool — and also their form. You transition from the rectilinear lines of the house to the curvilinear shape of the landscape beds. The blending of the materials really plays off the whole thing.”

The pool integrates well into the overall design, and there’s a good explanation for that. “We didn’t want it too close to the house, wanted a little bit of separation between those two elements and to incorporate the scupper water feature that pours into the pool,” Raney explains. “Those three low bowl fountains that were built in phase one are also in the backyard, and we didn’t want those two elements competing with each other.”

Lighting it up

Of course, no backyard transformation is complete without the addition of an outdoor lighting system. Bonick used a mixture of high- and low-voltage fixtures. “All the tree lighting is done with mercury-vapor fixtures. Some of the uplighting was done with low-voltage fixtures.”

Why mercury vapor instead of LEDs? “At the time, the LED downlighting that was available wasn’t quite the color we wanted,” explains Bonick. These fixtures have since been updated with LEDs.

“In the Dallas area, our lighting is quite a bit different than what the industry is championing right now,” adds Bonick. “We don’t uplight as much as other parts of the world; we do more downlighting.” He prefers subtle downlighting to “too much uplighting,” because he says “that feels a little overdramatic.”

Native style

In designing the landscape, Bonick tried to match the “Texas Hill Country contemporary” style of the structure “using lots of clean lines and as much native plant material as we could.” Some of the site’s original plant material was salvaged. When the pool was put in, a crape myrtle was transplanted to an area adjacent to it. It now stands near a grey cotoneaster, set off by dwarf fountain grass.

The area around the outdoor shower is planted with acuba, holly fern and aralia. At the far end of the pool one can find agave, Morning Light miscanthus grass, rosemary prostratus and gulf muhly grass.

To keep all the plants alive, Bonick installed an irrigation system that employs conventional sprinklers in some areas and drip irrigation in others, managed by an ETwater Hermit Crab controller.

A special challenge

I asked Bonick if anything stood out as unusual or difficult about the project. “The biggest challenge for us was that backyard,” Bonick recalls — and that’s even before the pool was put in. “The property slopes toward the back of the residence. We didn’t have any way of getting rainwater to flow around the house, so we ended up having to put an 18-inch pipe underneath the structure during the home’s construction in order to have drainage.”

“The most unusual part was just that drainage challenge,” he continues. “The outdoor shower was a little unusual, I suppose. But the rest of it was fairly straightforward.”

Overall, it was a fun project, Bonick says. “The clients were building a beautiful home, and we were very honored to get the opportunity to work with them and help them create their dream.” And the lucky trees and plants on the property are honored by receiving excellent care — Bonick’s company also has the maintenance contract.

After both phases of the project were complete, the clients had spent around $550,000.

Bonick says there really isn’t anything left on the owner’s wish list. As for the TNLA Gold Award his company got for designing the outdoor surroundings of their showpiece home, Bonick says only, “It’s nice to be recognized by your peers.” Judging from this landscape, I’m sure this won’t be the last time Bonick Landscaping receives such recognition.

The author is senior editor of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine and can be reached at maryvillano@igin.com.