One on One with Michele Hoolihan


Creating a Unique Water Feature

By Jill Fales

Of all the four basic elements: earth, air, fire and water, it has long been believed that water is the healing element. For thousands of years, humans have incorporated water and art. Ancient Greeks and Romans both built beautiful fountains, with some of the most beautiful and intricate ones being built during the Renaissance. Perhaps the most famous fountain in the world, the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy still attracts millions of visitors each year. The Chinese and Japanese skillfully integrated natural elements such as rock, sand and plants into their fountains. Fountains can be mesmerizing, cascading or subtle … modern or classical.

Water features enhance outdoor spaces and homeowners can now have a custom-built fountain to meet any request or desire, to blend with any type of architecture or landscaping.

Michele Hoolihan, president of Fantasy Fountains Inc. in Newport Beach, designs, builds and installs fountains in residential and commercial settings. She is WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) certified. This prestigious certification, which takes a year to obtain, carries with it the mark of business excellence.

Recently, Hoolihan took time to share her expertise about fountains with the Coastal Real Estate Guide. 


Q: How does water enhance the outdoor experience?

A: Waterfalls are an ideal way of bridging multiple levels of outdoor living spaces; while fountains create a tranquil and soothing focal point. The visual and auditory experience of a water feature is relaxing and transitions a space into a new found environment. All of these design opportunities allow for a wonderful entertainment characteristic and can increase a home’s value.


Q: What are the different choices that homeowners have if they would like to add a water feature to their landscaping?

A: Most homeowner choices are driven by aesthetics, function and budget. The appearance of a water feature is usually the first consideration our clients mention; often they have a picture or tell us of a fountain idea. Many times there is a need to mask unwanted noise; traffic noise being the most common. The cost of your water feature can range from a simple backyard fountain to a sophisticated high end system. All of these considerations can be accomplished with a wide range of applications; from a simple above grade system with a recirculation pump, to a vaulted unit with computerized animation and dancing water jets along with various light features and a wide array of music. In other words, choices can range from A to Z depending on the client’s objectives and budget. 



 Q: Describe the range of water feature projects.

A: There are a wide variety of fountains types that we produce – ranging from natural ponds and waterfalls to fountains that can be carefully integrated into the surrounding landscape design. Some choices include: center piece features that emit a cascade of water into a decorative collection bowl; bubblers and vertical or arching water streams emerging in most any body of water; gravity-fed ponds or basins which incorporate waterfalls from two or more levels of containment features; art-inspired wall nozzles that produce an even flow of water into a basin or swimming pool, which might be custom spillways or Tuscan-inspired scuppers (troughs); arching jets of water commonly placed along the edge of swimming pools; curtain falls of water which create a singular sheet of water; regulated or dispersed droplets of water in a structured volume of water; water walls which bath a decorative or textured surface such as tile, glass or stone, with a constant yet regulated volume of water flowing down the vertical or inclined face of the wall; and floating fountains which provide aeration for bodies of water often seen in park ponds or golf course lakes. 


Q: Do you help customers choose what would best suit their type of architecture and landscaping?

A: Like most design professionals, I ask my clients to describe their objectives; sometimes this can simply be a desire for an art object sitting in the landscape or it can help set a mood for their home. We thoroughly discuss the architectural style of the home, their décor and then integrate the design opportunities to meet the characteristics of what they are looking to achieve. 


Q: What are some trends you’re seeing?

A: Water walls and sheeting falls are perhaps the most popular trend we are seeing built for both indoors and outdoors. The acoustics of these water features tend to create a relaxing and tranquil atmosphere. However, a simple bubbling urn can be an inexpensive accent that can be delivered to your home in the morning and enjoyed the same evening.


Q: Are some materials better suited for living close to the ocean?

A: The salt content in the air near the ocean is corrosive to all building materials; so simple maintenance can help prevent the corrosion of these surfaces. However, natural stone and concrete are better choices for the exposed surfaces of fountains and water features located in the coastal salt air environment overall.


Q: What is the price range for a small or large fountain?

A: It would depend on the design complexity and quality of the materials that are specified; a small fountain with imported stones, marbles and unique artistic spouts can eclipse the cost of a much larger fountain. However, generally we see prices typically ranging from $2,500 for a surface feature without plumbing modification to $15,000 and up for a more permanent in-ground solution which involves permitting, electrical and plumbing modifications.


Q: Is there a lot of maintenance required for water features?

A: A small statue feature would require an algaecide and some physical cleaning. For larger more complicated fountains a monthly maintenance service is recommended.


Q: Is custom lighting necessary to enhance a fountain or waterwall at night?

A: Lighting of a fountain may not be necessary if the ambient light from the home or the surrounding landscape provides enough illumination of the feature. However, lighting is one of the most dramatic and inexpensive means of highlighting your water feature. This allows the fountain to have a greater presence in your overall landscape design while providing an entertaining view.


Q: What types of custom things do people do?

A: I believe that Bellagio popularized water as an element that goes beyond aesthetics to achieve a point of artful entertainment; untold thousands gather daily to be mesmerized as water is painted against the backdrop of one of the town’s most popular resorts.   Animated water features and wet deck play courts have become very popular among homeowners. I truly think that this is a direct result of the Bellagio experience. 


Q: Describe how water can be used to highlight a sculpture.

A: An exceptional visual effect is a spray ring which is placed around the base of a sculpture. Typically multiple individual jets arch around the feature’s base to almost allow the sculpture to appear to be floating on the top of the water. Along with lighting, this creates a dramatic effect which rather frames the sculpture three dimensionally.  


For more information on creating the water feature of your dreams, contact Michele Hoolihan at Her studio is located at 1300 Bristol St. N # 100, Newport Beach. Call 949.955.2007.