Design/build: Pools with pizzazz

Updated Mar 7, 2019

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His passion for creativity and understanding clients’ needs drives Scott Cohen’s designs of innovative oases. You may have seen him on HGTV, read his design books, listened to his seminars at an industry show or simply enjoy looking at his award-winning projects online or in print.

There is much more that sets Scott Cohen apart from the competition. His focus on highly customized pool and outdoor living space Scott Cohen Untitled 1designs has allowed Cohen’s business to thrive in California’s residential market crunch.

“Clients, like me, enjoy the finer things in life,” Cohen says. “Designing and creating personalized backyards is a fun way to incorporate those things.”

Building blocks

Scott Cohen grew up in the landscaping industry, helping with his parents’ chemical lawn care business, The Green Scene, and working at age 19 as a regional manager for Target’s nurseries. So, it was a natural transition when he took over The Green Scene in 1995. “As a child, all I did was draw pictures and play with Legos. I was always stacking and designing,” Cohen says. “What I do now is pretty much the same thing, except the blocks are heavier and a little more permanent. It’s just fun seeing the projects come from concept to fruition.”

He transformed The Green Scene, located in Northridge, California, into a design/build company with 40 employees. The majority of the company’s business comes from projects such as pools and spas, outdoor kitchens, fire features, hardscapes, lighting, fountains, ponds and woodwork.

Discerning client needs

Cohen, who has garnered accolades such as the Decorative Concrete Council Award and Master of Design designation from Pool & Spa News, works in many different niches – and that’s how he prefers it. As a licensed contractor in landscape, swimming pool and general construction, Cohen can service every phase of a project, limiting the number of specialists clients have to work with. “For a homeowner, construction is a dirty, messy, hard thing to manage. Being a one-stop solution helps take some of the pain away from the process,” he says. “No matter what needs the customer has, we’re going to be the guys for the project.”

The importance of building relationships cannot be over emphasized, Cohen says. Before starting work on a project, he meets with clients and has them answer a four-page “Get-to-Know-You” questionnaire, which asks about their interests, hobbies, favorite colors, children’s ages, how they entertain and other topics to help him understand their needs and wish list of amenities.

“As a designer, I can see the potential for each space,” he says. “But, it’s not about designing for me. It’s about the clients. I get to know them and their lifestyles to personalize the design.”

After the initial meeting, Cohen uses sketches and AutoCAD computer software to help clients visualize their ideal design. “To sell them the yard of their dreams, you have to get them to dream of themselves in the yard.” The visual tools also serve as a reference for his crew to see what the end product should look like because, “If you’re doing innovative work, you can’t base it off of past projects.”

Custom designs

Cohen majored in ceramics in college and calls on this expertise as well as his experience as a sculptor in his projects. He transformed his garage into a studio to produce some of the unique elements he features in his designs. For example, to make an upscale twist on countertops, he melted and flattened 14 wine and Scotch bottles, which were then wired with fiber-optic lights and placed in the countertop before casting. After the cast was finished, he put large, broken pieces of recycled glass throughout the wet concrete, adding more colors and textures.

This Spanish-style design was featured on HGTV’s “Get Out, Way Out” program. As a wine connoisseur, Cohen says wine bottles can represent good conversation and memories. “When people drink wine, they’re not only sharing a drink; they’re sharing an experience.”

Cohen also creates custom features such as hopscotch paths, basketball courts, playhouses and even doghouses. “I like to create something whimsical in my client’s backyards,” Cohen says. In the Los Angeles area where people constantly are looking for new and different ways to express themselves, Cohen’s designs fit right in.

One of the most interesting examples of Cohen’s approach to please his upscale clients was when he sculpted a 7-foot porcelain mermaid in 2008. Cohen’s clients wanted a mermaid to be used above their fountain, but they couldn’t find a sculpture they liked. So, Cohen suggested body casting the wife to make a mold for the mermaid.

“Even when I told them she would need to be topless, the clients didn’t flinch,” he says. After five hours of casting the woman’s face, which required her to breathe through straws stuck in her nose, as well as her upper body and legs, which were wrapped together with plastic wrap to make the tail, the mermaid sculpture was glaze fired in an antique bronze. After four months of work, Cohen and his team mounted the mermaid using a combination of steel strapping and construction epoxy. Unfortunately, the level of detail became a problem for the customers, and they had the mermaid removed.

Cohen’s talents as an artist and draftsman help clients visualize their dream design.

Besides listening to his clients, he astutely studies trends. One of the most important trends in backyard designs encompasses how people entertain and interact. “The big trend in the outdoor living design is to break up the space into different rooms or comfort spaces,” he says. “Landscapers used to build one, large patio, which is really not how people entertain. When people interact, they break into smaller groups of six to eight people, and I want to create designs that accommodate that.” Cohen might create several smaller patios, seating areas and features to form these different social areas.

This Los Angeles project also includes a pool, fire and water bowls, putting green and swim-up bar.

He also notes how customers have become interested in bringing their travel experiences to their backyard in the form of a “stay-cation.” From sandy beaches to a romantic Tuscany ambiance, Cohen’s designs incorporate the client’s favorite vacation elements. “Travel is becoming more expensive and more difficult,” he says. “People are looking to bring amenities they see when they travel to their backyards.”

To achieve the resort appearance, for example, he incorporates features such as putting greens, swim-up bars, fire features and extravagant swimming pools, like in his current favorite project in Los Angeles, California. For this residence, The Green Scene laid an all-tile, vanishing edge swimming pool and constructed fire and water bowls.

Sharing highlights

“When you create something special – a project with unique characteristics – you definitely need to let people know about it,” Cohen says. The Green Scene uses their website, books, videos and other outlets to show off their projects. Cohen’s advice to other landscapers: “It’s not only about being an expert in lighting, plant selection or designing; you need to understand how critical it is to share your work so clients can find you.” Whether by old media (TV) or new media (YouTube), it isn’t hard to find Scott Cohen and his distinctive, personal take on landscape design.

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