EL DORADO HILLS, CALIFORNIA
OUR TOUR TAKES US TO EL DORADO HILLS, CALIFORNIA, WHERE A VANISHING-EDGE POOL AND A HILLSIDE VIEW MERGE INTO AN AERIE OF SHOWSTOPPING PROPORTIONS.
As a fourth generation northern Californian, Roger Taylor’s family history is inextricably linked to the natural beauty just outside the front door. “My mother’s parents developed a ski area south of Lake Tahoe and they had me up on skis when I was 1-1/2 years old.” By the time he was a teenager, Taylor was living away from his family and training with the Junior National Ski Team. “Driving home on weekends,” he says, “I would pass through acre after acre of gorgeous mountains and evergreen forests. It wasn’t until I crested the El Dorado Hills and saw the city of Sacramento fanned out below that my heart would start to race. I knew one day this was where I would make my home.”
THE BOULDERS STAY, THE GAME PLAN BEGINS
Rising 750 feet above the Sacramento Valley, El Dorado Hills is nestled in the scenic golden foothills between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. “I got tears in my eyes when I first saw this property,” Taylor says of his contemporary four-bedroom, 4133 sq. ft. home purchased in 2003. “The previous owners never really became one with the landscape, whereas I took one look, saw a blank canvas and knew immediately what I wanted to do. I envisioned koi ponds, an in-ground pool, and plenty of patios.”
The “blank canvas” Taylor mildly refers to is a humble descriptive at best. One glance at the valley view takes your breath away, but as soon as the eye focuses on the half-acre slope, the dizzying reality of all that’s been accomplished settles in. There is an eye-popping difference of 55 feet in elevation from the property’s highest point in the front yard to the lowest point in the back where boulders the size of Range Rovers are parked here and there. “The property was dotted with some trees, scrubby brush, native weeds, sticks, and snakes,” Taylor fondly recalls. “I was adamant about using the palette nature gave us, especially the boulders because they had been here for thousands of years.”
Taming this challenging terrain took sweat, guts, 17 subcontractors, and a working partner who could make Taylor’s resolve a reality. His first call was to landscape architect Ron Allison. “Ron and I worked on a previous project, and the experience proved why he has the best reputation in the area.” Once Allison came on board, it took well over a year of preliminary planning to get started, and even then, it was never written in stone. “The grass areas weren’t even in the original plan,” Taylor says, referencing the two lawns where he practices chip shots and plays croquet with his grandchildren. “The lawns never existed until we excavated for the pool and had a big pile of dirt, so I said, ‘Why not use it for a lawn?'”
LAYING THE FOUNDATION, ONE DYNAMITE STICK AT A TIME
It’s hard for Taylor not to gush about the inventiveness of where his yard was then and is today. There’s a new deck leading off the second story of the stucco home, and a stone staircase connecting the outdoor living area leading off the kitchen level to the pool deck one floor below. On the extreme back perimeter of the property, two massive natural rock retaining walls outline the terraced sections, providing the yard with an entertainment area on the upper tier and a year-round garden with dwarf fruit trees below.
Keeping the big landscaping picture in tune with nature proved to be the project’s biggest challenge. “Simply putting plans on paper didn’t do justice to the depth of this multi-dimensional setting,” says Taylor. “From the onset, the project was ever-evolving, which allowed us opportunities to make things better along the way.” To level the ground and build both retaining walls, Taylor’s engineer had to set off a good bit of dynamite. “He wanted to keep blasting and blasting even after we hit bedrock,” says Taylor. “So we came up with the idea of using rebar to anchor the retaining walls in the rock, a great relief because it spared the neighbors more noisy explosions.”
Topsoil was brought in by the truckload. Fortunately, Taylor’s neighbor consented to building an access road on his property. “Cima Landscaping imported top-quality soil for the garden, as well as transformed the yard’s lackluster landscaping into a lush, verdant setting,” says Taylor. A large part of the backyard plan was rooted in making Taylor’s organic garden flourish. Placing it on the lower tier exposes the garden to full sunlight, while the stone retaining wall double-douses the soil with reflective heat from the sun. All of the water features—from the ponds to the pool, and even the water garden in front of the home—attract dragonflies, swallows, frogs and other pest-eliminating creatures.
Today, every square foot of the organic garden is brimming with tomatoes, peppers (green, red, and yellow), green beans, onions, garlic, eggplant, beets, zucchini, and a huge variety of herbs. In the winter, Taylor grows bok choi, mustard greens, cauliflower, potatoes, and four varieties of snap peas. The citrus, apricot, cherry, pomegranate, and apple trees also flower and produce. Strawberries grow in a bed of their own, a few feet from the blueberry bushes. “I’m out here every morning, picking my meals for the day,” he says. “There’s nothing like it in the world.”
A SPECTACULAR POOL WITH AN AWE-INSPIRING VIEW
Nestled amid the decks and terraces, the deep blue pool shimmers like a jewel in the crown. Designed by Geremia Pools, its free-form shape meanders along a gallery of enormous striated boulders and native shrubs. “I wanted a heated pool with a vanishing-edge,” says Taylor, “so when you’re lounging on top of the water, the reward is an uninterrupted view of the valley and the coastal range separating Sacramento and San Francisco.” On a clear night, the bright lights of the lowlands below and the twinkling canopy of stars are a glorious sight to behold while lounging on the deck of the pool.
The pool’s sand-finished, beach-like entry offers a gradual submersion into the 27,000-gallon lagoon. “Last summer, my granddaughter had a blast learning how to scuba dive in the 9-foot deep end,” says Taylor. In keeping with the natural setting, the pool’s dark blue interior evokes nearby Lake Tahoe, while a framework of natural cantilevered stone mirrors the rock-studded terrain. Just steps beyond the pool, a bubbling jet spa beckons from atop an elevated stone foundation. The spa and the pool are just two of the property’s water features, a pair of ponds with a stream in between, plays host to Taylor’s colorful collection of koi.
Winding from the south end of the pool, two giant ponds resembling artisan wells, and filled with almost 10,000 gallons of water, stay connected via a tumbling stream of rills and rivulets. Taylor stocked the ponds with 30 koi imported from an award-winning breeder in Japan. “In the beginning, I lost a few of the fish to a large Blue Heron. I remember watching helplessly as he would swoop in and pluck the fish like taking candy from a jar. He was successful when they were smaller, but now the koi are one- to two-feet long.” Water-worn rocks, hand-selected from a nearby seasonal streambed, were placed along the stream’s edge, making the entire water garden look as if it had been there for thousands of years. “Installing the plumbing for the water garden was interesting,” Taylor chuckles as he recalls brainstorming with architect Allison on ways to navigate the underground piping around the giant rocks and slope.
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST—A ROCK GARDEN WELCOME
Few homes can boast a front entrance echoing Stonehenge, complete with a gurgling water garden. Landscape architect Allison introduced Taylor to Laddie Flock of Natural Rock Formations, Inc., who is best known for his sculptural work in the open air spaces of Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum. Flock harvested 500-million-year-old volcanic rocks from the Moses Lake area of eastern Washington and erected them as a massive water feature and anchor for the wisteria garden at the entrance to the home. “In that area, lava once flowed like cake batter down through the valley, only stopping when it cooled,” explains Taylor. “Throughout the centuries, wind, rain, and snow would seep down, causing the lava to crack vertically in unique hexagonal shapes. It took Flock years of petitioning for permission to excavate the volcanic rock, and once he did, the result was these fabulously oxidized 11-foot monoliths weighing 10,000 pounds each.” Several smaller volcanic rocks and drought-tolerant plants balance out the home’s outdoor entrance.
With five Ironman Triathalons under his belt, Taylor tries to spend as much time as possible outdoors—from hiking, biking, skiing, or fly fishing, to swimming in his gorgeous pool. The retired general dentist enjoys grilling multi-course meals on the outdoor patio, surrounded by his grandchildren who love watching him from the Frontgate round woven wicker daybed. “I own quite a few Frontgate products, and I’ve been happy with every purchase. That daybed stays out 365 days and has weathered wonderfully.” Future plans include adding a full outdoor kitchen—with refrigerator, sink, and a wet bar—beneath the protected overhang jutting out from the upper level deck’s retaining wall. “The greatest compliment is when people look around and ask, ‘Roger, why in the world do you ever want to leave and travel?’ They’re absolutely right. Living here is like being at a vacation destination.”
HOME SITE: 750 feet above the Sacramento Valley nestled in the El Dorado Hills between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada Mountains
4,133 square feet, including four bedrooms and 27,000 gallon lagoon connected to two giant ponds by a tumbling stream of rills and rivulets
About The Photographer
As the photographer in charge of making Roger Taylor’s pool come to life, Lesley Pollard has a unique perspective on the home and its location in the El Dorado Hills. The natural beauty of Taylor’s yard and Geremia Pools’ innovative pool design were captured by Lesley in a variety of lighting conditions and from many different angles.
Because of the dramatic elevations surrounding Taylor’s home, the time of day had a large impact on how the area was captured on film.
“I approached it from many different lights, in the morning, mid-afternoon, and sunset,” Lesley says. “It changes dramatically in different light.”
Because of the home’s west-facing orientation, many of Lesley’s favorite shots were produced in the afternoon and early evening. “Because the house faces west, there was especially interesting light at sunset. I liked mid-afternoon and dusk; I got neat angles for light.”
Asked to look at the pool through a photographer’s eye, Lesley was drawn to the interaction of sunlight and the pool’s vanishing edge. “With the sun shining on it, it almost looks copper,” she says.
The hills surrounding the property provided eye-catching scenery, but also a challenge for the photographer. Due to the geography, capturing angles of the entire yard was one of the more difficult aspects of the shoot.
However, Lesley made it a point of emphasis to provide a complete view of the property. “I try to give people experiences at different places in the yard, but also the whole scope.”