By Babs Rodriguez
Photos by Meda Kessler
This inspiring koi pond soothes the soul and the senses.
Thirty-two koi swim languidly in the courtyard of the Westover Hills home of Jeff and Kelly Dillard, occasionally floating up to break the water in a brief greeting. The lazy looping of the ornamental carp — some as long as an arm — is as mesmerizing as their shimmering gold and ivory scales. Guests passing by on their way into the house invariably pause for a moment’s meditation.
The home, designed by Dallas architect Weldon Turner of Turner|Boaz Architecture for the Dillards in 2008, has the feel of the stone villas that embrace the hillsides of southern Italy. Garden niches and seating areas are tucked in at a variety of spots on all sides of the house, but it’s the 6,000 gallons of coursing water that defines the courtyard entry. “That was always in the plans,” Kelly says. “Weldon has a wild, vivid imagination. Jeff and I had always wanted a koi pond; Weldon took it to the next level.”
The pond is actually a 3-foot-wide channel surrounded and segmented by two Antique Lueders limestone walkways that pass over the water. Narrow passages beneath the “bridges” allow smaller fish to pass from pool to pool (the largest koi no longer fit through the small openings). Despite its rectilinear lines, the concrete runnel has an organic feel, thanks to a slate bottom and the mosaic of river rock that edges the walls just below the rough-edged Lueders coping.
Rows of ornamental possumhaw set into beds of pink decomposed granite hem the waterway, creating an intimate allée connecting the wings of the home. The trees and pond are bracketed by a loggia at one end and a hot tub at the other. A tall, water wall clad in tiny glass mosaic tiles stands in one segment of the pond as added privacy between the main home and guest house. Colorful blown-glass spheres by Arkansas artist James Hayes bob in the water along with the fish.
Kelly is pleased that the design keeps predators away, too. “The area is flanked by holly trees that protect and shield it very well,” she says. “The home surrounds the area, so it is difficult and inconvenient for any critter to creep in. We have only ever lost one koi, and that was because the electric feeder was on the blink, and I think I overfed them.”
The hand-painted, turquoise-blue metal feeder resembles a large lantern and hangs above the pond. It has a rustic appeal suited to the environment but it is technically savvy: a hidden timer facilitates a food drop once a day. Both feeder and fish are attended by David Flores, a koi breeder who initially installed (while working for Pool Environments) and stocked the pond. Now retired, he continues to serve as its caretaker. The almost three dozen fish are the pond’s limit, he says, especially now that many are about 2 feet long. To help control the population, Flores doesn’t provide a secluded area for them to spawn, allowing them to eat any eggs produced.
Three days a week, he stops by to inspect the koi for general health. Clarity of the water is an indicator they are not being overfed. As with all things Zen, balance is everything. “Because of evaporation,” Kelly says, “he does need to top the pond with water at times, but over-filling with fresh water could also kill the fish, so he makes sure just enough goes in.”
The water feature and its surrounds are photogenic; the bridal portraits of daughter Mikal, shot there in 2014, captured the beauty that has drawn other family friends to use the backdrop for photos. An outdoor dining room just steps from the most populated portion of the pond, a popular spot for gathering, shares what Kelly describes as a peaceful vibe. “What we love most about the pond is the serenity it brings to the area,” she says. “It makes the entire entrance to our home like a Garden of Eden. Our koi pond just brings so much joy to us.”