Moussa Moaadel designed the waterfall at his Potomac house. It took seven men to install the 7-foot-high mermaid sculpture. Credit: Photo credit: Joelle Price

A Sound Decision

Potomac’s Moussa Moaadel has built his life in the United States from the ground up, and his backyard is no exception. Moaadel, who arrived from Iran as a student in 1963, gained local attention in 1977, when he purchased a home in Alexandria, Va., from out-going President Gerald Ford. One year later, Moaadel left his job with a Bethesda real estate agency and opened his own real estate firm there, specializing in the sale of luxury homes.

In 1986, Moaadel and his wife, Daria, moved into their own luxury home in Potomac. Although they loved the house, the wooded backyard was “pretty rough,” Moaadel says. The couple’s two children liked to go down to the creek behind the house to fish, but the property’s steep slope and tangle of underbrush often caused them to tumble down the hill.

So Moaadel created a path for easy access to the creek. He soon turned that path into a stone staircase. Then he added another staircase. And another. And another. Guided solely by his own aesthetic, Moaadel designed a yard with a formal feel, laying down a labyrinth of stone walkways and patios. In the middle of it all, he built a domed, concrete gazebo, and adorned the yard with statues, a stone bridge and more than 350 English boxwoods.

When his work was done, Moaadel realized the only thing missing was a water feature. He didn’t want the chore of keeping a pool free of falling leaves and other debris. A pond, he decided, wasn’t spectacular enough. So, five years ago he decided on a waterfall, which he designed himself and positioned close to the house so that he and his wife could hear it at night through their open windows.

“I directed [the building of] it, and other people did the hard work,” he says. With nine men working 10-hour days, the waterfall took a month to complete. Upon a foundation of boulders, they constructed a towering, 25-foot-high, 50-foot-wide wall made from local gray stone, over which the water flows. A pond at the bottom holds 5,000 gallons of water that are continuously recycled by two pumps—one inside the pond and one in Moaadel’s basement. To complete the waterfall, he chose a 7-foot-high mermaid stone sculpture and fountain hand-carved in Italy. It took seven men to install it on its 6-foot pedestal.

The Moaadels’ waterfall runs only in warm weather, and preparing the structure each spring can be a monumental task. Cracks can appear in the stone during the cold winters, and they must be filled before the annual cleaning and waterproofing. But Moaadel says the work is worth it. 

Moaadel especially likes the fact that he designed the backyard himself. “It’s Moussa Moaadel, fountain designer, landscape designer and talented artist,” he says with a laugh.

On a Hillside Steep

When a promotion at Lockheed Martin brought Dave Filomeo and his wife, Paige, from California to Maryland in 2006, they bought a model home on a corner lot in North Potomac. The inside was perfect, but the outside had a few flaws—namely, a sloping grass yard and a “flimsy” deck.

The Filomeos called Doug Del Gandio of Four Seasons Landscaping & Nursery in Damascus after admiring work he’d done for neighbors. They had a simple wish list: a patio with some privacy, a new railing and stairs for the deck and perhaps some landscaping.

“Then came the question my husband says cost us a lot of money,” Paige Filomeo says. “I asked, ‘What would you do if it were your home?'”

Del Gandio’s answer: a retaining wall in the front yard and a waterfall in the back. “We had never even considered a water feature,” Paige Filomeo says, “but the plans were beautiful.”

To spread out the expense, the Filomeos completed the project in three phases: the deck and patio in 2007, the front retaining wall in 2008 and the waterfall in 2009. “The biggest challenge was working with the open, grassy yard to make the waterfall look natural,” Del Gandio says. “A plain bed of rocks and gravel wouldn’t have worked.” Instead, he used Pennsylvania mountain boulders for the falls and planted an assortment of trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses to give the space color and texture.

Del Gandio designed the 40-foot-long waterfall to be seen—and heard—from the places where the Filomeos spent most of their time: the deck, the sunroom and the master bedroom. The waterfall, which curves as it descends the sloped yard, contains several falls and a change in elevation of about 6 feet. A hidden basin at the bottom collects the water, about 1,000 gallons, which re-circulates through the falls. When the water level drops below a certain point, the basin automatically refills with water pumped from the house. The waterfall runs year-round except during rare freezes in winter. 

Paige Filomeo and her husband have always loved the mountains and fishing. They spend a lot of time on their deck at night listening to the sound of falling water and the croaking of the frogs it attracts. “If you close your eyes,” Paige Filomeo says, “you can imagine that you are on the top of a mountain and the fish are biting.”

Altered States

In 1998, Ron and Lynne Bergman, owners of a company specializing in large-scale renovations after natural disasters, bought a house in Potomac on two heavily wooded acres. A few years later they installed a pond behind the home, but “I was really after the ‘wow’ factor,” Ron Bergman says, and the pond didn’t cut it.

So, three years ago the Bergmans hired landscape architect Don Nesmith of Land & Water Design in Gainesville, Va., to redevelop the property. Lynne Bergman had spent a lot of time on the family boat as a child with her deep-sea fisherman father, and she wanted the plans to include water features. Eighteen months later, the backyard redo was complete. It now includes a swimming pool, enhanced Japanese koi pond and several waterfalls, as well as an outdoor fireplace, spa, full kitchen and gas fire pit.

The Bergmans wanted the new features to look as if they’d been there forever. The swimming pool was designed to look like a natural pond, with water tumbling over boulders before entering the pool. Over an existing stream, set into the side of a hill and splashing over a bed of natural stone, Nesmith built a bridge to create the illusion that water from that stream flowed into the pool.

Ron Bergman’s favorite water feature is the reconfigured, 5,000-gallon Japanese koi pond. After installing the original pond 10 years ago, he lost 10 to 15 koi to the dreaded great blue herons. “It’s the most expensive sushi I ever fed to a bird,” he says. To eliminate the danger of natural predators, Nesmith raised the sides of the pond and increased its depth to 6 feet. The herons can no longer stand on the side of the pond and easily reach the water, although they still come to look, Lynne Bergman says.

Under the re-engineered deck, Nesmith created a spectacular, all-weather lounging area with one of the project’s most unique features: a multi-tiered waterfall separated from the rest of the yard by a wall topped with translucent glass blocks to draw in natural light. The waterfall, built with earthy, reddish-brown stones and dark slate, has clean, modern lines. It measures 7 feet wide and almost 7 feet at its highest point, and uses water re-circulated from the main pool.

Lynne Bergman spends a lot of time in the tranquil space, just listening to the sound of the water. “The energy flows right through you,” she says. “It completely alters your state of being.”

Gabriele McCormick is a frequent contributor to Bethesda Magazine Home.