Peter Sutton, President & Designer AquaShapes International
By Susan Salisbury: Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Waterfall Creator Makes Masterpieces out of Rock
Towering waterfalls flowing over dozens of huge rocks might seem incongruous in South Florida, but they've become a spectacular staple at many residential development entrances.
Peter Sutton, 54, of North Palm Beach, is the designer behind many of those waterscapes. Sutton has been designing and building such features as waterfalls and natural swimming pools complete with fish since 1979.
"People love it. Nobody in the world needs a waterfall, but our clients can't live without them," Sutton said.
Prices range from $10,000 for a backyard waterfall to around $750,000 for the massive installations with hundreds of rocks at major developments.
Sutton entered the business after earning a fine arts degree at the University of Miami. He was doing finish carpentry work when a friend said someone needed help shoveling dirt and setting rocks at a job in Miami.
"The owner found out I knew how to draw. That's how I started my design career," Sutton said.
While working for the Miami company, Alternative Environments, he traveled the world, designing and building waterfalls and natural pools in such places as Hawaii, the French West Indies and the Bahamas. "We pioneered rock waterfalls. We were among the first people ever to put rocks into man-made swimming pools."
After working for and having ownership in several companies, Sutton launched North Palm Beach-based AquaShapes International in 2009. Earlier this year AquaShapes completed waterfalls at G.L. Homes' Canyon Trails west of Boynton Beach. Over the years, Sutton has worked on several of G.L.'s water features.
The larger one is about 150 feet across and 15 feet high, including a 40-by-40-foot pond that's 18 inches deep.
Mark Meeske, vice president of planning and design at Sunrise-based G.L. Homes, said the public has responded well to the water features, which G.L. has at eight of its more than 40 developments.
"It's not something they see every day. It fits in well with the natural environment. It became kind of iconic," Meeske said. "It makes it feel more tropical.
"Peter has been involved with several of our projects. He provides a lot of that artistry that goes along with feature design," Meeske said
In 2004, he designed waterfalls that flank both sides of the entrance at Canyon Isles west of Boynton Beach.
First, a berm of dirt is pushed to create height. Then the area is carved out to form waterfalls and ponds and a PVC liner is laid.
Next, fiber mesh concrete is poured and textured to look like a natural pond bottom. Then water pipes and pumps are installed. Boulders are brought in and chiseled and hammered to fit together and set with a crane. Rock-colored grout is used.
Believe it or not, the rocks, as much as 750 tons for one project, are not imported from mountainous regions. For the most part, the rocks, known as Palm Beach cap rock, are from a quarry west of The Acreage in Palm Beach County, Sutton said. Sometimes he brings in stone from Pennsylvania or North Carolina, but the transportation costs are high.
"Palm Beach cap rock is the top of the limestone coral reef that is underground. It's ancient rock," Sutton said. The rock is known for its unique irregular edges.
Chris Ebersold, owner of Yardco Rock & Stone west of Boynton Beach, hired Sutton to build a 6-foot waterfall and 16-inch deep pond at his business four years ago.
"It has been the centerpiece for all of our customers who enter and visit our office. The children love it and we love it," Ebersold said. "We put pebbles that we bring in from Peru on the bottom of the basin. It's like you are in Hawaii or something."
Ebersold said he was familiar with Sutton's work and considers it top quality.
"I looked at other so-called waterfall builders. All they knew how to do was stack rock and make it look like a stacked water feature. Peter grouts and bonds the rocks together to make it look like Mother Nature did it," Ebersold said.
Jennifer Canning, who lives with her husband, John, and three children at Canyon Isles, said, "It's definitely a draw into the community."
The Cannings wanted the same soothing tropical feeling in their own back yard that fronts the lake. Sutton just completed a waterfall for them that's part of their swimming pool.
"Our biggest thing is, they created a grotto in the waterfall. I wanted a place for Mommy timeout," Canning said. "We've been to different pools and resorts, such as the JW Marriott in Orlando. We wanted to make a little mini-vacation in the back yard."