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Condo Scene: Bringing the beach to your balcony


Portable water features

Portable water features — like this tiered bowls water fountain at — are one solution for small outdoor spaces such as balconies. In winter, it can just as easily be used indoors.

One of the most iconic sounds of summer is waves crashing on a beach. Because it invokes relaxation and vacation, living with the peaceful sound of water in motion is a dream for many. Canadian cottage country offers lakes and rivers that deliver background boating and wildlife noises, but I love the sounds of the ocean, always ebbing and flowing.

Although these sounds are difficult to mimic, a water feature can create a soothing ambience that is inherently summery. In our backyard, we installed a waterfall that plunges into a swimming pool. It’s both visually and aurally pleasing.

But don’t think water features are restricted to houses. Many new condos allow for their incorporation.

From Singapore to Florida, condo developers have been planning their developments around significant — and often breathtaking — water features. These include pools of all shapes, sizes and depths — anything from dark shallow infinity pools to bright blue mosaic deep pools.

The limitation is simply the architect’s imagination. There are lighted waterfalls, water walls and ponds of all colours and profundities. Even a small pond, only inches deep, can be made spectacular through creative lighting.

Other features include babbling brooks, rocks coated with sheets of moving water, fountains, sprays and laminar water walls that seem to float on air. Hot tubs can accommodate from one to 20 bathers and floating shelves facilitate aqua fitness or just plain relaxing in the pool.

Nearer to home, Minto’s Yorkville Park condo in Toronto offers a rooftop terrace edged with a water feature and the Ottawa airport calms arriving passengers with a waterfall wall overlooking the baggage claim area.

Farther afield, Las Vegas boasts hotels with spectacular water features that undulate in sync with the music of Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. The aqua pièce de résistance is the world-famous Cirque du Soleil O at the Bellagio Hotel. The same fantastic water display concepts are featured in Dubai, where they mesmerize tourists.

picturesque waterfal

Renovations a few years ago at The Riviera Apartments on Riverside Drive included adding a picturesque waterfall.

In Ottawa, condo owners are installing personal hot tubs on rooftop terraces such as one designed by a buyer at Cathedral Hill. If you purchase your condo early enough, you may be able to have the builder incorporate a personalized water feature or hot tub into your living space.

At Lamb Development Corp.’s Gotham, the penthouse has southern and western exposure from a 1,542-square-foot balcony with a glass railing and no overlooking neighbours. This would be the perfect place for a dramatic water feature and, although the condo is just being completed, I can’t wait to see how this amazing terrace will turn out.

If you are not at the pre-construction stage where water features can be supported in a major way by the developer, don’t despair. There are many approaches to retrofitting self-contained water features.

The simplest may be to install a free-standing aquarium to give a visual hit along with the opportunity to develop a relationship with your favourite tropical fish. A step up in difficulty is to have an aquarium installed in the wall, if layout permits.

Self-contained water walls and fountains that filter and recirculate their contents add sound to the visual element. These often go best in the foyer, where their soothing sounds can radiate subtly to other principal rooms.

Mini self-contained water features can be used almost anywhere to create a calming Zen experience. In winter, they also increase humidity, saving your floors and drywall from cracking.

Of course, you can also incorporate water features on the balcony or terrace. Just consult your condo’s rules and your liability insurance policy first. If what you are considering seems heavy — in terms of weight or the breadth of the plan — consult with the condo developer or manager.

Most self-contained water features, with the exception of an aquarium, can be used to grace suitably-sized balconies or terraces. And many work well in conjunction with balcony gardening.

So if you’re yearning for the peaceful sounds of water in motion, you may not be able to have the pounding of surf in your condo, but a lot can be done with a bit of creativity.

Marilyn Wilson has been selling real estate for more than 25 years and owns Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties Inc. Christie’s International Real Estate. Reach her through

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