Before the economy took a nosedive nearly four years ago, Lake Forest South resident David Mattei planned to hire some professionals to turn his backyard into an outdoor oasis.
Mattei had owned his home for nearly six years. A consulting engineer working in the construction industry, he had remodeled the interior and was thinking about hiring contractors to help him build a koi pond that would dominate his backyard.
But with the construction business sagging, Mattei decided to change his plans. With a detailed drawing as his guide and friends providing assistance, he re-imagined his pond as a do-it-yourself project. In the end, he saved money and got the backyard sanctuary he had sought.
Lakes and Ponds
Mattei is a designer by trade. His degree is in architecture, so his plans for the koi pond began on the drawing board.
“There’s always something percolating in my head,” he said. “I wanted to create a micro-ecosystem in my backyard. After I finished the drawing, I called all my friends and invited them over to help me dig the initial hole. I offered a barbeque and beer, and they all showed up.
“I knew if I offered food and beer that we’d have a good turnout.”
On a weekend afternoon last November, Mattei and friends used shovels to dig up the corner of his backyard that was to contain the pond. When he returned to work the next week, he began to search for discarded rocks while driving to construction sites across South Florida. He ended up with about four tons of stone, which he used to border the pond.
“Each of those rocks would’ve cost me about $20,” he said. “I saved money by finding my own rocks.”
Next, he searched the Web for filtration systems.
“I found all my material locally,” he said. “I used shower drains for connections. I got the storage containers for filtered water at a local home improvement store. Through my biomechanical research, I cut cost by 20 percent.”
By July, Mattei had built a 4,000-gallon pond stocked with turtles and koi fish. He also constructed a deck with two chairs, one for him and one for his girlfriend, Jill Powell, along with sun shades to keep out predators like osprey and eagles. The outdoor oasis faces west, perfect for watching the sun set over Barwick Park Reserve.
Powell said Mattei is imaginative by nature. “The creativity doesn’t stop,” she said. “He has so many ideas that come pouring out of him.”
Mattei said the project was labor-intensive, but he saved money by doing much of the work himself and by using the Internet as his reference guide.
“Sometimes, doing it yourself doesn’t pan out,” he said. “But 90 percent of the time it does, and in this case I saved thousands of dollars doing it myself.”