Steve DeBiasi makes beauty with water, earth and light
Steve DeBiasi did not grow up in a house with a swimming pool. The respected landscape and pool designer was raised in Noank, Connecticut. The Mystic River, where it opened up to the Long Island Sound, was the DeBiasi kids’ own private wonderland.
“There was this small island a half-mile out in front of our house,” says DeBiasi. “We would swim out to it every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. We’d mow lawns and deliver newspapers, pool our earnings for gas money and then, when it was high tide, we would water ski. If it was high tide in the morning, we’d mow lawns in the afternoon.”
Halfway through college, DeBiasi crossed a different sea to visit some buddies in Honolulu. There he met James C. Hubbard. The renowned landscape architect had recently finished restoring Rev. K.H. Inagaki’s Contemporary Museum gardens. In 1981, the Garden Club of Honolulu asked him to help design the Flora Pacifica Exhibition. Hubbard recruited young DeBiasi to help with the heavy work.
The exhibition was to transform the ground floor of the University of Hawaii Art Building into a Southeast Asian paradise, complete with bamboo bridges arching over ponds and lush gardens. “What really hooked me was that we’d go into somebody’s yard and Jim would tell us to pile up a 10-foot mound of dirt here. I’d think, ‘What is this guy thinking?’ He’d say, ‘Just shut up and do what I tell you,’” laughs DeBiasi. A day later, when Hubbard’s vision emerged, “All of a sudden, I could see we were making the most creative and incredible garden features.”
Business pragmatism, flexibility and his father’s “get up early and work hard” ethic led to DeBiasi’s longevity in a volatile field. After striking out on his own with a landscaping business in 1983, he weathered the burst Japanese bubble a few years later by commuting to Guam. He moved his business there—employees, families and all—in 1995, when Hawaii contracts had all but dried up. Guam’s bubble burst when Japanese tourism plummeted after 9-11. DeBiasi brought his company home to Hawaii, where commercial and residential water features have earned it an excellent reputation.
The company’s impressive list of completed projects includes the outdoor spaces of First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of Hawaii, the Honolulu Academy of Arts and hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt, Westin and Outrigger.
It draws on that expertise to bring the boutique resort experience into homes. DeBiasi Pacific’s ingeniously crafted infinity pools, water features and landscaping have been featured in magazines. “We just did an outdoor shower for a client,” says DeBiasi. “The walls are rock with plants growing from them and the ceiling opens up to the sky. You can look up and see the stars at night.”
The cool geometric fountains and rockscapes with sandy-bottomed pools are worlds away from DeBiasi’s childhood on the Mystic River, but his joy in making something beautiful where it didn’t exist before flows through them all. Seeing them, we remember the wonder of water and sky and nature and light.