In Print

The Outdoor Shower

Showering under the sky

By Eleni Collins - July 13, 2006

"The Outdoor Shower: Creative Design Ideas for Backyard Living, from the Functional to the Fantastic" by Ethan Fierro. Storey Publishing, North Adams, 2006. $19.95 paperback, $29.95 hardcover. 144 pages.

"Showering outdoors is one of the greatest ways to connect with the wonder and beauty of the natural world. Standing outside, washing away the stresses of a long day, while enjoying your natural surroundings creates peace of mind and a new level of relaxation." - Ethan Fierro

"The Outdoor Shower" is an informative and enlightening book, perfect for the summer coffee table. A quick glimpse at the vibrant, colorful photographs, some of which are taken on the Vineyard, will inspire one to create an outdoor shower or make improvements on an existing one.

Author, designer, and builder Ethan Fierro grew up here on the Island in both West Tisbury and Chilmark. Born in Paoli, Pa., he moved here with his parents when he was just three weeks old. Last year, he moved to Maui, Hawaii, with his wife of 16 years, Phyllis Robinson.

During his teenage Vineyard years, Mr. Fierro worked for several construction companies until he became enraptured with art. With a growing interest in Asian-style architecture, he moved on to become a self-employed artist and has been for the last 20 years in different media, such as painting, woodworking, and working with stone. He also completed a four-year Japanese woodworking apprenticeship in Dublin, N.H., in 1994.

In the introduction to the book, Mr. Fierro explains his love for outdoor showers, which began with one built up-Island, by his father. "The open sky above, where the steam rose and dissipated, and the finely carved wooden door latch . . . That outdoor shower opened my eyes to a new way of working with my environment, and my father's artistic example has inspired me in my own architectural designs."

Mr. Fierro brings an educational element to this book through his personal knowledge of construction as well as his creative taste. From minimalist to dream showers, he outlines for the reader what types of materials are best, where to get them, and, in some cases, how to grow them. In highlighted boxes throughout the book, Mr. Fierro adds his own experiences in areas such as where to find salvaged materials for a creative shower for people on a budget, and how to make a lighted path with his unique "balanced lanterns." The lanterns feature a light or candle inside frosted glass, situated between two tall slabs of rock to create a natural looking trail of light.

A recurring theme in this book is nature, and how one can feel closer to the natural environment that surrounds the home. Mr. Fierro suggests building the most open shower one feels comfortable with by using minimal wall space. He even includes an informational box with instructions on how to plant bamboo to use for the shower walls, as he recently finished constructing a bamboo shower on Maui.

Continuing with the theme of nature, the shower expert lists different types of wood and other materials that are appropriate to use for the structure. For East Coast homeowners, he recommends black locust, which is a common tree that is known for its rot-resisting characteristics. Stone and tiles are good options for the base since they soak up the sun, which creates a warm shower floor at the right time of day.

For the extreme shower enthusiasts, Mr. Fierro includes illustrated "dream showers," such as an elevated tree-house shower and one inside a spiral of colorful stained glass.

Filling the book with personal notes of his own experiences, Mr. Fierro ends with an account of one New Year's morning when he and some friends traveled to a flooded river inside the Haleakala Crater on Maui. The river created an 80 foot waterfall flowing down the crater's cliffs, which he called "the ultimate opportunistic shower." He writes, "Finally, I swam away and gazed at this incredible sight, a veritable Eden. Lush tropical vegetation grew enthusiastically on the surrounding cavernous walls. Among delighted friends cavorting and playing like children, I felt all was well on that New Year's morn."

Presently residing in both Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard, Mr. Fierro has designed approximately six showers on his East Coast Island, along with more in Hawaii. Currently, he is working on his unique stone lanterns, but is available for shower consultations via e-mail at ethanfierro@aol.com. u

For more information and photos of Ethan Fierro's work, visit www.ethanfierro.com. He will be signing books this Thursday, July 13, beginning at 7:30 pm, at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Main St., Vineyard Haven. For information about the event, call 508-693-2291.