Aside from the obvious practical functions, a creatively designed pool house can add to a homeowner’s enjoyment of their landscape by offering a quiet place for alone time, a charming accommodation for house guests, the perfect setting for a sweet sixteen party, or a weekend getaway minus the travel time. We thought we’d like to present some points of view on this topic aside from our own. And since there is such great vitality in the Washington DC design community, we decided to reach out to colleagues and ask them to share one of their favorite pool house designs.
Each of the pool house projects chosen for this article display a singular look. The different design concepts and outcomes were driven by either the need to overcome site limitations or to showcase site assets—or both. We asked each designer to explain why the building looks the way it does, how it relates to the site, and what pleases them most about it.
Our thanks go to landscape architect Kevin Campion and residential architects Jim Rill, Charles Moore, and Randall Mars for their thoughtful contributions to this article.
The concept for this pool house designed by Rill Architects of Bethesda began with a simple structure–light and airy with clean lines. Its striking simplicity is in tune with the natural setting. Viewed from across the pool you can see right through the building to the dense greenery beyond. And the glass walls slide back on themselves allowing you to walk freely through it. The pool decking also runs right through the pool house becoming its floor. The design succeeds in drawing attention without dominating the setting.
Questions for Jim Rill
Does the style of the pool house resonate with the form of the main house?
It does not. It was a typical production home with lots of bays and arches and brick. It was a mix of styles, and the clients said they wanted something that would be architecturally pure, and separate from the style of the house. Visually, it’s a surprise as in “wow I want to go out there.” Everybody wants to spend time out there even in winter.
In the creative process did you discover something about the interaction of site and concept?
What surprised us was the reflective quality of the water and the glass. You can see it in the photographs. We love the building, and we love the pool, but the way the pool reflects the building and the way the glass reflects the pool and the people and the landscape, is exciting. The other thing that we look at and realize we couldn’t have planned is the drama of the sun hitting the water and casting rippling reflections on the ceiling and the walls of the pool house.
What do the clients like about it?
…That it is a piece of sculpture in the garden that fits within the garden. And it’s a great place to listen to music, grill, entertain, and be with family and friends year-round.
Other pool houses we’ve done relate more to the home stylistically. This was conceived as a completely separate unit. We love that it is such a simple piece–simple in appearance but complex in its function. It’s amazing that you can make something so beautiful that still manages to hold its own without stealing the scene.
This swimming pool and pool house designed by Campion Hruby Landscape Architects in collaboration with Studio MB Architects is set on a farm. Kevin Campion sited the pool area farther from the main house than he normally would because the owners wanted it to serve as a vantage point for enjoying spectacular views of the surrounding property and nearby hills. They also wanted to create a get-away where their three girls could spend long days outdoors.
Questions for Kevin Campion
How did the concept evolve?
The owners had a lot of ideas and, like most landscape architects, we took all those ideas and assimilated them into a master plan. In the process of creating that plan, everything came together: all the structures and how they are connected, all the different landscape spaces. In country style living, people want to get out of the house. The idea of having a pool right behind your house is not as appealing as creating a new space, exploring more of your land. I was intrigued by the idea of working with the clients to expand the program to explore more of their land and to capture different views, to help them appreciate what they have and also in that regard help them to conserve it.
What do clients say they love most about it?
It is a very peaceful place. I know the husband will go out there on his own and use it as a place to get away. The kids love it. They have parties there. They can live out there for the entire weekend. The pool house replaces the need for the house. There is a sleeping loft, a kitchen, bathroom, and furniture indoors and out.
What do you like about it?
…that we took advantage of the farm. We did a beautiful fire pit where you can sit and look out at the view. We planted red maples for fall color. We took the vernacular details of a farm and worked them into this space, so it feels like it’s been there for a long time.
Renewal & Repurpose
The creation of this pool house by Charles Moore involved the renovation of an all but abandoned garage that had fallen into disrepair. Moore Architects transformed the shell of the old structure into a new multi-functional space. It now serves as 1) a building to service the pool with dressing area and bathroom, 2) a guest house for visiting friends and family, and 3) an away space for the husband to work at home late nights and weekends.
Questions for Charles Moore
How does the pool house relate to the rest of the site?
We wanted the out building to have a clear relationship to the house. We did that by designing an identical set of windows on the house and guest house. A large bay window in the guest house looks back to a large matching window in the kitchen on the main house (we renovated the house as well); these windows have identical geometry. The window on the house frames a view of the guest house. The idea is that the guest house and main house share an architectural dialog with one another; when you are in the main house, you gaze out this large window imagining time spent in the guesthouse relaxing, working or to get away. When you are in the guest house with a view through the large window back to the house, you think of being with the family or eating dinner.
Did the original idea change at all during the design process?
We wanted to add a second-floor bedroom, but zoning limited the building height. Instead, we created a loft space with what we call a monitor in the rooftop. That gave us additional headroom in the loft and brings in daylight. Also, the monitor provides ventilation for the building. When it gets warm, you open the top windows and all the hot air gets drawn out through the top. If you just open any of the windows or doors facing the pool just a crack, it pulls cool air in through the bottom as the hot air escapes overhead. This idea came from the mundane restriction of what the local jurisdiction would allow us to build or not build.
What do the clients love about it?
The clients love its versatility and the idea of a backyard escape. Instead of driving three hours out to the country, they just go out to the backyard. We also designed a cabinet with a pull-out desktop for the husband. When he’s finished working, it goes away.
What do you like about it?
Taking something that was abandoned and making it into a sweet private oasis in someone’s backyard was satisfying. While it’s a very small building it’s got a lot of function: open space, bathroom, kitchen, stairs to a loft. It is also extremely simple. The interior volume for the loft and bathroom is freestanding. It looks like we just inserted that structure into the open space.
Randall Mars Architects designed this pool house for a client who loves being outdoors and using his pool. He actually moved into the pool house and lived there while he renovated his house. The client also wanted a luxurious accommodation for house guests. Mars says the decision to place the pool house and pool close together was driven by the need to conserve space in a backyard that did not have much space to spare.
The interior of the pool house features a large social area on the ground floor with overhead doors that roll up and open the entire wall to the pool. The transition from the interior of the pool house to the pool is seamless. There is even a rear projection movie screen hidden in the rafters. When the screen drops down, party guests can watch a movie while they are in the pool.
Questions for Randall Mars
Did you discover anything about the interaction of the site and the concept?
We very much consider site when doing projects. We design to the site. Setting the pool and pool house close together was based on the practicality of conserving yard space. But it turned out that the pool functions as a sort of water feature when you are sitting inside the pool house.
What does client love most about it?
He would spend most of his time outside if he could.
Is there a detail that you particularly like?
The stone we specified for the walls is magnificent. But it’s granite. And putting up a granite wall is much more labor-intensive than putting up fieldstone because fieldstone can be chiseled, but granite needs to be sawn. It takes five to six times longer to do it. But the stonework is precise and beautifully done, and I really love it. It’s beautiful.
The Evolving Concept of the Pool House
Whether stylishly simple or tastefully lavish, the main purpose of a pool house is still a practical one. It offers a convenient place to store pool toys and equipment, change into or out of swimsuits, shower, grab a snack, catch some shade, or take a nap. The more ambitious concepts will produce pool houses that go well beyond the basics to include entertainment centers, full kitchens and guest quarters that are beautifully finished and fully furnished for year-round use.