For poolside living, a nearby structure can provide easy hospitality year-round. From simple to simply sublime, well-designed pool houses offer carefree convenience, comfortable cover from the climate, sensible seating, effortless entertaining and even luxurious lodging. Here, several pool houses, each under 600 square feet, show how it can be done.
Scale and Symmetry
A pool house is luxurious,” says architect Elida Doldan Schujman of Architecture Studio in Sausalito. “It’s one way of keeping wet swimsuits from the inside of the house, but it can also make a home feel like a resort, like being on vacation at home.”
Doldan Schujman kept both the practical and the idyllic in mind when she designed the twin cabanas that complement the 1906 Queen Anne Victorian mansion of one San Rafael client.
Situated on almost four acres of land, the pool house unifies the main house and the carriage house by pulling elements from both: the large dormers and the eaves with dentil molding from the former and the cupola lanterns from the latter.
By separating the two cabanas and placing them on a central axis with the mansion’s entry hall bay windows, the architect avoided the potential bulkiness of a single larger building and made the space pleasing to view from the main house. By placing the latticed outdoor fireplace area between them, she created a privacy screen shielding the space from the road beyond.
One cabana evokes Victorian-era bathhouses, with curtained changing rooms, period-style sconces, paddled ceiling fans and, in the lounge area, an antique wicker chair and ottoman covered in waterproof fabric.
The tiles on the bathroom walls above the wainscoting echo the dazzling Bisazza aqua-blue glass tile under the pool coping, while the faux painting of the bathroom door repeats the look of the dressing room draperies.
The second cabana, done in shades of white and blue with accents of brass and black, holds the indoor entertaining area. Here the emphasis is on a fun bar atmosphere rather than cooking, although there is a full kitchen (supplemental to another one outside), with a refrigerator, cooktop, dishwasher, sink and microwave. The bar, which subtly conceals the kitchen counter, has an ebonite-and-tile countertop inset with mother-of-pearl tiles, old-fashioned support brackets and barstools covered in waterproof fabric.
With food, convenient amenities and a place to relax, this spot makes a good case for pool houses. They’re “a lot of fun,” Doldan Schujman says, “and, if you have the space, even a small pool house is more practical than going back and forth to the main house.”
(see image above by Charles Callister Jr. – Architect: Architecture Studio, Contractor: Versaggi Construction, Interior Design: Architecture Studio, Landscape Architecht: Richard A. Vignolo)
Great Sight, Tight Site
The story of this pool house was one of serendipity and how good architecture comes by solving more than one problem at a time,” says Tiburon architect Miles Berger.
It began when a Tiburon homeowner asked Berger to design a guesthouse without “taking a square inch of her garden” or impeding any of the breathtaking views she enjoyed from her windows. That left only one space: a charmless and view-free site behind the garage.
Berger proposed instead carving a modern-style guesthouse into the hill next to the pool terrace, located one level down from the main house, giving overnight guests a dead-on view of the Golden Gate Bridge from their bed.
“If Bilbo Baggins of Lord of the Rings had been a modernist, this is what he would have built,” Berger says. “Rather than add to the existing house or going up, which would have blocked neighbors’ views, we built at the existing lower pool level and expanded the garden on top of the new pool house.”
Inside, the pool house has a sleek bathroom, accessible to poolside guests or from a private entrance off the bedroom. It’s outfitted with limestone floors, countertops and tile, a glass-enclosed shower and bathtub, and gleaming fixtures from Dornbracht. There’s a walk-in closet and a bedroom that can be converted into a lounge area, workout room or office.
The interior and exterior walls were constructed using green components, including sustainably grown teak and stone native to the site. The stone, which matches the garden walls, was a surprise discovery during excavation and saved for construction.
This pool house “was a little challenging to build,” says contractor Jeff Jungsten, vice president of Caletti Jungsten Construction. “We saw a site that was tight and didn’t have a lot of access, and meeting the original manicured garden with the living roof seamlessly, with correct waterproofing and drainage, was a specific challenge. But we love a good challenge and it was fun to solve.”
Now, not only did the homeowner get a guesthouse with a view, she has a beautiful pool house that has green features, required no variances, doesn’t exceed the original footprint or block neighbors’ views, reduces the need to climb the stairs to the main house from the pool, and actually expands her precious garden space.
Architect: Miles Berger, AIA, Contractor: Caletti Jungsten Construction, Furnishings: Design Within Reach, Landscape Architect: Pedersen Associates, Landscape Contractor: O’Connell Landscape
Away from the Tuscan Sun
Sausalito architect Ronald Wager can list some marvelous reasons to build a pool house: it’s an alternate location for entertaining and relaxing, a practical place for changing rooms and toilets, and an area for adults to relax or work while keeping an eye on the children.
On a more basic level, though, a pool house can be appreciated for the cool shade and wind protection it offers on exposed sites far removed from a sheltered patio.
The lovely stone-veneer pool house he designed for an active Ross family “offers all of the above advantages,” he says, “and yet its visual impact on the landscape was artfully minimized by setting it into the hillside and keeping the shapes and materials simple in order to complement the [Tuscan villa-style] main house.”
With a large main room, a bar alcove, a bathroom dressed in tumbled travertine surfaces and access from both indoors and outdoors, the interior works well for casual entertaining. Guests can gather under the exposed wood trusses of the roof, gaze out onto the pool and the views from the operable radius-top cedar windows and never know the pool equipment is concealed in its own separate room nearby.
Two pairs of French doors open onto the pool and garden, providing a graceful access to the outdoor fireplace and seating area, an idea suggested by Michael Yandle, the landscape architect who
designed the estate’s expansive gardens.
And contractor Jeff Jungsten, who was instrumental in the siting, layout and many exterior details and site services, set up the pool house to easily accommodate future development—which will save the owners time and money should they want to add other amenities later on.
“From a construction standpoint, the builder has the ability to plan ahead for future needs like extra drainage, irrigation lines, power conduits, and pool or lighting control locations, which might be hampered by construction already in place,” Jungsten says. “These items cost very little at the time and can provide a huge benefit later.”
Architect: Walter & Wager, Contractor: Caletti Jungsten Construction, Landscape Architect: Michael B. Yandle, Landscape Architecture
Who says a pool house must have four solid walls? Not designers Alia Meyer and Nicolas Sauzier of Jessica Hall Associates, who collaborated on a stylish pavilion-style pool house in Tiburon using four movable walls fabricated from all-weather Sunbrella fabric.
“There’s something very magical about outdoor draperies,” Meyer says. “They give a room more flexibility and they’re strong enough to act as barriers, but they blow in the wind and can add softness to a space that uses a lot of stone.”
Tied back, these elegantly striped draperies allow full visual and physical access to the pool; partially closed, they provide shelter from the sun or wind. And pulled shut, they provide a cozy ambience for an intimate party. The draperies envelop a series of classical columns on a raised limestone platform, inset with blue limestone pavers and a perimeter of limestone mosaic. Inside, a cast stone wood-burning fireplace with gas jet offers a warm place to visit or read.
Across from it is the kitchen, with countertops of a vibrant Blue Luise Extra granite, a rotisserie oven, dishwasher, full and mini-refrigerators, twin sinks and a microwave. There’s also a bathroom and storage room for convenience.
A fun mix of colorful Donghia outdoor fabrics is splashed across the furnishings, with the lounge chairs and stool cushions piped in an orange leatherlike vinyl. Kane Shrader fixtures light the space and overhead heat lamps offer additional warmth.
“Kids can be swimming in the pool while couples are having snacks in the pool house and still be able to watch their children while they have adult conversations,” Meyer says. “It’s the outdoor version of a family room.”
Architect: Winder Liebes, Architects Contractor: Hughes General Contractor, Inc., Interior designer: Jessica Hall Associates with homeowner Carolyn Cohan, Landscape architect: Magrane & Associates, Landscape Contractor: Stonetree Landscape Construction