When buildings fall into disrepair in eastern Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based Gardner/Fox Associates Inc. can refurbish them to a new level of excellence. The architectural remodeling and construction firm recently was awarded a Gold-level Master Design Award in the Detached Structure category for its work on an existing pool house in Malvern, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.
The small pool house, which is situated on a 7-acre property in horse country, did not live up to the beautiful backyard pool it was meant to complement nor did it relate to the architectural style of the existing main house, a 19th-century colonial farmhouse. “What got the homeowners to pull the trigger on the project was the fact that this is an exquisite property and the existing pool-house structure was just such an unfortunate eyesore,” explains Alex Rice, senior residential architect with Gardner/Fox Associates. “They wanted something that really complemented the main house, which is only a couple hundred feet away.”
In addition to being an eyesore, the pool house didn’t address the homeowners’ needs when gathering by the pool. Gardner/Fox Associates was asked to create a social space for a family of six and to entertain friends. The homeowners desired a kitchenette area, shower and laundry facilities, and changing space. They also asked that the pool house become an indoor/outdoor space, opening to the pool on one side and the woods on the other while aesthetically complementing the pool and farmhouse.
The 2-story farmhouse was designed by Richardson Brognard Okie, a local architect who designed from the late 19th century until his death in 1945. Okie’s specialty was the Pennsylvania Dutch genre. The romantic style primarily is created with stone and is minimalist in nature.
Rice, who is comfortable with historic projects, recalls the gentleman-farmer style with the remodel. According to Rice, gentleman farmers were estate owners who worked in the city but lived on a working farm for pleasure, not necessarily for income.
“I typically take on historic properties that require period detailing,” Rice says. “I had been working with the homeowners since they purchased the property in 2004. They said they wanted this project to look like an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse outbuilding to play off the historic feel of the property.”
Rice determined he wanted the pool house to be an accessory to the main farmhouse. “Because the main house is a somewhat colonial farmhouse, the homeowners wanted the new pool house to almost read as a barn structure or accessory structure to the main house,” he explains. “These outbuildings were originally built to assist in the farming aspect of the estate. The idea was not to have it look like a pool house but to look like its original intention as a farming structure.”
The location of the pool house dictated its design. “Our biggest challenge on the project was that we were building on a very steep slope,” Rice says. “It was going to be very difficult to get any type of excavating equipment anywhere near the pool house, so we were limited to using the existing foundation, which was essentially a rectangle. The challenge was to make this program work using the same footprint while limiting any type of excavation.”
Rice focused the remodel design around a great room with a large fireplace that would allow the pool house to be used during all four seasons. He added adjacent rooms for wood storage and to service the kitchenette.
He designed the project with an exposed rough-hewn timber frame to showcase salvaged barn beams on the interior. To remain on budget, Rice camouflaged a 2- by 4-inch stick-frame structure underneath the pool house’s skin and exposed the salvage beams in the great room.