Pool House Culmination

At what point does a new detached structure legitimately take on the mantel of a remodeling project? The line is not entirely clear. It can typically only be determined to be remodeling on a case-by-case basis. Key questions: What is the relationship between the new structure and the primary structure on the property? Does the new structure add a new permutation to the primary space that would not otherwise have been possible? Chances are if the answer is yes to both, the detached structure in question can be considered remodeling.

The 350-sq.-ft. $190,000 pool house/gallery that We Design Build of Washington, D.C., conceived and built for an avid collector of rare maps is a good example of a new detached structure that adds to the overall program of a remodeling project. The project came as the last in a long string of remodeling jobs for the same client stretching back nearly three years.

First, they dug out and finished a deeper basement and added a wine room. Then came the green light for a master suite addition along with an exterior renovation to remake a 1960s bungalow into an authentic-looking Italian style villa perched above an existing pool. When those were complete, the owner spoke of the need for an end cap behind the pool — a new structure for entertaining and for displaying some of his most important pieces. We Design Build got that job, too.

“When the client saw our work on our first project, I think he realized that we were capable of doing work at a higher level,” says We Design Build principal Francisco Ruiz, who was the primary designer on the project. “They gave us more and more and that is why we ended up doing the whole house. And that way we were able to keep the end result consistent. We began with a wine cellar, and that project became bigger and bigger and eventually it became the whole house. So it was not only a challenge in terms of execution, but also in terms of the design vision of the house. The challenge was to keep the design coherent, to make it look at the end actually as if it was one.”

An Authentic Italian Program

Ruiz, who holds a master’s degree in architecture from the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture in London, is no stranger to Mediterranean architecture. He had seen it firsthand in Florence and Rome. From a design perspective it would have been easy to use only those materials that were readily available. The result would have been very similar to the Italian style, but only within the limits of materials that could be found stateside. Instead, Ruiz said a lot effort was focused on creating an authentically “aged patina.” Toward this end, they found a company in Maryland that was able to reclaim a real granite fireplace from a home in France. For interior flooring, they easily could have sourced mass-produced terra cotta tile here, but instead chose to order handmade Italian tiles with uniquely authentic uneven edges. Additionally, they took great pains to source interior wood beams that were hand hewn and brushed to further deepen the structure’s Italian bona fides.

The pool house/gallery also became more authentically Mediterranean as a result of its visual relationship with the main house, points out Ruiz. The three gracefully curving arches facing the pool are a reflection of three similar arches that front the loggia off the back of the master-suite addition.

“When you are in the master suite, you can look through those arches and see the front elevation of the pool house,” explains Ruiz. “So the two structures are reflections of one another. They communicate with each other and have a dialogue. And also, with the reflection from the pool, it is a very beautiful view at night.”

Other Challenges

The topography of the lot was extremely challenging. It drops off dramatically from front to back, making construction of the pool house deeply back from the street very tough, especially in light of the existence of an older pool nearly flush against the rear of the yard. Significant excavation work was needed to create the rear wall of the structure, which went right up to the rear lot line. The rear wall doubles as a retaining wall that carefully holds the building and nearby pool securely in place. Built of masonry and concrete, the wall extends upward to the peak of a shed roof and, on the inside, forms the interior rear wall of the 150-sq.-ft. “gallery”.

“We kind of worked backward,” says company principal Kaya Biron, AIA, who founded We Design Build in 1990. “If we had had the whole package in front of us, instead of having been given it in reverse sequence from the front onward, we would have chosen to start with the detached structure and work our way back to the street.”

Space limitations and the desire for a reflecting pool effect led the team to move the front edge of the pool house only 6 in. beyond the French doors. Open the doors, take a step, and you are in the pool. Great pains were taken, says Biron, to ensure that no additional pressure from the building pushed on the pool wall. The load was borne on the sides and on the rear wall.

Beyond the site challenges, there were some additional systems requirements necessitated by the print gallery. Museum quality lighting was installed to create the ideal setting for hanging the owner’s prints of early Caribbean maps. Extensive lighting was also installed to accent the front elevation of the pool house.

“We needed to create emphasis on the front elevation of the house and how it was reflected on the pool and the lighting inside was provided against the back wall,” notes Ruiz. “From the outside, when the lights are on, you can see light washing the back wall and you can see all of the art from the outside. It is pretty much museum quality display lighting.”

Additionally, there was a sophisticated climate control system for consistently maintaining specified temperature and humidity levels.

“We treated this like it was a little museum by itself,” added Kaya Biron.

Finally, the interior program of the pool house needed to be extremely efficient. Built on a 10-ft.-deep parcel, the client required a gallery, a bathroom and a wet bar. Due to local fire codes, a full bath was not allowed. A powder room was carved out opposite a wet bar at one end of the structure — behind the fireplace. The rest of the structure was devoted to the large space flooded with natural light from the series of French doors.

“The maximum that the code allows is a powder room. But that powder room supports the pool activity,” says Ruiz.

“At the same time, the major idea was to create an entertaining space and a gallery. He is a collector of prints, and he eventually used it to display the portion of his collection related to the Caribbean Sea — maps that date from when cartographers were first charting it. That is why the back wall is higher and why the reflections of the pool work so well with the theme.”