Properties of a Proper Pool House

The origin of pool houses dates back to the first century B.C. when communal bathing was an opportunity for socializing, handling business and relaxing. Through the centuries, pool houses have greatly evolved and are no longer a simple area to store clothes before a dip in the water. But what makes today’s pool house complete? The basic concept of the pool house has varied little over the past century, but like the main house, required and desired amenities and functionality offer some interesting new possibilities for its use.

Today’s luxury homeowner wants an oasis offering luxury, state-of-the-art technology and an unreservedly captivating design.

By working in concert, builders, remodelers, designers and landscape architects can create a pool house that serves as a combination entertaining space, guest house and personal retreat “Conceptually, a pool house is an object to complement the pool and the main house” says Maurice Weintraub, a Pennsylvania-based architect. “They tend to be follies that can be whimsical, classical or serious and tie into the architecture of the house; or they can even be separate.”

Fifty years ago, a pool house needed to be designed to include a designated changing area. Today, the formal changing area is unnecessary and outdated in concept and has given way to the requisite full bathroom complete with a shower. One obvious reason for the full bathroom is so swimmers don’t need to trek all the way to the main house to use the facilities. The necessity of a full bath also is driven by the desire to utilize the pool house as a party area and also as guest quarters.

Secondly, the pool house must feature a kitchen with a full complement of appliances. The indoor kitchen will be used as a bar when the homeowner throws a party, and will allow overnight guests their own personal cooking space. The level of appliances and functionality is dependent on budgetary and size parameters but should give the pool house all the comforts of home.

“It needs to be a place where people can sleep and where a homeowner can entertain. You really want to have the ability for someone to live there,” says Dave Lesser, principal of Windstar Homes in Tampa, Fla.

The third, and arguably, most important component is the multi-purpose room which can be used as a guest bedroom, party space or even a gaming area. Smartly designed multipurpose rooms include furniture that can be easily moved to make way for a Murphy bed. The Murphy bed can be recessed into a pocket in the wall when entertaining and easily pulled out when needed. Some multipurpose rooms (or great rooms) are designed with the gamer in mind. The well-appointed great room can accommodate pool and Ping-Pong tables.

Outward openings

The average size of a pool house varies from approximately 400 to 600 sq. ft. — depending on the functional needs and property size — so space maximization is a prime design consideration. Using French doors or a glass wall, an indoor-outdoor theme is created to open the area. When this wall of glass is open, the room seamlessly blends into the pool area giving the illusion of an even larger space.

To facilitate the indoor-outdoor theme, Lesser utilizes pocketing walls of glass that are controlled with a hand-held device or wall switch. “Because of the way you create the indoor-outdoor theme, the space will feel considerably larger than it really is and will help create an indoor-outdoor theme that will be second to none,” he explains.

“There needs to be a strong synergy in the indoor-outdoor element to capitalize on the luxury pool house,” Lesser says. “It should be open so people can be entertained.”

In addition to maximizing space, the indoor-outdoor design holds the added appeal of outdoor living with indoor comforts. This element is more attractive in warmer regions as homeowners are more apt to open the doors year-round. Pool house designers find that clients in climates with changing seasons and colder winters have less desire for the indoor-outdoor space.
A fireplace, whether indoor or outdoor, is another popular element of today’s pool house. The fireplace is an ideal spot to gather for family time or assembling a group of friends rather than going out. Pool areas with comfortable furniture and outdoor fireplaces continue to gain popularity with homeowners.

Based in Berkeley, Calif., Michael McKay, principal of McKay Architecture, includes Rumsford-style fireplaces in his pool house designs. This style of fireplace reflects radiant heat and features a shallow fire box with widely angled sides. The fireplace includes a rounded throat at the top, allowing for the streamlined flow of smoke and fumes.

High-tech extras

The grandeur found in the art deco pool houses created in the 1920s and ‘30s hasn’t really changed, but modern technology ensures they are now equipped with even more elaborate creature comforts. In the past, a pool house would include a limited number of small appliances and maybe a small refrigerator. Today, no luxury pool house is complete without the inclusion of an espresso bar, high-end refrigerator and wine closet. And, sophisticated electronics are standard.

In terms of technology, automation is key. “Today, there is much more emphasis on electronics. These days, everyone has electronic lighting controls, flat screen TVs, indoor-outdoor sound systems, and even underwater speakers in their swimming pool,” says Berkeley, Calif.-based architect Robert Nebulon. Nebulon has also incorporated up to four Internet outlets into a pool house space.

Longevity needs to be kept in mind when selecting products such as furniture, barware and flooring. Considering the level and type of use these products will endure, they must be products conducive to entertaining — durable, unbreakable and water-resistant.

Air-conditioning requirements tend to be more regional than other design elements. In a mild climate, the tendency is to utilize natural breezes in the pool house, whereas warmer climates necessitate a much more sophisticated air-conditioning system. For example, in the Sunbelt, air-conditioning is an absolute for anyone who wants comfort in their pool house, but a more temperate climate calls for far less elaborate methods of cooling.

McKay occasionally receives requests for small air-conditioning units, but he adds, “Typically, the whole purpose is to have indoor-outdoor rooms. I try to do things that create natural ventilation with cross ventilation and ceiling fans.”

Lay of the landscape

Essentially, the pool house is a vacation house located within walking distance from home. The pool’s surrounding landscape should harmonize the property so the main house and pool house work together. It’s important the two structures share the same palette and the landscape must flatter both.

“If it’s a new house and it’s designed all at once, the landscape architect would play a role. The pool and pool house design has to be coordinated with the existing conditions of the site,” Nebulon says.

According to landscape architect Will Bailey of Sherman Oaks, Calif., “landscape architects are often brought in early so we have a say in where the pool house is placed. If you can come in early on the project, the landscape architect can work hand-in-hand with the [home’s] architect so the pool house works with the view of the home and the accenting pieces so the whole thing works well together.”

Sometimes the pool house is completely different and becomes part of the landscape. “We designed one so it is under a pergola with wisteria growing over it, intentionally making it a piece of the landscape. In other cases, we’ll build a small house that fits into the same vocabulary as the main residence,” McKay adds.

Lesser explains that the design of the pool house must not only match, but enhance, the main house. “It has to act like jewelry on a beautiful woman and add to the functionality and majesty of the overall home. The design hues of the pool house need to be very much in sync with the main house. You want to make an impactful statement without overshadowing the main house,” he says.

Pool houses can serve several essential functions. For practical purposes, the structure often is used as a storage area. In colder months, the pool house makes an ideal repository for barbecue grills, lawn chairs and pool equipment. In balmy climates without an off-season, a smart feature to consider designing into the plan is the storage closet.

For his pool houses, Lesser incorporates a 10-ft. storage closet ideal for storing equipment and provisions. The closet is accessible through the inside of the pool house and also features an exterior door for access from the outside.

As always, the client’s needs and lifestyle are at the center of all decisions so everyone involved with the project needs to be on the same page. “For me, I like to set up a team dynamic, between the client, myself and the contractor. Some are receptive, some aren’t. The more everyone works as a team and respects each other, the better,” Weintraub explains.

Ultimately, the pool house has to contain three basic components: kitchen, bathroom and multifunctional great room. But modern technology and customer affluence combined with designer and builder inspiration ensure these three components are anything but basic.