Twenty years ago, the neighborhood where this remodeling project took place, about 15 miles outside Philadelphia, did not exist. Today, the site is dotted with new homes in the 4,500-sq.-ft. range. Most were built with large single-level cedar decks jutting out back, many perched high above steep slopes and hillsides. Such was the case with this home, where the owners, a family with four young children, were separated from their overgrown, grassy backyard by a monumental set of stairs down from the deck.
For the client, the challenge was how to remake the deck and yard so it would be highly accessible and usable — with places both for the children to play and for the entire family to gather comfortably with their friends. In the end, the client chose to build a pool and pool house with a new multitiered deck gradually stepping down from the house. Additionally, the client placed a great deal of emphasis on landscaping. Beyond the aesthetics, the right landscaping would allow proper site lines so a children’s play area — safely fenced off from the pool — would also be visible from all parts of the yard and deck.
Like many residential remodeling projects, a stay-at-home mom was in charge. First, she selected a well-respected architecture firm in the area, Warren Claytor Architects, of Wayne, Pa. The firm’s principal, Warren Claytor, AIA, along with project architect Stephen Foley, provided some initial concepts for the deck and pool house based on her vision for the space.
“The program needs for the pool house,” says Claytor, “were a comfortable bathroom to use before or after swimming and a wonderful entertaining great room that includes a gourmet kitchen with an indoor/outdoor fireplace.”
Later she hired a noteworthy mother-daughter landscape architecture firm — Julie and Sally Wood — to provide concepts for lawns, trees, shrubs and flower beds. Lastly, the project was put out to bid.
Devon Remodeling & Construction, also of Wayne, Pa., won the job, even though they were not the low bidder. The main reason: Devon had previously updated the client’s kitchen, so there was a certain level of trust and comfort, says Peter McKenna, CGR, CAPS, vice president of Devon Remodeling.
“The intention was to have a house outside of the main house that was pretty much self-sustaining,” McKenna explains. “It has a kitchen. It has a full bathroom. It has an indoor and outdoor fireplace. So they really use it for entertaining.
“They have four children. Part of the intent was to have a place for the kids to hang out with their friends. Since they have opened the thing up, they have had tons of parties with kids from school. The client really uses it for the community. And it is ideal. They don’t have to walk up to the main house.”
The Pool House Design
The design for the pool house was an evolutionary process, says architect Warren Claytor. In this regard, he compliments the client’s willingness to take the time to see several iterations of the design for the 940-sq.-ft. structure.
“Most good architecture evolves throughout the design process,” notes Claytor. “Too often the client wants things done too quickly and they don’t have the patience to let things evolve. And the client in this situation was really terrific to work with because each new idea led to another idea and just sort of grew and grew.”
Originally, the client had sought to construct a tower-like structure over the covered outdoor portion of the pool house. This tower would serve as a visual and programmatic focal point. The tower would also serve as the primary entry point to the pool area. And according to Claytor, very compelling drawings of the tower-version of the pool house were ultimately scrapped as a mutual decision by client and architect because the traffic pattern through the tower would have detracted from the retreat-like goals of the covered outdoor area.