Backyard Getaway

A new pool house addition makes a McLean couple feel like guests in their own home

JULY/AUGUST 2008


Architect Randall Mars echoed the pool house’s curved
roof in the form of the adjacent dining pavilion and the
stone retaining wall on the pool itself.

By their very appellation, guesthouses are designated for use by anyone other than the primary homeowner. So it is with some irony that McLean resident Kevin Riley finds himself gravitating to the guest quarters/pool house that architect Randall Mars designed for him and his wife Barbara Kinosky last year.

“This is my absolute favorite part of our house. So much of my routine takes place here now,” says Riley as he points out the various elements that clearly invigorate his home life. His workout in the first-floor exercise room. His daily visit to the kitchen’s built-in espresso machine. His Friday morning meetings with co-workers in the casual, cushioned second-floor sitting area.

Frankly, no one could blame him. There’s nothing quaint about the 2,000-square-foot microcosm that encompasses two kitchens, two bedrooms, four bathrooms, two sitting areas and an exercise room. The space, connected to the main house by a curvilinear gallery, also encompasses a three-car garage and greenhouse and opens to an outdoor dining pavilion and the swimming pool, also designed by Mars.

Though it emerged as a spacious second home, the structure had more modest roots. It was originally envisaged as a one-story facility primarily to serve the pool Mars was concurrently planning. It morphed into a full-blown residence during the design phase. “We were in the middle of discussing the project as a pool house, and then they decided to add a second floor with two bedrooms, more bathrooms and another seating space,” Mars says. “That’s when it got really interesting.”

Interesting, yes, and delightfully accommodating. As long as they were creating a retreat on their own property, Riley and Kinosky elected to expand the concept into a completely self-contained residence. That way, if one or more of their four grown daughters opted to “boomerang” back to Northern Virginia after college, they could temporarily live in a space that was undoubtedly “home” but also private, offering the best of both worlds.

Luxury amenities aside, the guesthouse clearly fulfills the couple’s craving for a modern aesthetic—one that was lacking in the architecture of their primary home. “I gave Randy one design parameter,” Riley says: “You may not use any design or concept that would have been used before 1890.”

Not surprisingly, the mingling of old and new—creating a new modern structure that could coexist with the original home—proved the most complicated aspect of the project. “The biggest challenge was tying it back to the original house,”

Mars says. “This is the first time I’ve done a design that didn’t reflect the house at all.”

To foster a graceful transition, Mars’s design unfolds in stages. From the front view, a new stepped brick wall complements the main house but contains vertical notches that belie a contemporary feel and invite onlookers to partake in a game of architectural peek-a-boo. The new garage also nods structurally to the primary house, while the connecting gallery’s glass facing wall forecasts a design shift. A slice of vertical teak siding and a portion of the massive, curved guesthouse roof wink out overhead like a distant rainbow.

The essence of the guesthouse shines most strongly from the side and back yards. Here, free from the shadow of the main house’s façade, it presides over the pool and entertainment patio with an understated dignity. A master of both proportion and wit, it is a most sophisticated of playhouses.

Structurally, the house is an arrangement of distinct architectural blocks defined by clean lines and disparate materials. Vertical teak siding designates some portions of the exterior, while a protruding stone column delineates another. A wall of glass offers an unhampered view of the pool, while juxtaposed sections of more traditional horizontal siding tie in with the main house.

“There’s a lot of layering of materials here,” Mars says. “We obviously wanted to bring in a new look and new materials for the pool house, but we had to make sure it still related to the main house.”

The structure melds interior and exterior spaces with seemingly little effort. Expanses of glass block provide a constant play of light and shadow in the bathroom and stairwell. Even more dramatically, the poured concrete countertops in both the kitchen and first-floor bathroom appear literally to slice through the exterior wall, beckoning those outside to enter through the nearest door.

Once inside, the transition from traditional to modern is equally apparent. “We are contemporary people, and we wanted a contemporary feel to the pool house. But we have a traditional house,” Riley says. Mars’s solution, the connecting gallery, serves as a segue in both design and attitude. Accessed from the kitchen, the gallery winds down a path of loosely varied tile that gives way to large, heated concrete blocks in the pool house’s main kitchen.

Befitting the form and function of the space, Mars selected materials that are both sleek and durable. Poured concrete counters, a staircase and balcony rail of steel and wood and an abundance of glass on both interior and exterior walls graciously allow the home’s inhabitants to take center stage. Details like the pass-through from kitchen to exterior counter—a sliding window, half of which is cleverly buried behind the wall—reveal themselves at every turn.
Although his expertise certainly extends well beyond poolside, Mars has an unabashed affection for this type of leisure-driven abode. “The people who tend to want to build pool houses are generally in the position to do some really fun things with them, and there usually aren’t the constraints involved with a primary house,” he says. “They’re just a lot of fun to do.”

Catherine Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Anice Hoachlander of Hoachlander Davis Photography is based in Washington, DC.


A side view of the pool house shows the outdoor bath and
shower concealed behind glass blocks, a stairway clad in
concrete block with a glass-block window, and a stone
walkway leading into the gallery and the main house beyond.
Inside the pool house, a wall of glass offers an unhampered
view of the pool.

Poured concrete countertops by Concrete Jungle and clean-lined
cabinetry lend the kitchen a thoroughly modern feel.