Architect Mark Kohler designed the pool house to be a contemporary gem with a slanted, cantilevered roof and walls of glass that maximize views of the pool.
Inside the pool house, the furniture and pendants came from B&B Italia.
Noce travertine paves the stair risers and pool coping.
Beyond the pool house, the main home is flanked by a stone dining terrace.
BEFORE: The original empty backyard illustrates the dramatic change to the property.
The pool house features a changing room with separate water closet and shower room.
A parasol by Tucci shades the outdoor bar and kitchen.
Gloster furniture surrounds a fire table adjacent to the outdoor kitchen.

Modern Counterpoint

A design team transforms a barren yard into a resort-like oasis for entertaining

Builders finishing new luxury homes these days typically leave landscapes a blank slate so that residents can improve the lots to their liking—or not. Such was the case when a couple with three children purchased a large Vienna, Virginia, spec home set on a scant two acres as barren as a football field. 

The owners had something else in mind entirely when they brought up the subject with architect Mark Kohler, principal of KohlMark Architects and KohlMark Builders, whose team was just putting the finishing touches on a year-long upgrade inside the new house (built by a national firm). Specifically, the couple envisioned a backyard complete with a pool, a pool house, an outdoor kitchen, terraces, gardens and more—all designed in a modern, clean-lined style. “Our kids are young; we entertain a lot and we have a lot of family,” explains the wife. “We wanted a place where we could all gather, where everyone could come, relax and enjoy.”

Kohler invited landscape architect Howard Cohen of Surrounds to collaborate on a comprehensive design that would take the landscaping and pool house into account. First, Cohen proposed a conceptual plan that would orient a rectangular pool and adjacent pool house perpendicular to the house to keep sight lines open. Then Kohler designed the pool house—a stone and glass structure with window walls on two sides and a cantilevered shed roof. “What Mark came up with was really cool,” says Cohen. “We kept the same clean look and designed the landscape to be uncluttered and simple.”

Time was of the essence when the designs were finalized. The owners were planning a family reunion for 100 and wanted the backyard ready in less than six months. So the KohlMark and Surrounds teams went into high gear, tag-teaming on permits and utility lines to streamline the process. “It was a massive joint effort,” Kohler recalls. The frenzy paid off as the project was completed in time for the big day. 

The main door to the backyard was originally five feet above ground level, so Surrounds implemented major grade changes to extend terraces up to the residence. Now, the owners can walk straight out onto a dining terrace.

Walnut travertine paves the terraces throughout the entire project. An outdoor kitchen complete with two grills (one for meat, one reserved for vegetarian use), refrigerator, stove top, sink and serving counter can accommodate parties large and small. Nearby, a custom fire table rimmed by comfortable outdoor seating creates a dramatic gathering spot after dark. A private spa is nestled behind the pool house. Beyond, a full sport court plays double duty as a basketball or tennis venue and a fenced-in, 30-by-30-foot garden that Surrounds primed with fertile soil awaits fruit and vegetable planting by the owners this spring. 

Kohler selected Dove Gray Chocolate stone for the pool house exterior since it’s also used on the main residence. “We did pick up on the stone that was already on the house,” he says. “Otherwise, the pool house is completely contemporary and meant to be a little elegant gem in the backyard.”

Inside, an inviting seating area with a fireplace and flat-screen TV, a spacious kitchen, powder room and separate shower room cater to year-round fun, whether the family is hosting a kids swim party or watching football on a winter afternoon. 

Crisp detailing and a palette of organic materials blur the lines between indoors and out. A wall of maple surrounds the fireplace while granite countertops and glass tiles grace the kitchen. The travertine floor slabs inside the structure align with their outdoor counterparts in perfectly seamless geometry. “It all had to tie in,” explains Kohler. “The tiles carry right through to the patio and the roof and ceiling and everything else. 

“The pool house has a lot of glass but it’s well insulated with a spray-foam material. In fact, I think it would make a neat house on its own if you extend it a bit.”

Interior designer Kathy Lipscomb worked with the homeowner to outfit the pool house with hip, stylish and kid-friendly furniture, mostly sourced at B&B Italia in New York. 

The family is thrilled with their new entertainment hub, which won KohlMark a Grand Contractor of the Year award for detached structure, as well as Home & Design’s Award of Excellence. “We look out and can’t believe this is our yard,” says the owner. “We don’t need to go on vacation; we can just step outside.” 

Photographer Greg Hadley is based in Fairfax, Virginia. 

ARCHITECTURE: MARK KOHLER, AIA, principal; WILLIAM FLETCHER, project architect, KohlMark Architects PC, Burke, Virginia. CONSTRUCTION: WADE GREENE, KohlMark Builders Inc., Burke, Virginia. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: HOWARD COHEN, Surrounds, Sterling, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: KATHY LIPSCOMB, Kathy Lipscomb Interior Design, LLC, Boyce, Virginia. KITCHEN DESIGN: AMY PACEK, Integrated Kitchens, Gaithersburg, Maryland. POOL: TOWN AND COUNTRY POOLS, Sterling, Virginia.