A Bethesda couple wanted to create a relaxed outdoor space where they could spend time with their preteen daughters and where the kids could entertain their friends. They tapped Anthony Wilder Design/Build to transform a tight lot into an expansive backyard retreat centered on a pool and a year-round pool house.
The owners and designers swapped ideas as they developed an overall plan that would maximize the site while remaining respectful of the style and scale of the existing home and surrounding neighborhood. The resulting design met those goals through its use of complementary materials and colors and the careful placement of the main structures. A decision was made to orient the pool to the angles of the lot rather than to the back of the main house.
“The lot is triangular and slopes at the back,” explains Anthony Wilder. “But we were able to make it look like a big square.”
Centered on an axis with the rectangular pool, the pool house’s symmetrical façade and gabled elevation underscore its orientation to the pool and to an outdoor patio at the other end of the lot. Stepped walkways and patios provide easy access to the pool area, fire pit, hot tub and seating areas from both the ground floor and basement levels of the main house. Wilder’s team took advantage of the steep lot to build a basement beneath the pool house that accommodates mechanical and plumbing systems as well as storage for swim gear and sporting equipment. This, in turn, freed up more space for the pool and outdoor entertainment areas.
The owners wanted the pool house to be big enough to serve as a backyard getaway for family sleep-outs and gatherings with friends but didn’t want it to overwhelm the lot. “Pool houses are difficult,” Wilder observes. “You have to compact more into them. They’re small, but you still need everything you do in a big house.”
Project architect Marian Vaias created an efficient plan that met the family’s wish list. Double glass doors open from the pool area into a comfortable sitting area and kitchenette. Half-round windows under the front and back eaves wash the space with light. To the right of the sitting area, which accommodates a full-sized sleep sofa, a pocket door leads to a powder room, changing room and large shower area framed by frosted glass.
The owners initially wanted an outdoor shower that would lend the space a beach-house vibe. However, privacy on the suburban lot was a concern, so the Wilder team solved the issue with a glass shower door that opens directly to an exterior deck, but is shielded by high panels. A separate, stainless-steel shower affixed to the front of the house allows swimmers to rinse off from the salt-water pool without having to come inside.
Project interior designer Shannon Kadwell and decorator Karen Kalicka used a blue, white and cream color scheme to give the pool-house interior an open, airy feel. The white-painted beadboard ceiling and kitchen cabinets help open up space, as do light-scaled chairs that can easily be moved within the sitting area.
Creating storage solutions in the small space was a priority, so the kitchenette is designed for efficiency; cubbies in the changing room hold wet bathing suits and an ottoman in the sitting room stores pillows and blankets. “They wanted to [accommodate] two children and two adults comfortably and still store everything in the pool house so they weren’t going back and forth to the house to get pillows and bedding,” explains Kalicka.
Interior finishes are rich and durable. Indoor/outdoor fabrics were used and the pistachio-stained wood floor in the sitting room has a commercial no-slip finish, while the honed tile-and-stone flooring in the shower room was chosen with both beauty and safety in mind.
The team selected durable, low-maintenance materials for the exterior surfaces. Custom-colored concrete aggregate around the pool reduces heat and slippage. Extensive stonework—including flagstone coping around the pool and natural stone on the base of the pool house—echoes stonework on the main house. Large boulders were joined together to create an outdoor bench near the fire pit. An extensive lighting plan includes night lighting in the pool; uplighting in trees; color-changing lights in the hot tub; and step lights. An outdoor sound system was also installed. The overall plan preserved part of the existing landscaping while adding new features and ensuring space for the family dog and a pet turtle that lives in the backyard.
The family uses the pool house year-round, sometimes holding movie nights there when they want to get away without leaving home. In fact, the emphasis on kids and family goes so far as to include traditional screen doors for the owners, who wanted to hear that familiar summertime slam as children roamed in and out of their new backyard retreat.
Writer Sue Kirchhoff is based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Morgan Howarth is a photographer in Arlington, Virginia.
RENOVATION DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION: ANTHONY WILDER, principal and designer; MARIAN VAIAS, AIA, project architect; SHANNON KADWELL, CKD, CBD, Allied Member ASID, project interior designer; KAREN KALICKA, interior decorator; ROB FARRIE, CRPM, CLC, project manager, Anthony Wilder Design/Build, Bethesda, Maryland.