The nostalgic appeal of an old red barn weathering away in a field of tall grass is undeniable. The iconic timber structures colored a brownish-red hue retain all the magic of a nearly lost American architectural heritage. This is especially true in Maryland’s rapidly urbanizing I-83 corridor north of Baltimore, where remaining farmland is a precious relic of an era powered not by digital devices but by life-sustaining agriculture. Which makes the image of an old red barn suggestive of lives lived well, if a bit more slowly.
Such thoughts are unavoidable when confronted by a brand new, barn-red retreat set amid a designed-to-be-rural landscape of grasses and wildflowers hard by a shimmering swimming pool. It’s not a barn—it’s a contemporary pool house in Parkton, Maryland.
The owners—a young family with three small children—enjoyed an 11-acre property with uninterrupted vistas extending across a valley of farm fields and on to the forested ridge of Prettyboy Reservoir’s 7,000-acre protected watershed. When the time came to add a pool, they called on Annapolis landscape architect Kevin Campion to design a master plan. “This is a one-of-a-kind view for Baltimore County,” says Campion, who responded to the magnificent vista to the west. “You really don’t get that topography around here very often, so we wanted to highlight it.”
He oriented the property toward the vista, providing a new entrance and circulation system and selecting the most advantageous site for the pool and pool house. Not only would they provide the best views but, he points out, they would be located far enough from the main residence to be “an event unto themselves.” The site plan also includes a “toy barn” for the owner’s recreational vehicles and a future stable with a riding ring.
Visitors now arrive at the site via a curving passage through an allée of red maple trees. A mix of evergreen holly, arborvitae, cryptomeria and spruce preserves privacy to the north. Campion used plantings to define the rest of the site, establishing a hierarchy of gardens—from ornamental near the Victorian-style residence to meadow-like toward the pool “barn” and mowed grass “paddocks” where the property meets working farmland. Linear paths of stepping stones forge a leisurely trail to the pool. Fountain grass provides the unifying aesthetic in beds, around boxwoods, under trees or simply planted en masse to effect croplands. A row of red maples behind the pool house rises like a classic farmstead windbreak.
“This is not a fancy, formal garden,” the landscape architect reflects. “It’s sort of the vernacular of a farm.” The hard part, he adds, was “keeping it distilled to simple gestures.”
Since the owners’ expansive residence, which they bought unfinished in 2011, is not visible from the road, the new structures were intended to create a public presence like typical outbuildings. Architect Adam McGraw of StudioMB, who was brought in by Campion to design the structures, recalls, “The idea was, if you were to drive by, it would sort of look like an appropriate grouping of farm buildings.”
The pool house, which measures 34 by 26 feet, is rural in spirit, with a board-and-bead exterior, stone accents and a gabled, standing-seam metal roof enhanced by exposed beams the owners had salvaged from a barn that once stood on the property. The 1,146-square-foot interior contains a year-round kitchen, dining and lounging area, plus a sleeping loft accessible via ladder. Bathroom, laundry and changing facilities are boxed below the loft. An outdoor shower enjoys privacy on the back side and a basement holds mechanical systems and pool gear.
“They have little children, so the pool house is not a grown-up man cave,” explains McGraw. “It’s a family gathering space, a place to spend an afternoon or evening.”
Sliding French doors on four sides offer pastoral views, while dormers facing east and west open the loft to light from daybreak to sundown. StudioMB project architect Jenna Bolino, who visited the site often, was struck by the way symmetry and strong axial views contributed to a sense of harmony with the landscape. “This was immediately about symmetry,” she says.
McGraw believes scale contributes to that sense of well-being. “Our clients spend all their time down here,” he reveals. “It’s the human-scale retreat, where things are cozier. That’s part of the charm.”
For Campion, the site’s special appeal comes from the way the garden, pool and pool house blend seamlessly with their agricultural and pastoral context. As he reflects, “Stone, wood, water and fire—nothing seems alien or out of place.”
Architecture: Adam McGraw, AIA, principal; Jenna Bolino, associate, StudioMB, Washington, DC. Landscape Architecture: Kevin Campion, ASLA, principal; Kevin Gaughan, project manager, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Builder: Greg Vogel, Molior Construction LLC, Stevenson, Maryland. Landscape Contractor: Broadleaf Nurseries, Parkton, Maryland.