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House Review: Pool Houses & Cabanas

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House Review: Pool Houses & Cabanas

A range of solutions can accentuate outdoor living.

By Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD, House Review Lead Designer July 11, 2016
House Review: Pool Houses & Cabanas
House Review: Pool Houses & Cabanas
This article first appeared in the July 2016 issue of Pro Builder.

Outdoor living spaces endure as a priority for many clients when planning a home. Because pools remain one of the most common outdoor areas, pool houses and cabanas become a natural focal point. Just as the kitchen is the dominant feature inside the home, an outdoor kitchen becomes an important part of the backyard. With the introduction of weather-resistant furniture, outdoor living rooms now rival interior spaces with tile or polished concrete floors, fireplaces, and even flat-screen televisions. The following ideas from our House Review team range from basic entertainment pavilions to structures that can easily double as stand-alone guest quarters. Each provides outdoor spaces with the functionality and comfort of an indoor living area. 

Click images to enlarge.

Hillside Pool House

Richard Handlen, AIA, LEED AP
EDI International

Width: 35 feet
Depth: 14 feet, 4 inches
Living area: 1,000 sf

This pool house is both an escape and a guest house. Downhill from the main house, it provides a retreat from the daily grind and a private place for guests to come and go without interrupting the household. Strict development limitations imposed by the jurisdiction required that half the floor area be below grade. The upper floor is a party pavilion with supporting bath and laundry facilities. Two sides of the pavilion open to the southwest with large awning doors. These lead to the pool deck and outdoor kitchen. The deck expands when the pool cover rises from the bottom and meshes with and matches the paving. The lower-level houses a bedroom suite that opens out to a sunken courtyard and open air stairway leading back up to the pool area.

A. Parking area shielded from the main house by the pool house
B. Party pavilion with a full kitchen and central island focusing on a large-screen TV above the stair rail. Two sides open up with awning doors facing the sun and pool patio 
C. Laundry area for both pool and guest house use
D. Bath opens directly to the pool deck and also connects with the house 
E. Lap pool as retaining wall waterfall. Pool floor rises up with the press of a button to form a cover and expand the surface of the patio
F. Bedroom suite opens out to the lower courtyard
G. Sunken courtyard with stairway leads up to the pool deck


The Retreat

Gary Iltis
Residential Design Concepts

Width: 30 feet
Depth: 20 feet
Living area: 545 sf

Adjacent to the swimming pool and designed for informal outdoor gatherings, this pavilion offers a compact space for grilling, dining, and conversation. The combination of stone and brick along with tile flooring and granite countertops provides for low maintenance. The 12-foot vaulted ceiling adds to the feeling of spaciousness.

A. Pavilion exterior uses a combination of stone and brick for the fireplace and column bases 
B. Kitchen area offers a sink, grilling area, refrigerator, keg tap, and granite countertop
C. Sitting area features a stone fireplace with a flat-screen television above it. The TV is placed in a cabinet for protection from the elements. The ceiling is vaulted from 9 feet to 12 feet in height
D. Dining area


Falls Courtyard Home

The Evans Group
Donald Evans, AIA

Width: 40 feet
Depth: 94 feet
Living area: 2,046 sf (optional 109 sf pool cabana)

This is the ultimate indoor-outdoor home, wrapping around a private and lushly landscaped pool courtyard, with 560 square feet of covered outdoor space. It lives larger than its square footage and boasts an open floor plan with lots of natural light throughout. The outdoor living environment is fully screened and provides space for a pool and fountain as well as a garden, outdoor dining room, outdoor seating areas, complete outdoor kitchen, and an area for sunbathing. The flex option, which enables creating a pool house from the garage storage, adds even more flexibility and space to this floor plan. The plan proves that a courtyard home with a separate pool house and cabana needn’t be large and can be right-sized for today’s market and buyers.

A. True courtyard home with fully screened-in outdoor living 
B. Pool with fountain feature, garden, seating, and dining
C. Outdoor cool kitchen with a seating bar, grill, refrigerator, wine refrigerator, and sink 
D. Garage storage space flexes to become a pool house, with sliding glass doors opening to the pool area


The Huntington Pool House/Cabana

GMD Design Group
Scott Gardner, AIA
Donnie McGrath

Width: 45 feet
Depth: 18 feet
Living area: 749 sf

This multifunction cabana is designed to provide indoor-outdoor living. The cabana interior has a small sleeping area for a guest and a large open area for relaxing and entertaining. There is a covered porch, and an outdoor fireplace and arbor complete the outdoor living experience.

A. Pool
B. Pool deck
C. Arbor with seating area
D. Outdoor fireplace
E. Covered porch
F. Open living and eating area
G. Bath with direct access to the exterior and interior
H. Guest suite


Pool House

Todd Hallett, AIA, CAPS
TK Design & Associates

Width: 44 feet, 4 inches
Depth: 28 feet
Covered area: 561 sf 
Bath: 78 sf
Storage: 90 sf

The entertainment industry has poked fun at the luxury of owning a pool cabana (“Oh, cabana boy ...”). It’s amusing, yet with as many pool houses as our firm has completed, we’ve never encountered that particular client profile or attitude. Most pool houses are used by families to entertain while keeping an eye on the little ones as they splash and carry on. A well-designed pool house should be as functional as it is great-looking. Its job is to provide both shelter from the sun as well as the amenities required to make the outdoor space as enjoyable as possible. 

A. Large covered area protects the family from UV rays while allowing high visibility. The space is designed for a large farm table bookended by two flanking seating areas
B. On the back wall, a large TV is great for watching sports and providing a little background noise
C. Built-in cabinetry offers plenty of storage and a framework for outdoor kitchen appliances
D. An outdoor shower is a nice way to clean off the chlorine (or salt) without soaking an interior space
E. Bath is large enough for a changing area and is designed for privacy
F. Storage area is large enough to hold pool toys and unsightly pool equipment 

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