July 2010: Poolhouse rock



It’s great to have a backyard pool, but it’s even greater when there’s a stylin’ poolhouse nearby. Such a structure can be much more than a place to put your skimmer net. We visited three local poolhouses to scope the possibilities—from family hangouts to in-law quarters to storage of fine wine. Come on in; the water’s fine. 

Visitor center

“It was the Charlottesville version of when you watch some movie and the cops bust in on the killer,” says Dan Zimmerman of Alloy Workshop, speaking of the tiny apartment that used to occupy the back of Carter and Gail Hoerr’s garage. You’d never know it now: apartment and garage are converted into a bright, cheery poolhouse that feels anything but ominous.

“Our first move was to make the big opening,” says Alloy designer Dan Zimmerman of the sizeable windows that open views toward the pool.

The Hoerrs bought their house in Bellair in 2007, and while they love their views of Birdwood golf course, they felt that the property needed some updates. Eventually they’ll renovate the main house, but for now they’re enjoying how the poolhouse—designed and converted by Alloy in 2008—provides a super-convenient space for entertaining. “We had 20 or 30 people here last night, and we never set foot in the house,” says Carter Hoerr. “We had kids in the pool, kids in the outdoor shower. It takes five minutes to clean up, and the house is never touched.” 

The structure sits catty-corner from the main house, the two of them forming a courtyard around the swimming pool and an outdoor seating area. On one end is an ipe-enclosed outdoor shower. Inside, a large open space houses an entertainment center, couch, dining table and partial kitchen (it includes copious storage and a dishwasher, but no stove). The white oak that covers the unusual angled ceiling continues to flow down one wall, contrasting with the other walls, which are painted bright blue and decorated with white tree and bird decals.

“The blue we landed on as a natural tie-in to the pool,” says Zimmerman. As for the white kitchen cabinets, he liked their clean look, “letting these materials do more of the talking”—i.e., the ceiling and the concrete floors. The result combines a cosy, warm feel around the gas fireplace with the carefree vibe of polka-dotted towels and a pebbled shower floor.

Where that criminally unappealing apartment once was, there’s now a guestroom that gets lots of natural light and a bathroom with a mirror-surface sink cabinet and white-tiled shower. The Hoerrs use the poolhouse to put up guests, to serve buffet-style dinners to friends, and just to hang out as a family. And of course, the couple’s two daughters, ages 10 and 13, “love it out here, as you can imagine,” says Hoerr. “It’s become the crafting center, and we have movies and Wii on the TV.”

The girls’ frequent movements between pool and outdoor shower are an endorsement of what Zimmerman and his colleagues have created, and so are the feelings of some recent overnight guests—who stayed an extra two nights just to relish the space.—Erika Howsare

Green getaway

Sandy Culbertson and her husband, Mike Bresticker, had it all planned out. The Free Union homeowners, who spend most of their year living and working in Chicago, knew when they bought their country cabin that they’d eventually live there full-time. They envisioned stables, another cottage structure and a pool for their sons, Michael, Andrew and Max. But, says Culbertson, just “plopping the pool in” wasn’t an option.

The poolhouse that Sandy Culbertson and Mike Bresticker built near their Albemarle cabin was an integrated part of the pool and landscape design.

Enter Water Street Studio, a landscape architecture team interested in teaching clients how to work with their land. Co-founder Eugene Ryang guided the homeowners toward decisions that made sense for their 18.5 acres, prompting them to level their field and put in a cistern to catch rainwater they’d eventually use to top off the pool and water the garden.

The first order of business, though, was positioning the pool in a way that would not only preserve, but emphasize its setting. “[We wanted] to keep it so that it can sort of enclose,” Culbertson says, “but also so that we can see out. Because I think that view over there is probably my favorite view in the whole world.”

The view she refers to is of rolling hills and a neighboring (in the broadest sense of the word) home across a grassy field. It can be seen from the front porch of the family’s other new addition, a neoclassical poolhouse, which was planned and finished in conjunction with the pool to accommodate family and friends during holiday gatherings. In all, Culbertson says they can host more than 20 overnight guests. It’s especially nice for her parents, who can sequester themselves in the one-bedroom structure, away from the chaos of kids overrunning the cabin.

Miles away from the hustle of the family’s life in the city, Culbertson says the biggest benefit of having the vacation home has been the relaxation it brings. “Our cellphones don’t reach when we’re out here,” she says. “No one from work calls. Not many people know how to reach us out here.”

Sure, there is the occasional unexpected surprise—on her most recent visit, Culbertson came home to a hornet’s nest in her patio umbrella and a bird’s nest on the porch’s ceiling fan. But, there are some things you just can’t plan for.—Caite White

Dug by designers


“We knew they were architects and we knew they could build, but we didn’t know how much,” say the owners of a Rugby-area house, who hired STOA Design+Construction to turn an underground bomb shelter into a wine cellar with a poolhouse above, “but when they showed up the first day with shovels, we knew we’d made the right choice.”

The clients, who decided to remain anonymous in favor of giving their professional team all the glory—how’s that for a good working relationship?—are referring to Justin Heiser and Mike Savage, STOA architects and builders. The couple settled on STOA after trying for two years to find traditional architects and builders for the job. 

A STOA-built poolhouse blends with a renovated, mid-century home.

“No one would return my calls,” says one of the homeowners. “The project was too small and complicated.”

The complication stemmed from the unknown stability of the 1950s-era bomb shelter that had been filled in and allowed to collect water and debris for decades before the homeowners purchased the house three years ago. Their wish: a modern poolhouse that would blend with their renovated, mid-century home and serve as a contained area for lounging and entertaining, plus a means to hide unsightly pool equipment.  

The STOA team—young, nimble and known for modern work (they’re the folks behind The X Lounge and Zocalo)—was up for the challenge. Savage, for example, wielded a jackhammer for hours to clear the dirt from the bomb shelter. It also helped that their clients had enough confidence in Heiser and Savage to allow them to work out design and build details as they went. 

“It was a very collaborative process,” say the homeowners. Heiser adds, “We worked out a budget and we were always working towards that number.”

After digging out the shelter, the team decided to hire an engineer to design the system for building above it and connecting to it without relying on it for the foundation. In the end they built structural supports around the shelter connected by a bridge. The poolhouse essentially “floats” over the underground wine cellar, accessible by a circular metal staircase from the second level.

In the final result, a bluestone floor and cedar siding blend effortlessly with the outside patio, now wrapped in a new cedar fence, and custom-made glass windows and sliding glass doors open up the space entirely to the backyard—making the transition from inside to outside seamless.—Katherine Ludwig