Function and games: A family pool anchors a multi-use landscape

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Photo: Paul Whicheloe Photo: Paul Whicheloe

The couple was not looking to revamp their pool, but the year after they moved into their Albemarle house, the pool began to cave in. They realized they had a project on their hands. And they had an opportunity—to make the pool and its surroundings much more amenable to their lifestyle.

“They asked me to design a pool that would accommodate not just their family, but a lot of entertaining with other parents,” says landscape architect Jill Trischman-Marks. Her clients have twin girls and wanted a space that could support lots of different kinds of fun: outdoor ping pong, swimming, campfires and grilling out. So the plan would have to include not only the pool itself and a game area, but also a cabana to house a kitchenette and bathroom.

A wall of foldable glass doors opens the homeowners' new pool house to the outdoors, but keeps things air-tight (and cozy!) in harsher weather. Photo: Paul Whicheloe
A wall of foldable glass doors opens the homeowners’ new pool house to the outdoors, but keeps things air-tight (and cozy!) in harsher weather. Photo: Paul Whicheloe

For the latter, Trischman-Marks enlisted architect Andy Thomas, and the two worked in tandem to create an overall plan that would harmonize with the surroundings. Trischman-Marks turned the pool perpendicular to its former orientation. “It was kind of in a hole surrounded by really tall plantings, and you couldn’t see this magnificent mountain view,” she says. Now the pool, cabana and fire pit all open up to the vista.

One of the clients is originally from Hawaii, and her home state was an influence on the aesthetic of this project. “I liked the idea of a relaxed open-air space that combines the indoors and outdoors,” she says. Thomas’ cabana design includes a wall of glass doors that can fold completely out of the way, melding indoors and out. But the building can also turn back into a weathertight space, says Thomas, “remaining cozy even in harsh weather—this being Virginia, after all.”

As for the pool deck, made of stamped concrete, it too recalls faraway islands. “We were hoping for a warm-colored deck that brought back the feel of Hawaiian sand,” says the client. The team—including general contractor Baird Snyder and pool contractor Valley Pool & Spa—worked hard to accommodate this desire, in the end inventing something of an experimental technique. “What we ended up doing was using a white aggregate in this white concrete,” says Trischman-Marks.

Plantings (installed by landscape contractor Stuart Robertson) provide color and privacy. “We have tall evergreens around the edges and then a lot of sweeps of flowering shrubs,” says Trischman-Marks. “Then as you walk down into the pool from the driveway, where you’re going a little bit slower, that’s where there are perennials.” She included a mix of native and pollinator-friendly plants: serviceberry, stewardia pseudocamellia, sourwoods, wandflowers and Lucerne blue-eyed grass. “There are a number of butterfly bushes, noninvasive ones,” she adds. “And there’s a hedge of blueberries.”

Photo: Paul Whicheloe
Photo: Paul Whicheloe

The client says her family’s first spring with the new plantings has been a treat. “Every day something else is unfolding,” she says. “As one plant’s blooms start to fade, another pop of color appears somewhere else.”

She and her husband and daughters have been savoring all the functions of their new landscape.

“My husband and I go out in the evenings while our kids are studying and sit at the fire pit and watch the sunset with a glass of wine,” she says. The girls take study breaks to toast marshmallows, and when it’s play time, the whole family plays ping pong or giant Jenga games on the grass.

“Even when we just go out there for a few minutes to watch a sunset or see if the blueberry bush has fruit,” says the client, “we always comment that it feels like we’ve had a little getaway in our own backyard.”

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