Peek inside this modern Cape Cod swimming pavilion
Just the idea of a pool house evokes the essence of summer. A shelter from the sun, a place to store outdoor furniture, take a shower, relax after a swim, and gather with family and friends.
Just the idea of a pool house evokes the essence of summer. A shelter from the sun, a place to store outdoor furniture, take a shower, relax after a swim, and gather with family and friends. Toss your towels in the hamper, put some steaks on the grill, and uncork a bottle of chardonnay.
That said, a pool house could range from a simple windbreak or a glorified utility shed to a grand statement about wealth and status. Or, as in this Cape Cod swimming pavilion overlooking Buzzards Bay, it can be a handsome and satisfying work of Modern architecture that pays tribute to the indigenous landscape.
Although the 1,200-square-foot shelter is wrapped in cedar, the structure designed by architectural designer Michele Foster of Foster Associates in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, stands apart from the traditional 1930s shingled house it serves. The clients, a couple with grown children and a winter home (which Foster also renovated) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, met Foster when they purchased the property and she was designing a new house in another location for its previous owners. Since then, Foster renovated the older house and augmented it with an addition, a screened porch, and a guesthouse. “Michele guided us through all phases of envisioning a space that would work for our family,” says the wife, so when they decided to add a pool, “we never thought about using another architect.”
The new swimming area is a stand-alone section of the 3¾-acre site. Working with landscape architect Joe Wahler, a principal at Stephen Stimson Associates in Cambridge and Princeton, Massachusetts, Foster and her design partner, Chris Cote, created a dramatic composition of water, scruffy Cape Cod terrain, and endless sky. “I thought we would dig a hole in the ground,” the wife remembers, “and have an equipment room where we could store some chairs.” Instead, she says, Foster “encouraged us to capitalize on the view.” So the pool is located away from the house, and as Wahler explains, the landscape design defines “a transition in vegetation and topography” from lawn to the restored maritime meadow below.
While the main house is a rambling collection of porches and roofs, Foster suggested keeping the pool ensemble utterly simple. The nearly square pavilion is on a raised platform that elevates it to allow a view out to the bay. The 52-by-22-foot pool is arranged so its shorter side almost touches the pavilion at the covered living area’s opening to the outdoors, which is the same width as the pool’s narrower side.
Pocket doors absorb the entire wall, allowing what Foster calls “effortless engagement” with the landscape.
On one side of the building, a terrace that extends over the sloping terrain and is supported by delicate-looking stilts furthers the ethereal quality of the design. Here, the experience is akin to standing on the bridge of a ship. Shielded from the sun, a pergola composed of thin strips of aluminum shelters an outdoor dining room marked by intriguing shadows that vary depending upon the time of day. Those metal “sticks,” as Cote calls them, stainless steel railings, and the quiet gray cedar walls of the building offer an understated elegance. Kistler & Knapp Builders of Acton, Massachusetts, is responsible for making so many complicated details seem so effortlessly realized.
Although the unpretentious Foster would deny historical influences, the composition of the plan is rigorously geometric in the manner of early European Modernists. But the strongest inspiration derives from the pavilion’s low hipped roof and the way that it floats seemingly untethered above clerestory windows. Echoes of Frank Lloyd Wright are found in the dissolution of the walls, the overarching horizontality, and the way the building is integrated into the landscape, particularly his Prairie Style houses in the early 1900s. Japan greatly influenced Wright’s work, and seen at night with the lights of the pool house reflected in the water, there is a Zen spirit in Foster’s composition. Better yet, the owner reports, “On still days, the pool surface is like a giant reflecting pool and reminds me of a James Turrell light sculpture where you can see the colors of the sky.”
The tent-like roof covers a 22-by-22-foot family room. Behind a chimney breast of blackened steel are a shower, bathroom, and laundry. There is also a small kitchen with an indoor grill. Granite flooring extends to the terrace, and, with the vanishing edge of the long pool, this stage for living becomes part of the view. Buzzards Bay, the gnarly white oaks so characteristic of the Cape, and scudding clouds form an idyllic summer canvas.
The clients’ hope was that the pool house “would end up being a space where the family could congregate,” says the wife. “One that felt more open and in many ways more private than the main house.” She credits Foster with “creating a space where memories have not only been made, but where they endure and renew themselves.
“You can hear the sound of the water receding through the rocks below,” she continues, “the sound of sails being trimmed as small sailboats race by.” Beyond family and friends, “It isn’t unusual to see birds skimming the pool surface — not sure if they are drinking or just cooling off.” These avian neighbors may just be relishing a fabulous Edenic spot.
See inside the pool house:
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