A Poolside Paradise, Against The Odds

Carol Kurth Architecture + Interiors rises to the challenge of tough terrain, wetlands, and conservation easements.
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This pool house project by Carol Kurth Architecture + Interiors (Carol Kurth, Diana Wawrzaszek and Tina Schwab) was built by Pelham Homes. Kurth brought in Michael & Sons Nurseries (Michael and Scott Oliveri) to collaborate on plantings and installation of the vegetation. Photograph by Mike Van Tassell.

When designing this outdoor retreat, rolling terrain, wetlands and a conservation easement demanded well-considered solutions. “The site was extremely challenging given the significant drop-off in grade, change in elevation from the main house and the rock outcroppings,” notes architect Carol Kurth of Carol Kurth Architecture + Interiors. “The height differential from the main floor of the house to the lower level is more than 14 feet. The site continues to drop off in a dramatic sweep toward protected wetlands. We set the pool/patio height in relation to a comfortable position within the sloping site to maximize views and to have the pool area be a surprise from the garage/ parking area above.”

Essential elements served as inspiration for the dynamic architectural forms and are illustrated through water features, fire bowls, harmonious plantings and a covered cabana with cathedral ceilings to capture the summer breezes. “The clients requested an oasis with plenty of shade, an outdoor kitchen, bathroom, changing area, outdoor shower, storage, plus a buffet area and dining in the shade for at least a dozen people,” says Kurth.

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Mahogany lines the ceiling of the cabana, where RH Mirabella sectionals are paired with Phillips Collection’s Pebble tables; the rug is through Artemest. Photograph by Mike Van Tassell.

The shade pavilion was designed with the idea of a large umbrella shielding the sun rays yet open enough that it still feels light and airy. “Then, we punctuated the top with a cupola, allowing daylight in from the sides,” says Kurth. Furnishings have a resort-like feel that Kurth refers to as a “hotel-at-home mood.” A chalkboard over the sink faces a TV on the opposite wall with an outdoor desk, while a large pair of RH fans enhances the natural breezes.

“Orange is the client’s company logo color, so we incorporated that into the design!” she notes. “We made the orange poolside pillows—designer Tina Schwab from our studio fabricated all of the orange accent cushions—truly a custom touch.”

The dramatic rectangular pool is a counterpoint to the covered pavilion. The homeowners desired an oversized pool that had a wow factor, including a spa and a shaded shallow area to relax in. “We now refer to this as ‘the beach’ and procured lounge chairs that can be submerged with a built-in umbrella to provide shade,” says the architect. There’s also a bubbler at the beach surface, and water sprays that arc over the pool. A dramatic vanishing edge has a waterfall below. “It’s beautiful when seen from above at the house deck, as well as when viewed from the lower level, where we suspended a swing from beneath the deck,” explains Kurth. “We work often with Wagner Pools, and they executed the pool to perfection.”

For these homeowners who love to entertain, an oversized dining area sits adjacent to an outdoor workspace with a vertical herb garden as a backdrop. “The client requested a 30-foot-long buffet!” says Kurth. “I had an idea of creating a farm-to-table experience, where they could grow herbs and tomatoes, in a linear gap created between the back of the counter and the retaining wall backdrop.”

Inspired by a resort where the homeowners had stayed, a fire element was added. “We thought a pair of firebowls accenting the end of the pool would provide a visual counterpoint and create the terminus of the visual axis,” says Kurth. “The landscape design and plantings were also part of the overall vision. I like to contrast leaf shape in size and texture; I feel this adds dimensionality and distinction to the planting areas. The architect in me tends to gravitate to plantings with strong form, structure and texture. The way, for instance, sweeps of grasses bend together with a breeze—it almost makes you feel cooler.”

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A pair of Wave chaise lounges from Wayfair are slightly submerged in the “beach” area of the pool. Photograph by Mike Van Tassell.

A palette of whites and purples—including 100 Giant Globemaster allium and dozens of white blooming liriope—peppers the landscape. “Huge masses of globe allium are a signature on our projects…in this design, they form the visual field when viewing the vanishing edge from within the pool and the pavilion,” says Kurth. “Even though they’re seasonal, I find their structure stays intact long after the flower color fades. I love the delicate yet strong architectural orb form of the flower head.”

Flanking the sides of the catch basin pool are clus- ters of fountain grass and liatris, while lavender lines the steps from the house. “I tend to love white as a predominant flower bloom as I find it calming,” says Kurth. “Achieving serenity in the landscape is being able to create harmony with nature in an organized integration of form, texture and hue of plantings.”


The print version of this article appears with the headline: Earth, Wind, Fire + Water.