Outdoor Oases

From a boathouse or a Greek Temple to pool houses and tennis hideouts, designers and architects create luxurious places to escape… in your own backyard



What role did your firm play in the design of this boathouse?
We served as construction manager and builder on this project, creating
all of the millwork for this new boathouse. The project included a new
boat dock that extends more than 100 feet into Long Island Sound.

How does the boathouse relate to other structures on the site?
It sits on 14.5 acres of waterfront property facing south-southwest. The boathouse shares the site with the main house, pool and recreation area, all of which are connected by stone paths.

Were there any problems or difficulties in terms of siting?
The location was predetermined by an existing boathouse. The challenge was to design within the same footprint and zoning constraints allowed by the pre-existing property rights. As a result, this new structure offers a unique location that would be difficult to get approved. The lower part is at sea level and allows for dry storage for boats. In addition, our challenge on this project was to build a structure that could withstand high winds and waves.

How do the owners use this structure?
The boathouse was originally built by the owners for use as a weekend residence during construction of the main house. Now, it is used by guests, since it has a kitchenette and sliding doors to separate the bedroom and main sitting room.

What are three important elements to consider when building a boathouse?
The siting is critical: An analysis of storm paths, tides and winds needs to be conducted. The second element is the use of the structure, which influences the design. Third, you have to consider the building materials.

Do you have any favorite materials to use in this type of structure?
We like to use natural materials such as stone recovered from the site, wood materials that are inherently weather-resistant, stainless steel and copper flashings and fasteners to withstand the elements, as well as hurricane-rated doors and windows.





What role did your firm play in the design of this Greenwich pool house?
We always collaborate closely with our clients; in this case, we were asked to design a new pool house that related to the garden and to other buildings on the site.

How would you describe the style of the pool house and guesthouse, and were they designed at the same time?
Over nine years, we completed the renovation and alteration of the main house, designed a new guesthouse, replanned the landscape, and designed a new swimming pool and pool house. Proceeding incrementally allowed us to craft elements that responded to earlier work but also projected their own unique character. The buildings have a distinctly Mediterranean feel, but each one is actually quite different. They coalesce into a complex unity of forms, proportions and details that is accentuated and enlivened with new exteriors of stone and stucco. The house, the central element of the composition, received a rusticated stone base, a new entrance, and roof.

Were there any design issues that had to be considered when designing these structures?
The three buildings were composed around the new garden and swimming pool. Because we were transforming two existing structures into a guest cottage and pool house, the new buildings had to retain the size, shape and floor areas of the previous ones, complicating the design. 

How do the structures relate to the main house in terms of style or placement on the property?
The main house established the character of the redesigned structures that, in turn, established the overall character of the site. The new swimming pool and garden then served to relate each building to its neighbor.

Were there any special features that the owners wanted included?
The owners wanted buildings that were beautiful to look at, worked well together on the site, and provided an enjoyable and functional space for  entertaining.




Excerpt from An Affair with a House (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2005) by Bunny Williams with Christine Pittel

Was there an existing pool when you purchased the house?
No. A few years ago, my husband John announced: “What we really need around here is a swimming pool.”

How difficult was it to site the pool and the adjacent pool house?
My first thought was: “There is no place to put a pool.” But John had already figured that out. He picked out a sunny spot up on the hill. We sited the pavilion with the forest just beyond, so it would look natural, as if the trees had simply come out of the woods to make this building.

Describe the design process for the house.
I had no interest in the typical white-latticed pool house. While in France, I picked up a book on 18th-century garden follies and one picture caught my eye: a brick building with porch columns made out of tree trunks. That was the genesis of the idea, and then it grew from there.

How does the architectural style of the pool house relate to the main house?
The village in Connecticut where we live is full of wonderful Greek Revival architecture. We thought why not erect our own little Greek temple, and make it out of tree trunks?

Did you face any unique challenges?
I asked an architect friend to give me the mathematical formula for a classic Greek temple—the proportions of height, width and depth. Then I took these figures, sketched out a design on a napkin, and went to see our local carpenter, Gerald McMahon. He took it from there and did an amazing job. It is not easy to find 10 trees that could work as columns, but he located an old estate where a grove of white oaks was about to be cut down for redevelopment. He measured every tree and marked the ones he wanted. He had to wrap all 10 trunks in blankets, so the bark wouldn’t be rubbed off when they were chained together for transport.

When do you like to use the pool house?
We often go up before lunch, swim and then eat in the shade of the pavilion. In the fall, with the fire lit, it’s a lovely spot for drinks and dinner.

Describe some of the materials you used.
I wanted everything to feel organic. The expansive open-air room is furnished with rattan chairs and wooden tables. We shipped the bamboo umbrellas from India. A frieze of split logs runs along the top of the pool house. In a whimsical touch, I filled the pediment with pinecones.





As the architectural firm on this project, did you encounter unique challenges with designing or siting this structure?
The pool and pool house are both sited near a wetland on the property. Because the pool house was designed so that mechanical equipment would be stored in the basement, special attention was paid to waterproofing. Also, landscape architect Debbie Nevins had a goal to site the pool house perfectly on center with a great, old tree in the backyard. We worked closely with Debbie’s office in order to mesh her vision for the terrace with the design of the pool house.

What were the specific requests by the homeowner for this space?
The clients requested an entertaining space near the pool with changing room, bathroom and cooking functions. One pavilion houses the changing room and bathroom; the other contains a small kitchen. A large outdoor barbecue shares the wall behind the fireplace.

Was the pool already installed when you designed the pool house?
They were created together and much care was taken to integrate the pool, the concealed pool cover, and the terrace paving so that from the pool, to the terrace, and back to the house all the components fit together seamlessly.

What are the elements that make a pool house a functional and elegant space?
In addition to the kitchen, barbecue, changing room and bathroom, it is a covered exterior space with a large fireplace and outdoor heaters to extend outdoor enjoyment into the early fall.

Does the architectural style of this building reflect the style of the main house on the property?
Yes, the architectural detailing, materials (stucco and half-timbering) and color palette reflect the main house.

The color palette works both inside and out. How was it developed?
The exterior palette (including the seating area) comes from the main house. The main house, originally white stucco with black half-timbering, was redesigned several years before. The team of Ferguson & Shamamian, interior designer Bunny Williams and Debbie Nevins chose the celadon and rose palette to soften the contrast. Debbie recalled the rose color from a house designed by the English architect Charles Voysey.

What were some of your firm’s favorite materials used in this structure?
We don’t often get the opportunity to work with stucco and half-timbering, so these provided an interesting change.





Was there an existing pool house on the property? How did the homeowners originally plan to use the structure?
The pool house was not in existence. It was designed and built by John B. Murray Architect, LLC. The structure was planned to be used as
a guesthouse and for entertaining—summer luncheons, plus drinks and dinner under the stars. It has a full kitchen with plenty of room for all the table settings, glassware and china. It is also used as a peaceful escape for the owners—such a great place to swim, have tea, read a book, and maybe even spend the night!

Did the homeowners have any restrictions or special requests regarding the design?
Our clients did not want it to look like a typical pool house. It started off by being an English  “tea house.” But, as senior designer Diana El-Daher and I began decorating, it became more of a living space with a great table to play games, a comfy sofa and large TV to watch in between swimming, sunning and eating.

Since this is an indoor/outdoor space, were any special considerations taken with the fabric selection? 
All of the fabrics are durable. The sofa is an outdoor fabric, and all of the rest are light linens. The carpet is hemp with a little wool.


Does the overall style of the pool house reflect the style of the main house?
The style of the furniture is in keeping with the main house, but it’s a little less serious. We were asked to make it comfortable, but with an old English feel. The mix is that of a well-traveled couple with a very smart and eclectic eye.

Among all of these inviting areas, which is your favorite?
My favorite place is the beautiful outdoor fireplace, which is so cozy on a chilly evening. The outdoor furniture is extremely comfortable so one can sit and chat for hours.

What are the three most important elements to consider when designing interiors for a pool house?
1. Comfortable and durable fabrics. 2. Good-sized changing rooms, a wonderful outdoor shower and large fluffy towels. 3. A bedroom to take a nap in after you have had enough sun and good food!





As the architects and site designers on this project, how difficult was it to site this building on the property? Were the pool and tennis courts already in place or did they come after building the house?
The siting and orientation of the new pool/tennis house was designed to incorporate the existing pool—with its established plantings and stone patio—and provide a connection and shared amenity with the new tennis court.

How does this structure reflect the style of the main house?
Not at all! After years of commuting to the Hamptons and other far-flung places, the intent of this project was to create a vacation destination at home. The architect suggested to the owners that the proximity of a new structure adjacent to the pool and tennis court would be perceived as separate from the main house. It freed the homeowners from the idea that the new structure needed to reflect the architecture of the house. As the design evolved, the pool/tennis structure was fondly referred to as “Villa Alegria,” which is Spanish for “house of happiness and joy.”

What are your favorite materials that were used in this structure?
The matching pair of bell-shaped roof rafters were custom fabricated and veneered.

What items did the homeowners request to be included in the pool/tennis house?
The clients wanted a full-service kitchen for entertaining, living space/media room, shower and changing facilities, laundry, outdoor covered tennis viewing and dining area with fireplace, outdoor shower, and storage for tennis and
pool activities.

What are the key elements to consider when designing this type of structure?
When designing outdoor rooms and spaces, scale and landscaping are an integral aspect of the design. Unlike interior spaces, outdoor
terraces and patios often need to support more people, diverse activities, and unstructured circulation patterns.

What elements make this project a success in terms of functionality and style?
This building functions seamlessly in many ways to link and support a variety of outdoor activities: pool, tennis and alfresco dining. We believe the design successfully blends whimsy with functionality.