In some Richmond backyards, posh pool houses peek out from behind lounge chairs and bistro tables. These swank but homey cottages offer everything from custom kitchens and baths to workout rooms and bedrooms, yet they're tough enough to take the traffic of any wet toes that are passing through.
Jamie and Tony Sliwinski are self-described homebodies, but when they need to get away, they don't have far to go — merely a few yards off their patio and into their West End pool house that doubles as a guesthouse.
The couple wanted to deter their three children from tracking water into their primary residence, so nearly five years ago they decided to build a structure in which they could change and relax.
"We built the pool house and a year later decided we hung out there a lot and thought somebody might want to stay in there," explains Jamie. "I thought I could make it a little house."
The revamped pool house now features a candy-colored décor personally chosen by Jamie. I picked out most of the materials at Williams & Sherrill and had someone sew everything, she says. She found a whimsical pattern featuring monkeys riding camels amid palm trees on a dusty rose background. Complementary fabrics in soft greens, dark pinks and vibrant yellows were used on the window valances, window-seat cushions and bistro-chair cushions. All cushions are covered with Sunbrella fabric so they can withstand sun and soggy towels.
The space includes a 36-inch television, a pinball machine, a gas fireplace, a kitchenette and a full-size bathroom. A storage area was converted into a bedroom complete with built-in shelves.
"The original plan was for the bedroom to just be a storage area, but after a while they decided to go ahead and convert that space," says Lane Built co-owner Edward Lane Jr. "The size of the storage room was already suited for it. It was all framed up, so it was ready for Sheetrock and insulation. They just needed flooring and a few lights."
Jamie and Tony both have large families, so the guest quarters come in handy when visiting relatives need a place to stow away, notes Jamie.
"The neat thing about that pool house is that it is kind of a multifunctional space," says Lane. "You can use it for parties, hang out during the day and feel like you're on vacation and use it for when company comes to town."
When Robbie and Bev Pugh decided to further invest in their Midlothian property, they chose to add fantastic gardens and a fabulous pool house. Built by Add A Deck and decorated by interior designer Carol Pipes, the poolside escape features a kitchen, a full bath and a bar. The resort-style living space is also furnished with a wine-storage area and is networked for Wi-Fi. A hearth and a Carolina jasmine-covered arbor also were added to the 400-square-foot structure.
The entire project took two years to design from start to finish. Robbie says it was worth the wait. "I feel like we've gone away for the weekend [when we're there]," he says. "We come down in the morning, make our coffee, read and swim, putz in the gardens, and then go home and go to bed."
Carol Pipes filled the pool house with Southern charm and based many of her ideas off the gardens created by landscape architect Preston Dalrymple. Hibiscus, Confederate jasmine and daylilies adorn the area, and she used their colors as a palette for the interior of the pool house. Corals and tropical greens spruce up the bathroom. "The flowers are in terra-cotta flower pots, so the floor in the pool house is a beautiful terra cotta," says Pipes.
She wanted to incorporate the couple's Southern roots into the space while making guests feel as though they had just stepped into a lush plantation. The look is completed with plantation-style shutters on the windows. To conjure a tropical feeling, splashes of turquoise were injected into the interior as well as the tiles behind the outdoor bar.
The exterior fireplace warms chilly swimmers. Nearby guests can converse in the bar area. Robbie says he was grilled by family and friends about choosing to install an exterior fireplace in an area known for hot and humid summers, but he points out that it's useful. The Pughs often light a fire and enjoy starlit summer nights.
The design of the poolside area, from lush gardens to a full-size bar, is a blueprint for entertaining success. "Just about every weekend there is usually someone at our home during the summer," says Robbie. "You build it and they will come — and, of course, they'll ask you if they can come."
Nestled amid 5 acres of shady trees, Renee and Scott Rohrs' pool house is an oasis in the middle of a Hanover County forest. Designed by David Gagermeier and built by R.C. Jones Jr. Inc., the nearly 700-square-foot structure boasts an eat-in kitchen, a wraparound couch and a luxury steam shower.
"The shower head is my favorite feature," says Renee. "My husband had been to a country club and saw a rainfall shower head, and the whole idea was his — that we have a steam shower with a rainfall showerhead."
Designer Susan Jamieson collaborated with the Rohr family on their Montpelier pool house. The classic white structure was built with relaxation in mind. "It is an all-encompassing room where the family can get together. It's just an easy entertaining space," says Jamieson. Overstuffed couches and soothing colors fill the interior. Bamboo shades buffer the sun, and stone-colored nonslip tile complements the furnishings.
Renee says she often escapes to the pool house during the day to enjoy the peace and quiet. But once her children return from school and her husband arrives from work, everyone scurries out to the pool area and enjoys the remaining daylight.
Their woodland hideaway is equipped with the many comforts of home, Renee says, adding that convenience is also one of her favorite things about her pool/guesthouse. There's no need to haul food and drinks in and out of the house, because the pool house is equipped with a refrigerator and dishwasher.
"People who haven't seen it — it kind of takes their breath away," says Renee. "They joke they have everything they need in the pool house, so they're going to stay; they're not going to leave."