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Swimming in Style

An elegant, thoughtfully designed pool house provides all the amenities for exceptional entertaining and family fun

The Southport shore boasts some of Fairfield County’s loveliest traditional estates, in beautiful settings sheltered by ancient trees. Several years ago, a couple who knew its charms secured a century-old Colonial Revival home in the Sasco Hill neighborhood. Choosing to renovate rather than substantially enlarge the existing main house, they enlisted local architect Jack Franzen and his team to polish and update the original structure and add a clutch of accessory buildings to create a family compound.

An old barn on the property was initially planned for use as a pool house and garage.  But after a structural assessment ruled out the reuse, the couple instead settled on separate buildings for guests, the pool, and their cars.

As they worked out details of the main house, the pool house simmered on the back burner for a while. The architect recalls that the outbuilding project was shelved for about a year after the family moved into the house. In retrospect, he attributes the project’s success, in part, to its delay.

“The couple had time to think about what they really wanted, so when we looked at the plans again, they were very sure and decisive about the program and its fine points,” recalls Franzen. He notes that the new structure was built on the footprint of an older building that was once used as the pool house.

“The biggest mistake that people make is to move too quickly with changes,” says Franzen. “Usually, if homeowners take the time to live for a while in an existing space, they discover that there’s some wisdom embedded in what’s already there.” 


Because the main house was not dramatically enlarged, it had no available square footage for typical pool accoutrements: changing room, nearby laundry for swimsuits and towels, and mini-kitchen for refreshments. So all these features needed to be accommodated within the pool house footprint, along with plenty of space for the couple’s large family and their frequent outdoor dining and entertaining.  Amazingly, everything fit comfortably within the outbuilding’s modestly sized perimeter and the bluestone-paved terraces surrounding it.

The layout Franzen designed, based on the clients’ input, affords them a number of gathering spots. Inside, there is a small kitchen with the necessary appliances, and an island where food can be served as well as prepped. A second, outdoor kitchen with its own eating counter and barbecue—the husband is originally from Texas and loves open-air cooking—likewise became part of the plan.                                      

More formal dining space was incorporated in the overall scheme, with one grouping on a pergola-covered section of terrace. In addition, the clients wanted a glassed-in dining area as part of the interior—one that could be morphed into an outdoor patio in good weather.

“This was the most challenging piece of the structure,” remembers Franzen, “but we found doors that folded back to bring the outdoors in. They’re sturdy enough to withstand southern New England temperature changes and moisture issues.” This dramatic feature faces west and provides beautiful sunset views to diners.

Once he had tweaked the pool house plans to meet all his clients’ requirements, Franzen brought in New York-based designer Eric Cohler, along with his senior managing director, Tony Klein, who had worked with the architect on the main house interiors. They would provide the finishes for the structure’s elegant bones.

“Eric listens to the client, is very efficient, and has great follow-through,” says Jack.  “We’ve had a number of very successful collaborations with his firm.”

True to a pattern that Cohler has established with his clientele, he and Klein studied the natural light along the Fairfield shore to get ideas about color, fixtures, and furnishings. With lots of floor-to-ceiling openings and a central cupola that admits even more natural light, the designers saw the space’s near transparency as an opportunity to create some visual drama.

“Tony and I both like to look at light, and we went around the Southport and Fairfield area to get a feel for it. Our goal is to bring that quality inside. There should be a dissolve from the exterior to the interior.”

Cohler and Klein chose light fixtures that cast a similar glow in the evening, including a pair of glass pendants shaped like beehives that draw the eye from the outside toward the interior.

“It’s almost magical, that glow,” says Cohler. “It gives the place a look that is the definition of a summer pavilion. You get a sense that the building almost floats over the pool.”

Along with finding just the right lighting and developing a soft color palette, the designers and their clients made a buying trip to London, to add some special furnishings to the mix.

Klein remembers, “When we were starting the plan for the design, it happened to coincide with the Olympia Antiques Fair in London. So we went together to shop the fair, and we also made use of the design houses based there. “An excursion to Colefax and Fowler, for example, yielded a set of antique chairs that now grace the glassed-walled indoor-outdoor dining area. And Paul Smith Home Furnishings, in Albemarle Street, was the source for the glass-topped, marble-legged table in the same grouping.

Not every item is one-of-a-kind and precious. A signature of the Cohler studio is its active mix of the high end and the less rare in furniture and objects. It’s a particularly sensible combination in a space that is well used by the family’s children and their chums.

“People want to feel comfortable at home,” declares Cohler. “Mixing it up is in tune with the way we live today. Many elegant women will not hesitate to put on a Chanel jacket with a well-fitted pair of jeans. Using this kind of juxtaposition at home—combining expensive and inexpensive things—makes a space more relaxed and livable.”

Of course, connecting the elements of a family compound is made easier by a great landscape plan. This plan was provided by architect Stephen Stimson, a Cape Cod-based professional with many seaside properties in his portfolio.

Says Stimson, “We established four outdoor garden spaces for the property, each of which performs a different function. Using the property’s gently sloping site as our guide, we created a series of level outdoor rooms—the pool area is one—that we defined with low stone walls and plantings. This concept serves to extend the use of the house into the landscape, a good strategy for this young and active family.”

He adds that the property has been well used and much enjoyed by family and friends.  And architect Franzen recalls a number of memorable events that the couple have hosted there recently. Its record of happy and continuing use underscores its success as part of the larger plan. It is truly a perfect pavilion.