A stylish living space with every comfort under the sun, this poolhouse lets a New Canaan family make the most of the great outdoors
photographs john bessler
Late on a picture-perfect July afternoon, longtime friends of the Schoenholtz family arrive at their New Canaan home. But there’s no need to go inside. The couples and their kids head straight to the poolhouse in the backyard, where a spread of goodies awaits. In no time, the children inhale an early dinner of grilled burgers, hot dogs, and watermelon, change into their bathing suits and spend the rest of the day in the water— shooting water guns, playing diving games, fooling around with floating rafts and noodles.
Meanwhile, the parents are lounging on the poolside patio, enjoying steamers, lobster tails, and frozen margaritas. It isn’t long before they join the younger set in the pool or in the hot tub, splashing, listening to the crickets, and gazing at the emerging stars. Once it gets dark, everyone gathers on the lawn to light up sparklers and watch fireworks. Ice cream, popsicles and s’mores cap the quintessential summer day.
It’s the kind of fun Jane Schoenholtz envisioned for her family when she oversaw the design and construction of their pool and poolhouse, about 18 months ago. “I wanted to create the feeling of a summerhouse in our back lawn, a vacation spot filled with all the comforts,” she says. “I wanted the kids to have fun, have their friends over. I wanted it to have what we needed—the kitchen, the changing room, storage for towels—to avoid intrusion into the main house.”
Little did she realize that the space would become the center of the family’s social activity. It is here where she hosts frequent afternoon playdates for her son, Teddy; where her daughters, Katelyn and Megan, often play with friends when they are not at summer camp; and where the family hosts parties, potluck dinners, and late-night swimming gatherings every weekend with extended family and friends. Even husband Mark’s July birthday is celebrated here. “The poolhouse has proved to be such a great way to reconnect with people,” says Schoenholtz.
It is not unusual to find her poolside most mornings, enjoying a quiet coffee. “I love to run in the morning, come back, and shower in outdoor shower,” she says. “Then I read the paper and have my coffee and begin my day. I also love cooking out there.”
The pool concept, says Schoenholtz, evolved with the help of Wilton-based landscape architect Jennifer Anderson, who drew plans for a spot in the backyard that Schoenholtz had selected for the pool area. These were inspired by the existing natural landscape and a poolside design Schoenholtz envisioned as a discreet but stylish bungalow that complemented the West Hills Road home the family has already lived in for about three years. “We were both on the same page,” says Anderson, “to create a Nantucket look by marrying two buildings inside a pergola. We both loved the idea.”
Schoenholtz also wanted to keep as much lawn intact as possible. “I wanted a view of the poolhouse,” she says. “I wanted it to be pretty to look at, even in winter.”
Enter Louise Brooks of the New Canaan architectural firm Brooks & Falotico. She used Schoenholtz’ ideas and Anderson’s drawings to draw the architectural plans for the poolside structure, and brought in Mantz Construction of Bridgeport to make it happen. “We have this beautiful flat property that is clear and warm in the summer,” says Schoenholtz. “I always loved being outside and this was a perfect way to take advantage of the spot. And now we have it. All we have to do is walk across the way.”
Sarah Mantz, the project manager on the job, calls the end result “a cottage that looked like it had been there for a while.” But since the poolhouse was not to be heated, crafting its structural design required taking into account how to protect it, particularly its exposed features. “When we got the drawings, we knew we had to build it like a boat,” says Mantz. “We had to protect it from water getting in.”
Among the protective features are plumbing that can be winterized; windows that can be sealed; marine paint on cabinetry; granite saddles inside doorsills; copper flashing between cabinets and counters (that are slightly graded), and the pergola and its support beams, columns, and rafters.
Hidden in plain sight, these features make up a structure that today sits nestled against a patch of woods that line a barely sloping lawn, which in turn hugs a large, inviting pool. At its center is an ample bluestone patio, flanked by two domed terraced cabanas that are joined by an open pergola, a stylistic feature that complements a pair of box gardens with crabapple trees, hydrangeas, boxwoods and viburnums that shade both ends of the structure. The center of the patio acts as the main entertaining area, a space defined casually by cedar sitting and ample dining spots (capable of seating many) that are visually framed by a curvy stone hearth and chimney that can also be enjoyed when temperatures cool. Two rustic copper sconces and two chandeliers that float from the pergola draw the eye to the open sky while also softly illuminating the area into the evening. Adding to the neutral palette of the space, and completing its comfortably elegant vision, is the contrasting symmetry of the stainless steel Alfresco gas grill; custom cabinetry and doors by Bridgeport’s Aspetuck Millworks; and granite counters from Caposella’s in Bridgeport that line the perimeter.
Schoenholtz says every stylistic feature is matched by a practical component that makes the poolhouse as enjoyable as it was designed to be. Inside one cabana is a linen and storage closet next to a small kitchen—with refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, and sink—with pocket doors that open over a counter toward the center patio. The other cabana houses a changing room and a bathroom with access to a private outdoor shower. Fans hidden inside the shaded terraces provide relief on particularly warm days. Floors in the changing room, bathroom, and kitchen are heated for cooler periods.
The poolhouse has been open since March break, says Schoenholtz, and on Friday afternoons, it is a common sight to see her husband playing with the children by the pool. “He can be on vacation at three on a Friday, away from the phone and computer,” she says. “Then friends show up.”