Building good relationships can be as important as building good homes. Jon Rentfrow is well aware of this. He designed a home that his long-time colleague Jay Brannen’s company built. Rentfrow had little contact with the client, and years later when that client wanted to build a pool and pool house, Brannen recommended using Rentfrow and the result is the award-winning pool house seen on these pages and on our cover.
“The client was good friends with Jay and knew of projects he and I had done together. They never worked directly with me but they trusted their relationship with Jay and his relationship with me,” explains Rentfrow, Rentfrow Design in Fort Collins, Colo.
The vision for this pool house was that of the owner. It was to be a structure that serves the pool in summer as a place to get out of the hot sun, and also a place that can be closed up with air conditioning or heat. All functions were achieved.
“The vision was achieved no question,” says Brannen, Brannen Homes in Fort Collins, Colo. “I think the testament to that is them holding soccer team parties and hosting crab boils to the tune of 50 or 60 people. The entertainment capabilities and the way it opens up to the outside are fantastic.”
Just as important as function is form, which had to look appropriate for Colorado. Sitting on the front range of the Rockies, the pool house has a mountain flair to it including a big-timber pergola and heavy stone on the inside, Rentfrow says. “Design success for me is the space performing the way you design it to. It entertains well for large groups, lives well for two by the fireplace, and it’s fun for kids and adults to enjoy. That’s performance of space; of design intent. The greatest compliment is not how beautiful a home looks, it’s that it lives how the owners need it to live,” he adds.
One element of the pool house that didn’t turn out as planned was the loft space, and this was because of local codes and height restrictions. Because the roof line had to be lowered there was not enough space in the loft for its purpose – a fun area for the owner’s boys where they could throw pillows on the floor and play video games and hang out, Rentfrow says.
Another issue with land usage was accommodating both the pool house and the pool in the space allotted. The solution was to position the pool house in the corner of the lot to maximize pool size. This raised the issue of the pool house being too far from the main home, which was a concession the owners made, Rentfrow says.
The main challenge of working the land was doing so in a finished back yard, Brannen says. “Building a pool and pool house on a finished property was a pretty delicate operation. Just trying to get materials back there was a challenge. There wasn’t a ton of space to maneuver. The distance between the existing home and pool house at its narrowest point was probably 40 feet. So trying to construct the pool and the pool house outside the owners’ master bedroom window was difficult. Fortunately we did it at a time of year when the weather cooperated, in the summer, plus they were very patient with us.”
Plenty of coordination
When the homeowner initially expressed the desire for a pool with a pool house, the pool house became the focus more than the pool. The two cannot be separated, however, in theory or reality with so many mechanical parts to consider. “Pool mechanical rooms must be substantial in Colorado because of the need for decent-size boilers. Late in the game the pool contractor told me he wanted to run piping through the pool house’s basement walls and up into the mechanical room. I asked him how many cores he needed, like two or three? He said more like 13 cores that went through the foundation wall. I thought there could be no way, but after plenty of discussion and planning we spaced them in a way the engineer finally approved,” Brannen says.
The mechanical room is on the main level of the pool house, and the pipes were buried more than 30 inches and punched through the foundation wall. They then travel up into the mechanical room, Brannen says. “We worked with the pool contractor pretty closely through most of the planning process. He was like a subcontractor to us, but not in contract with us. It’s never a bad idea to include the pool contractor because coordination is so critical. All the plumbing, electrical and mechanical trades must be laid out ahead of time. You can’t just stick a filter and pump in the back yard by the air-conditioning units like you can in Florida. The equipment has to be in conditioned space.”
As often is the case, the planning of construction was more complicated than building the structure, Brannen explains. “The homeowner is an artist who created the vision as we went along, which meant this truly was a design/build project,” he adds. “[The homeowner] gets a lot of credit for the realization of the vision.”
Success could not have been achieved without the application of the garage doors to the pool side of the house. Severe winters in Colorado present a challenge to the goal of using the pool house all year. “As it turns out, the garage doors with their glass panels make you feel that the space is much larger and open than it is. The glass is insulated and doesn’t perform as well as a typical window but they get the job done,” Rentfrow says.
Getting through the long process of selecting the doors wasn’t the end of the challenges, Brannen notes. “The ceiling is vaulted and we didn’t want the door rails to come in at 90 degree and thereby creating an 8-ft. ceiling when they’re up and open. We wanted the tracks to follow the interior pitch. At the same time we wanted to use wall-mounted drives, not the overhead style. The problem was with the heavy glass in the doors and the fact that the rails were tracking along the interior rake of the room, the weight of the doors presented a problem because the doors are never at rest. They would always want to fall down. It creates a safety issue. So we had to upsize to commercial-grade motors. That’s one of those details we needed a solution for to make the design right,” Brannen says.