When buildings fall into disrepair in eastern Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based Gardner/Fox Associates Inc. can refurbish them to a new level of excellence. The architectural remodeling and construction firm recently was awarded a Gold-level Master Design Award in the Detached Structure category for its work on an existing pool house in Malvern, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.

The small pool house, which is situated on a 7-acre property in horse country, did not live up to the beautiful backyard pool it was meant to complement nor did it relate to the architectural style of the existing main house, a 19th-century colonial farmhouse. “What got the homeowners to pull the trigger on the project was the fact that this is an exquisite property and the existing pool-house structure was just such an unfortunate eyesore,” explains Alex Rice, senior residential architect with Gardner/Fox Associates. “They wanted something that really complemented the main house, which is only a couple hundred feet away.”

In addition to being an eyesore, the pool house didn’t address the homeowners’ needs when gathering by the pool. Gardner/Fox Associates was asked to create a social space for a family of six and to entertain friends. The homeowners desired a kitchenette area, shower and laundry facilities, and changing space. They also asked that the pool house become an indoor/outdoor space, opening to the pool on one side and the woods on the other while aesthetically complementing the pool and farmhouse.

Recalling History

The 2-story farmhouse was designed by Richardson Brognard Okie, a local architect who designed from the late 19th century until his death in 1945. Okie’s specialty was the Pennsylvania Dutch genre. The romantic style primarily is created with stone and is minimalist in nature.

Rice, who is comfortable with historic projects, recalls the gentleman-farmer style with the remodel. According to Rice, gentleman farmers were estate owners who worked in the city but lived on a working farm for pleasure, not necessarily for income.

“I typically take on historic properties that require period detailing,” Rice says. “I had been working with the homeowners since they purchased the property in 2004. They said they wanted this project to look like an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse outbuilding to play off the historic feel of the property.”

Great Possibilities

Rice determined he wanted the pool house to be an accessory to the main farmhouse. “Because the main house is a somewhat colonial farmhouse, the homeowners wanted the new pool house to almost read as a barn structure or accessory structure to the main house,” he explains. “These outbuildings were originally built to assist in the farming aspect of the estate. The idea was not to have it look like a pool house but to look like its original intention as a farming structure.”

The location of the pool house dictated its design. “Our biggest challenge on the project was that we were building on a very steep slope,” Rice says. “It was going to be very difficult to get any type of excavating equipment anywhere near the pool house, so we were limited to using the existing foundation, which was essentially a rectangle. The challenge was to make this program work using the same footprint while limiting any type of excavation.”

Rice focused the remodel design around a great room with a large fireplace that would allow the pool house to be used during all four seasons. He added adjacent rooms for wood storage and to service the kitchenette.

He designed the project with an exposed rough-hewn timber frame to showcase salvaged barn beams on the interior. To remain on budget, Rice camouflaged a 2- by 4-inch stick-frame structure underneath the pool house’s skin and exposed the salvage beams in the great room.

Rice relied on the Internet and a local lumberyard known for its wood shop for products. He priced custom items, like doors, with the lumberyard and then went online to track down hardware and other accessories. For instance, the pool house features sliding barn doors on the front and back to open the space to the outdoors. The doors were custom fabricated through the local lumberyard; hardware to support the heavy barn doors was purchased online.

In addition, the remodeling team relied on local businesses to assist in achieving the farmhouse aesthetic. For example, West Grove, Pa.-based Hugh Lofting Timber Framing Inc. fabricated and joined the trusses in the great room, and a local interior designer picked out tile materials. “Collaborating was really about trying to get some more period details one would find in an outbuilding of the late 19th, early 20th centuries,” Rice notes.

Rice also located a quarry that could closely match a thin veneer stone to the farmhouse’s exterior fieldstone while being cost-effective. In addition, he specified budget-friendly siding for the two sides of the pool house that face the woods.

Gentleman Worthy

Keeping with the Pennsylvania Dutch style, Gardner/Fox Associates has transformed the pool house into an outbuilding worthy of a gentleman farmer’s estate. “The clients have been tremendously excited by the whole process and have been very involved,” Rice adds. “They spent a lot of time
asking questions and watching their pool house come together. We’ve created a space the whole family
can enjoy.”

Fast Facts

2010 Master Design Awards Gold Winner in the Detached Structure Category

  • Architect & remodeling firm: Gardner/Fox Associates Inc., Bryn Mawr, Pa.,
  • Location: Malvern, Pa.
  • Before: 458 square feet
  • After: 692 square feet

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