Environment for a dip that gives you lift
At once monumental and airy, this sculptural, two-story pool house in Sonoma’s Wine Country by Oakland interior designer Michelle Wempe and her award-winning firm Zumaooh is an exercise in green building and communing with nature.
The pool house, set in a 13-acre creekside meadow surrounded by woods, was built two years ago for a couple with three children who recently moved to Geneva. They shuttle now between California and Switzerland, where he is a financier and she a novelist.
“This project originally started out as a renovation of an existing ranch house and shed, both of which still stand on the property,” Wempe said.
Instead, they designed a large new residence, garage and a few auxiliary buildings for the property.
The pool house, the only new structure built, quickly became the owners’ wellused, flexible retreat to entertain a few or many of their friends at once. “It also gave them the right amount of space to spend more leisure
“Each element … was chosen to enhance the experience of living within natural surroundings.”
time with the children,” Wempe said.
The 2,000-square-foot structure and large pool are laid out in a T plan. The building, composed of adjoining stucco and cedar-clad boxes, incorporates natural cross ventilation: Its central living space (on the same north-south axis as the pool) has wall-size glass doors that pocket back, making the room an open breezeway with views of the pool and the meadow surrounding the house.
Sometimes, when the owners need to work, they disappear to small but airy offices upstairs. Even the stairwell bay connecting the two floors has a two-story window to let in west light and views that contribute to “a sense of openness and connection to the land,” Wempe says.
The building’s flexibility allowed the owners to rethink the scale of the future main house. “They’ve discovered that they can actually live in a more compact environment than they originally thought,” Wempe says.
“Less is more” may be Modernism’s greatest axiom, but it’s also the new green trend.
More conventional ideas of saving energy also abound. Ample insulation conserves energy at all times, and Caesarstone counters made of recycled quartz aggregate are prominent green components.
On the east side of the building, a galvanized steel trellis shades an outdoor kitchen and dining area and adds a sense of expansiveness to the building.
“It gets really hot during the summer and the sun is so, so bright. We were so glad that all the thought and engineering of our shade device outside actually worked,” Wempe said. Project architect Mark Szumowski helped to design it. The custom galvanized steel trellis has “louvers angled to keep the sun off of the patio all day. You can see the sky through it but don’t get scorched by the sun,” Wempe says.
The building’s flat roof deflects heat even as it forms the perfect ground for a solar panel array that provides the energy to heat the pool and for lights and air conditioning in the building.
During the winter, when it is not raining, the sun’s low rays enter the shaded patio and the amply glazed building to naturally warm concrete floors inside and out.
“Each element — from the exterior wood siding and fireplace stone to the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified oak inside — was chosen to enhance the experience of living within natural surroundings,” Wempe says. Indeed, the pool house is the owners’ “living art tableau,” and an aperture through which they can view the changing seasons.
The great room has wall-size glass doors that can be slid into recesses, making the room airy and open to views of the pool and meadow.
Above: The pool house’s flexibility has allowed the owners to do more with less and rethink the scale of the future main house. Right: The patio with dining and sitting areas is covered by a custom galvanized steel trellis with louvers to block the sun.
The patio area with a kitchen and dining area offers flexibility to entertain a few or many friends at once in an open air setting.