In the King William neighborhood of San Antonio, behind a house dating from the 1890s, architect Jim Poteet designed a modern pool and pavilion of uncommon synergy.
“We were given just the last little bit of open yard to work with,” said Poteet, a member of our Architect/Designer Directory, “and we wondered if we could fit it all in.” By “it,” he means a pool, spa, shower, and outdoor room for parties—with ample storage for pool gear, bikes, and other accouterments of outdoor living. Playing with the volumes, he said, “we kind of slid the elements together, and that’s the genesis of the timber frame floating over the pool.”
His design extends the requisite outdoor room over the edge of the pool by a full two feet, creating an abstract architectural detail while buying some extra space. The pool and pavilion are actually the same size—16 feet by 32 feet—one turned 90 degrees to the other. “There’s a harmony there that you don’t necessarily see,” says Poteet, “but you can feel it.”
Photography by Dror Baldinger courtesy of Poteet Architects.
Above: For the patio, “We didn’t want one of those big stone expanses” that are so common in Texas, says Poteet, so they used Texas limestone slabs interlaid with gapped 2-inch by 2-inch garapa wood decking. The pavilion is a rectangular frame of 1-foot by 2-foot Alaskan yellow cedar timbers, walled by screens on three sides and a kitchenette on the fourth. The all-neutral palette is intended to highlight the blue of the pool and the green of the landscaping.
Poteet had partnered with his clients—a family with four kids—before; he remodeled their main house on the property.
Above: One of the project’s main design challenges was to create the right exit out of the pavilion. Poteet’s solution is a sliding door that opens directly over the pool, so (adventuresome) occupants exit straight into the water. Users who want to stay dry can exit using screen doors at either end of the pavilion, with Texas limestone steps floating in steel frames.
This photo illustrates another major design challenge: how to make the new building at home with its neighbors. “This neighborhood is a laboratory of Victorian and early 20th century homes,” says Poteet, noting that the two carriage houses next to the pavilion (shown above) are in industrial and cottage styles. “What fits with that?” he asks. “We kind of threaded the needle by creating something that is its own thing, but not insulting anybody, either.”
Above: Poteet worked with the contractor to create the pavilion’s sliding door. “In San Antonio, we don’t necessarily have access to all the showrooms with the latest building materials, so we’re really in the habit of overlapping with the contractor and figuring out a solution ourselves.”
The finished product is an exercise in subtlety. Whether open or closed, “you don’t really see it as a door,” he says. It either opens completely behind its neighboring screen wall, or closes to become one of the pavilion’s walls.
“The pavilion is so abstract,” says Poteet, “that it’s more like a landscape element than a piece of architecture.”
Above: Poteet is especially proud of his firm’s solution to the common problem of “the spa ruining the geometry of the pool.” They created a runnel—an “architects-only word,” meaning a channel—about 12 feet long and cut into the limestone, linking the spa and pool. It allows the pool and spa to share water and a pump—”just like it would if the spa glommed onto the end of the pool.” He explains: “The pool is an abstract rectangle, the pavilion is another rectangle behind it, and the spa is a circle, making for a timeless geometry” in the linked composition.
Above: The pavilion itself is three parts: the main lounge space, an adjunct storage space, and an outdoor shower. The storage unit is covered in traditional wood siding, and has a planted roof of native herbs and a “neat little airplane” sculpture on its side by San Antonio artist Ken Little, a friend of Poteet’s. Poteet calls the bike storage facility “a mute wood-sided volume [that] is servant space for the pavilion.” It holds the utilities—the wet bar, bikes, and plumbing. The outdoor shower—an oversized barrel in blue and white—sits on a gravel plot for drainage. The lounge chairs—now discontinued—were the last of their kind from the Brown Jordan showroom in Dallas.
Above: The pavilion’s screen walls are made of copper, confusingly called “bronze screen.” Poteet likes it for durability and warmth. “It looks coppery at first and dulls to a dark bronze as it oxidizes. It becomes more transparent as time goes on,” he says.
Note the underwater bench at the end of the pool, where swimmers can sit beneath the pavilion in the shade.
Above: The wet bar inside the pavilion is not a full kitchen—there are no cooking appliances—but an outdoor kitchen with grill sits nearby. The kitchenette has a bar made of garapa wood, Bertoia counter stools, a full refrigerator, and stores the serving pieces for the outdoor kitchen. The kitchenette is actually recessed into the bike storage volume so it doesn’t take up space inside the pavilion. (Note that the back wall of the kitchenette is the same wood siding used on the storage unit.)
The pavilion’s timber frame is visible from the interior on all sides, including the floor. It’s interspersed with cedar decking, gapped for drainage (think: wet swimsuits) but lined with an insect screen underneath.
Above: The other end of the pavilion is anchored by a chimney volume of waxed, hard-troweled plaster. The fireplace is made of a high-quality masonry insert called Isokern. The fireplace screen runs on a track—it’s essentially the pavilion screen doors in miniature.
When I ask if it gets cold at night in San Antonio, it becomes clear that the fireplace is not for keeping warm. Rather, says Poteet, “It’s just a wonderful thing to have. It’s there for Christmas day when it’s 50 degree outside, or on those odd times when it actually feels cool.”
Above: Poteet says this project “offers everything that makes life in South Texas pleasant,” including freedom from mosquitoes, easy access to cocktails, ceiling fans for breeze, and a wood-burning fire.
Above: The backyard extends beyond the pool to include an outdoor kitchen (at far left) and seating area with wood-burning fire pit.
Above: “It’s a fairly subtle project from the photos,” says Poteet, “But the actual reality of it—going to a party there, at night—is really impressive.” His clients have hosted sit-down dinners in the pavilion, and parties for 200 people spread across the grounds.
Shortly after the project’s completion, Poteet’s clients posted a photo on Facebook of the family enjoying their new backyard. They captioned it: “This is the life.”
Above: The lateral section shows the outbuilding floating over the edge of the pool, and a slight slope beneath the pavilion to allow for drainage.
Above: The pool and pavilion in the neighborhood context shows the property just across the street from the San Antonio River.
For more from Poteet Architects, see The Ultimate Guesthouse and Garden Shed, in a Shipping Container.
Finally, get more ideas on how to integrate a swimming pool into your landscape or exterior home project with our Hardscaping 101: Swimming Pools guide.