A Chatham Architect Designs a Prize-Winning Poolhouse
By day, it appears to be a cluster of nicely maintained farm buildings, just as the Chatham architect James Dixon intended. This is but one of the aspects of this poolhouse project that impressed the jury at the Eastern New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which, on February 22 of this year, granted it a Design Excellence Award—one of just three to be presented in 2010.
Photographs by John Kane
Dixon’s firm designed the adjacent garden sheds in conjunction with the Litchfield county landscape architect Dirk W. Sabin, who oversaw the pool design and developed a master plan for the 200-acre Litchfield County estate. A stone fireplace and pergola provide a windscreen and a shaded sitting area at one end of the pool. During the day, the structure captures daylight from every direction; it is only at night that the plan of Kent, CT lighting designer Matthew Preston kicks in. Outside, his choices are suitably barn-like. Indoors, he specified dim-able overhead halogen fixtures that resemble old-fashioned streetlamps and used concealed beam lights to highlight the upper portion of the frame. According to Dixon, the owners also use lots of candles at night.
Inside, an exposed, custom-designed timber frame, fashioned from reclaimed beams, reinforces the farm vernacular in an otherwise surprisingly streamlined, modern pavilion, open to light, air and views, a design the AIA jury cited for its “lovely clarity of form.” The steel-and-glass doors, some as tall as sixteen feet, were handmade by the Kent, CT fabricator Peter Kirkiles.
The focal point of the kitchen—what Dixon calls “the millwork cube”—is one side of a box containing all of the water and electricity required for the kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and water heater. On the kitchen side, the cube is faced with patinated stainless steel, the same material Dixon specified for the minimalist island counter. “We wanted it to have an industrial feel, not too shiney,” he says. The floor is polished concrete, stained a warm gray. Like all of the surfaces in the structure, it is utilitarian (water-dog-and-kid-proof) yet beautiful.
Instead of protruding in its own separate shed, as is usual, the screened porch shares a roof with the rest of the structure. When the doors between the porch and the interior are open, the entire house becomes, in effect, screened.
In season, the barn doors on each side are usually left open and, during the day, the inner folding glass-and-steel doors are, as well. At night, of course, the latter must be closed to ward off insects. “The magic of these doors is that each panel opens like a casement and has its own screen,” Dixon says. “Even once they are closed for the evening, you can still capture the breezes.” Of Peter Kirkiles, who designed and made the doors, Dixon says, “He’s a genius.”
“I designed the frame and a Canadian company that specializes in this sort of thing made it to measure out of reclaimed timber beams,” Dixon says. It is virtually the only part of the house that was not done by local designers or craftsmen. “They assembled the whole thing up in Canada, took it apart, put it on a truck, then reassembled it on site.”