written by:
photos by:
January 4, 2011
Originally published in Rethink Recycling

In Santa Monica, California, where pools are plenty but not always eye-pleasing, Padraic Cassidy lifted one 30 inches off the ground­—dramatically elevating its aesthetic appeal.

Tiled pool with descending wood plank
The final, layered look of the pool and its surroundings—which mitigates a 30-inch drop from house to guesthouse—was completed in 2008.
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Modern green design pool house
Cassidy used the pool as an anchor for an overarching backyard master plan that pulled the parts together.
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Modern pool house in Santa Monica
Before the addition of the approximately 750-square-foot pool (and its 65-square-foot hot tub), the lot was a scramble of structures: the house in one corner and the guesthouse and the office each occupying another.
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Open space backyard with pool
Running alongside the home is a stretch of grass, the "obvious place" for the pool during initial planning. The client, however, opted to keep the space open as a miniature soccer field for her son.
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Modern pool house with seeded concrete walkway
A seeded concrete walkway leads from the rear driveway—the entrance used most often—and into the yard. To create the look, each river rock was hand-placed in the wet concrete.
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Modern pool house with rock garden
Across the path is the resident's favorite spot from which to take in the aquatic tableau: a rock garden and sitting area created by landscape designer Tory Polone. Chairs rest near the a hidden grade-level gas fire pit—an on-demand campfire.
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Modern pool house with seeded concrete walkway
The wall that wraps around the sunken pool was completed—like the seeded concrete pathway—with painstaking precision. The tiles were custom designed with Mission Tile West to hit a pea-green hue and sized specifically to top the narrow walls.
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Modern pool deck with epoxy lining
The deck off of the house acts like a dock sticking into a lake. Cassidy opted for a midnight-black earthquake-friendly epoxy lining. "It adds that little extra heat and emphasizes the lagoon feeling," he says.
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Modern pool house in Santa Monica
Once in the pool, however, it feels more like the ocean. As with a shelf, the bottom drops quickly from three feet to the nine-foot deep end. A set of three long, shallow steps sits above the middle depth like a sandbar at high tide, the top tread covered with just a few inches of water.
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Backyard view of modern pool house
The resulting effect is a backyard with a pool at the center that is as nice to look at as to be in.
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Tiled pool with descending wood plank
The final, layered look of the pool and its surroundings—which mitigates a 30-inch drop from house to guesthouse—was completed in 2008.

Fly into one of Southern California’s smaller airports—–Burbank, Ontario, or Long Beach—–and as the plane makes its final descent over densely packed enclaves you’ll notice impossible numbers of cobalt kidneys and cerulean quadrangles flecking the arid terrain. Though backyard pools are plentiful here, few live up to their initial promise—–dreams of spa-like splendor fade into the stench of neglected chlorine—–and ubiquity doesn’t necessarily translate to beauty. So rather than add yet another aqueous eyesore to an unassuming backyard in Santa Monica, architect Padraic Cassidy took a recent opportunity to make a seemingly simple pool the centerpiece of a larger backyard master plan.

Modern green design pool house
Cassidy used the pool as an anchor for an overarching backyard master plan that pulled the parts together.

The brief for the project was succinct: The client wanted a pool that was as big and as deep as possible. The property, however, proved problematic. The rectangular lot already housed a two-story wood-shingled home, a guesthouse, and a separate office structure. “The questions were: How close to the house could we put the pool, and how big could we make it without it feeling cramped?” says Cassidy, a Gehry Partners alumnus who launched his own eponymous firm in 1995. After casting away ideas of a lap pool along a long stretch of lawn, he divined a solution that, in hindsight, seems like the only viable option.

Modern pool house in Santa Monica
Before the addition of the approximately 750-square-foot pool (and its 65-square-foot hot tub), the lot was a scramble of structures: the house in one corner and the guesthouse and the office each occupying another.

From the rear driveway, the entrance used most often, a tall gate opens to a path of seeded concrete, and the yard unfolds in an elegant hierarchy. To the left, a narrow lane leads to the office; to the right, a walkway turns toward  the guesthouse. Straight ahead, the promenade ushers visitors to the main attraction: the large pool anchored at the edge of the home.

Open space backyard with pool
Running alongside the home is a stretch of grass, the "obvious place" for the pool during initial planning. The client, however, opted to keep the space open as a miniature soccer field for her son.

An ipe ramp climbs 30 inches from the path to the deck, which wraps around two sides of the pool. Inside, the water laps against the edges of the 29-by-31.5-foot rectangle, save for a corner notch and built-in hot tub. “The classic Neutra pools are very small, as little as 10- or 15-feet wide,” Cassidy says. “When making a pool with that as the reference, anything else is bigger.”

A solar-thermal system of black PVC pipes mounted on the roof heats the saline-treated pool—–with a bit of help from a midnight-black earthquake-friendly epoxy lining. “It adds that little extra heat and emphasizes the lagoon feeling,” Cassidy says. Looking out from just inside the back doors of the house, the sensation is heightened, the dark water rippling beyond the wooden “dock.”

Once in the pool, however, it feels a little more like the ocean. As with a shelf, the bottom drops quickly from three feet to the nine-foot deep end. A set of three long, shallow steps sits above the middle depth like a sandbar at high tide, the top tread covered with just a few inches of water. The two sides of the pool not edged by the deck stand as 8-inch-wide, 30-inch-tall tiled walls, which mitigate the grade change from the back of the home to the front of the guesthouse. Nearest the visitors’ quarters, the wall also acts to cordon off an outdoor foyer. “If the pool was on ground level, you’d open the guesthouse door and be forced to be part of what’s going on in the water,” Cassidy says. “Because the pool is at waist height, the wall creates a private space for the visitor.”

Across the path in the remaining yard, rocks and boulders flank a fire pit and outdoor lounge by landscape designer Tory Polone. The seats encircling the grade-level gas fire pit—–an on-demand campfire­—–have become the resident’s favorite spot from which to take in the tableau. And, there, across the lawn, at the center of it all, is the pool—–that rare sight that is as nice to look at as to be in.
 

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