Skinny Dip

Skinny Dip

By Aaron Britt
An elegant new pool house keeps competitive swimmer Sydne Didier in top form, and out of the Connecticut River.

Though a placid morning swim spent gliding weightlessly, slowly perfecting the overhand crawl, is enough to steam any aquaphile’s goggles, it’s the prospect of the eight miles of choppy open water in Lake Champlain that gets competitive swimmer and triathlete Sydne Didier’s heart rate up. Preparation for that swim, and countless others, is critical, but as Didier sought a place to train, she found her surroundings in the often wintry college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, lacking. "There isn’t much access to pools around here," she says. "Plus, well, it’s New England."

Competitive swimmer Sydne Didier commissioned Austin Design Inc. to create a 102-foot-long pool house in a freestanding structure behind her Amherst, Massachusetts, house.

Having bought a cramped farmhouse "with lots of doors" on a plot of land just yards from Amherst College, Didier—–who runs a design shop in nearby Northampton—–and her husband set about building a pool house. The initial idea was to make the second structure a workout room, guest room, and pool combo, but budgetary constraints soon forced the couple to pare down their plans. The guest room went; the pool stayed. "People would come over and say, ‘Oh, you’re building a pool… Haven’t you seen your kitchen?’ We went more with our passion than with our practical side."

Though a stylistic break from the white-sided New England farmhouses that dot the forests and pastures of Western Massachusetts, the pool house’s simple, rustic exterior is a modern descendant of the local vernacular. With the area under snow for a quarter of the year, it also prevents Didier from having to join the local Polar Bear Club.

Rachael Chase of Austin Design Inc., based in Colrain, Massachusetts, was charged with designing an enclosure for a lap pool where it would otherwise remain frozen for three months of the year. The 102-foot-long pool house encases the 75-by-8-foot pool, though just barely. Clerestory windows let in ample natural light, and several pairs of glass doors open wide to the outside world. "It actually feels more like a pavilion," she says.

Sliding glass doors open to reveal the interior of the pool house, which boasts a line of clerestory windows just below the roof.

Chase, who has a background in sculpture and interior design, says of her first architectural project, "It was pretty easy to think outside the box because I hadn’t really been in it." The wood-clad structure, whose boldest architectural move is its sharp swooping roof, integrates nicely with the green surroundings. "The butterfly concept came up as a way to mimic the arms of the swimmer as she cuts through the water," Chase says. "It gives the building this feeling of lifting, of opening up."

The lap pool has come to be a social hub for the couple’s kids and their friends. And despite some initial raised eyebrows from the neighbors, Didier reports that "it’s helped integrate the property. Before, we were just a little farmhouse in the grass."  As for her training, Didier is out nearly every morning swimming laps. "When all the doors are open, you feel like you’re swimming outside, though without the sun beating down on your back," she says. This pleases her family, and her dermatologist, and if nothing else, the pool house keeps its busy mother and wife at home just a little bit longer each day.


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