Outdoor room with a view

By Karen Long | Pool photo: Michael Bankston Photography, pool house photo: Guthridge/Nighswonger

Nothing says summer like the tropical blue-green water of a swimming pool throwing off shimmering waves of reflected sunlight. A pool is still the sapphire crown jewel of a backyard oasis  but it's evolved into much more than the rectangular slab of concrete you might have tossed your beach towel on as a kid.

Where would you like an extended deck? Where can we put some amenities? These are the first questions Breck Barnhart, landscape architect with Green Meadows Lawn and Landscaping, asks customers when he begins designing their pools. Barnhart says it's common these days to have concrete surrounding only three sides of the pool, with the remaining circumference framed by a sheer, glasslike waterfall, or a cascade of waterfalls tinkling through rough-hewn stone.

Green Meadows is a landscaping and design-build contractor, and also installs hardscape  which means much more than just pouring concrete: Barnhart often includes a ribbon of brick or stone or pavers, just to soften the deck edge. He's also designed a few with travertine. We might be one of the only companies in Wichita that has done that, he says.

Automation is spreading to the backyard in the form of automatic pool covers, which are popular in our area to keep out wind-blown dirt and debris. Although this can limit the shape of your pool to the standard rectangle, last year Barnhart designed a kidney-shaped pool and included an automated pool cover over the track or on the deck surface.

However, more and more people are opting for an encapsulated pool cover, which slides under the pool coping.

The outdoor room

People are trying to incorporate even a little bit of living space in the pool houses for outdoor entertainment, says Rich Nighswonger of general contractor Guthridge/Nighswonger. They're almost like a multi- purpose room for entertaining or parties.

He describes a recent pool house his company constructed, complete with faux-distressed barn doors that slide open for that outdoors feel in the first balmy breezes of spring. The pool house also boasts a fireplace that makes it a real cozy place in the chillier months. That fire place does heat the room up too, when you close the doors and windows, says Nighswonger.

Other amenities include a kitchen with a high-end rolling barbecue grill, a hearth of Silverdale stone and a vaulted ceiling of tongue and groove railroad car siding.

Pulling it all together

That pool house will need to make sense with the rest of the pool area, so it will need to be connected in some fashion, says Cathy Pechin, co- owner of Dreamscapes Outdoor Living Specialists. We try to make sure there are plantings that add interest and texture and color even in the winter months.

People like accent lighting and lighting at night, she adds. Dreamscapes installs lighting fashioned from slabs of natural boulders, with notches drilled out and inset with what appears to be stacked decks of rustic green glass for a uniquely casual look.

A striking way to add the element of light is with combined fire and water features that have fire on top and a lighted water spillway that comes below.

Combining both landscaping and licensed contracting, Dreamscapes is uniquely positioned to help people visualize the overall effect. We encourage the [landscape] design because it's like a road map, says Pechin. It's also important to produce a design that's pleasing with the house and the existing surroundings.

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