Gathering Places — A new level for outdoor entertaining

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Custom Home Outdoors • December 2006

By Stephani L. Miller

The client’s wish for this sloping property in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., was simple: a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home with harmonizing outdoor spaces where he could entertain easily. But there was one complicating factor: an existing coffin-shaped pool that, for budget reasons, had to stay. It was the pool’s location near the top of the site’s slope that posed the biggest challenge.

“Because we made the decision to keep the existing pool, we had to deal with it,” says project architect Lou DesRosiers. “We tried to imagine that we had designed the pool like that, and we created everything else off that idea.”

To camouflage the pool’s shape and give it more interest, landscape architect Jeffrey Hennig outlined it with a trench that he filled with dark, rounded river stones. Bunches of horsetail planted among the stones lend the pool an Asian-spa quality. The softened appearance that resulted was intentional, “but it was serendipity that it created such a striking effect next to the water,” Hennig admits.

DesRosiers created a stepped topography around the pool, siting the house above its south end and making it the natural centerpiece for the primary entertaining area. The terraced landscape forms gracious, natural transitions from the house to the pool and its environs. It’s just a few steps outside to the dining patio, and a few more steps to the spa on the upper terrace above the pool. From there, guests have easy access to the home’s back hallway where a powder room and laundry are located. Four more steps down on the pool level are a cabana, a fire pit and seating area, and a barbecue.

The home’s cedar plank siding, mahogany trim, and Fond du Lac stone exteriors are echoed in the cabana, tying together the pool terrace and the home. The cabana includes an outfitted bar that opens to the terrace, a kitchen, full bathroom, changing area, and a room for pool equipment.

The gas fire pit and seating area on the end of the terrace offers a warm spot to lounge and observe the rest of the deck. Because the gathering spaces are so open, guests can move freely between areas of the terrace without completely separating themselves from the rest of the group. “The whole idea was that the main house, the cabana, and the pool all work together as one unified space during parties. Everybody can do something different but still communicate, which is very important,” DesRosiers says.

But not all of the outdoor spaces are designed for big parties. The homeowner also wanted a cozy, private spot where he could relax and enjoy nature as late in the year as possible. Tucked below the cantilevered living room, a protected outdoor dining room creates an intimate space to watch the landscape’s seasonal changes. The room is partially enclosed by two walls and a stone-clad fireplace column. A cove ceiling and recessed lighting make it more refined than the average patio. Radiant gas heaters in the ceiling give off enough warmth to keep the space comfortable in all but Michigan’s coldest winter weather.

Project Credits: Builder: MacDonald Custom Building, Waterford, Mich.; Architect: DesRosiers Architects, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Landscape architect/contractor: Environmental Artists, Clarkson, Mich.; Photographer: George Dzahristos; Illustrator: Harry Whitver.