Hillside Harmony

Text by Erin MarvinPhotography by Westphalen Photography

Picturesque northern Vermont boasts a vast, undulating landscape bedecked in vibrant shades of green, orange and red that wax and wane with the changing seasons. It has served not only as a favored getaway for New Englanders, but as a muse for the countless generations of artists who have called these hills and valleys home.

Two such Vermont-based creative types—architect Michael Minadeo of Essex Junction and landscape architect Keith Wagner of Burlington—recently found inspiration here in the shadow of Stowe Mountain. They didn’t wield paintbrushes to reconstruct the area’s natural beauty on canvas. Rather, they carefully shaped organic materials—flowers, wood, ornamental grasses and copper—to create a manmade structure that both reflects and enhances the landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

Like any artistic commission, this one begins with a client’s request: Wagner was working with homeowners on a master landscape plan for their summer home in Stowe when they mentioned wanting a new pool and adjacent pool house. Wagner did site surveys of their open, woodsy lot to determine the best place for the addition and settled on a spot down a gradual slope from the main house, where a small, stagnant pond sat close to the driveway. Not only would the pool house replace the pond, but it would also act as a buffer to separate public and private spaces. “The idea is that the pool house would sort of turn its back on the driveway and then be transparent to the pool,” says Wagner

To complete the picture, Wagner brought in architect Michael Minadeo, who lent his talents to the design of the pool house. The clients, a cosmopolitan couple with a keen eye for art, had certain expectations. They wanted an outdoor entertaining space that could be used for informal gatherings and outdoor dinner parties as well as for relaxing by the pool. They also wanted the new structure to be more contemporary than their timber-frame main house. As long as those needs were met, they granted Minadeo creative license to do what he felt was appropriate.

“My approach was to create a structure that would reflect a contemporary interpretation of the timber-frame main house,” says Minadeo. “I took clues from the main house—the components the owners liked and admired—and interpreted it in a modern way for the pool house, using a similar palette.”

Minadeo designed the pool house as a long, low structure comprising three components: an open trellis structure, an enclosed area and a semi-private outdoor shower. Mimicking the timber-frame structure of the main house, the 825-square-foot pool house is supported with Douglas fir columns and beams. A trellis, made of the same cedar that’s used as siding on the main house, brings a geometrical element to the structure, offering a shaded area for outdoor dining (and plenty of space for a party). Minadeo also created a long cedar bench behind the table and along the back of the open trellis area, which helps define a porthole that allows visitors coming up the driveway a peek at the breathtaking vista beyond.

Subtle bluestone form the floor and pool coping. The homeowners wanted a fire pit until Minadeo showed them examples of how well an actual fireplace would anchor the trellis area. The fireplace is made of board-formed concrete with an interior firebox of natural brick. “I was trying to go with a simple palette and almost something that was minimalistic so the fireplace was a piece of sculpture with fire coming out of it,” says Minadeo.

Bits of copper used on the main house’s roof are reflected in the copper cladding of the enclosed area—what Minadeo refers to as “the copper box.” Acting as a lounging area during the day and a guestroom at night, the copper box houses a sitting room/guest bedroom (the couch unfolds for sleeping), a kitchenette and a shower and changing room. It is its own cozy contemporary bungalow that guests enjoy staying in as much as the main house.

Minadeo also chose copper as a nod to the ever-changing colors of the landscape of which the pool house is now a part. “Copper is an organic material that changes with the weather and time, it’s constantly evolving,” he says. “The patina is happening over time so every year it looks a little different. We were really trying to make the structure feel as though it were part of the landscape.”

Inside, Minadeo designed wood cabinets and backsplash that he painted black in contrast to the cedar ceiling and bluestone floors. It showcases a work of art by Wagner who, along with being a renowned landscape architect, is also a talented painter and metal sculptor.

The long, linear component of the pool house structure is repeated in a stone path that connects the main house to the pool house and then a small vegetable garden below. “The walk comes down from the main house and organizes along the front of the pool house and is axially lined up, and that leads down another seventy yards to a vegetable garden,” says Wagner. “So the walkway from the house to the pool house to the garden is like a thread that links all three episodes.”

“Keith had a great sense of how all the materials should work out and, using precise geometry, relate to the pool house and pool. Everything comes together in a real harmonious way,” says Minadeo

Wagner went through multiple studies of the pool—even considering a water feature at one point—before settling on a simple reflecting pool to best complement the pool house and surrounding landscape. Similar to the landscaping at the main house, layers of perennials and native plants screen the pool area. “Primarily, the big, bold gestures around the pool are ornamental grasses that act as sculptural elements that blow in the breeze and reflect in the pool,” says Wagner. “They become kinetic sculptures.”

This is fine art at its most functional. The homeowners and their guests use the pool house for three seasons; even when the summer months have passed and it’s no longer warm enough to swim in the sparkling blue pool, guests still come to bask in the warmth of the fireplace and be surrounded by the vivid fall foliage on exhibit as they dine under the stars.

And though many artists never get the recognition they deserve, this particular masterpiece was honored by the Vermont Chapter of the American Institute of Architects with a 2009 Honor Award.

It’s art appreciation at its best.

Architecture: Michael Minadeo
Landscape Architecture: H. Keith Wagner

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