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  • Stephen Crafti

Lap of Luxury

With a hot summer forecasted, architects are taking a deep dive into pool design. The most inventive offer not just a spot to cool off, but a sense of escape — and even discovery. By Stephen Crafti

Balgowlah Heights home designed by B.E Architecture, the pool complements the view over Reef Bay framed by 80-year-old Norfolk Island pines. Photography by Martina Gemmola.

What better way to take the sting out of the summer air than a dip in a swimming pool? Those with their own backyard pools or access to those of family and friends will relish the opportunity to spend time in the water or enjoy lunch poolside. Outdoor dining settings, built-in barbecues and covered terraces and cabanas, framed by lush gardens, set the scene for a relaxing Christmas and new year at home. Such decked-out alfresco spaces also provide a picturesque outlook from kitchen and living areas, often seamlessly connected to indoor spaces by large sliding glass doors. 


A focus on the outdoors formed an important part of the brief to B.E Architecture when the firm was approached to design a new six-level home in Balgowlah Heights on Sydney’s northern beaches. The site was extremely steep — about 45 degrees, jokingly referred to as a “goat’s trail” down to the harbour — and required a lengthy planning process.


Balgowlah Heights home designed by B.E Architecture, the pool complements the view over Reef Bay framed by 80-year-old Norfolk Island pines. Photography by Martina Gemmola.

To overcome the challenges of the site, project architects Andrew Piva and Tim Carrington cut a vertical slice at the front of the block, against which the house sits. A horizontal cut at the bottom allowed for the creation of an expansive elevated garden with a swimming pool and cabana. For the pool, the architects looked for a recessive solution that wouldn’t dominate the surrounding garden, designed by landscape architect Myles Baldwin. “We wanted the views [across Reef Bay] to provide the hero shot,” says B.E Architecture director Broderick Ely, whose practice is known for pared-back yet sumptuously appointed homes. “When it comes to designing swimming pools, there needs to be a sense of balance and proportion rather than creating something that comes with an exclamation mark,” he adds.


The result was a simple rectangular 5-by-10-metre pool paired with a generous outdoor terrace that allows for outdoor dining serviced by a cabana with a kitchen — a major part of the pull to the outdoors, says Ely. To keep the lines of the pool simple, the architects ensured the attached spa sits below, rather than above, the waterline. “We didn’t want to disrupt the broader outlook [or] take away from the lush tropical garden,” says Ely, pointing out the pearlescent pool tiles that give a soft look and the verdant green roof of the cabana created by Baldwin.


The architect Luigi Rosselli is also known for a thoughtful approach, creating more with less, whether within a home or outside it. For a large four-level Victorian house in Paddington, Sydney, Rosselli designed two circular pools, one a spa and the other a swimming pool. Rosselli likens the finished pool area, which is set within a garden designed by William Dangar of Dangar Barin Smith, to a “watering hole discovered on a creek”. The outdoor area has been framed by a limestone terrace dotted with organic-shaped furniture and potted bamboo, and shaded from the brutal midday sun by a retractable striped awning.


At this inner-Sydney home, Luigi Rosselli Architects added a lush pool area evoking a “watering hole discovered on a creek”. Photography by Prue Ruscoe.

Rosselli was also keen to ensure the swimming pool didn’t “scream for attention” to those within the house, so he set the pool and spa a few steps below the terrace. Irregular-shaped stones meander towards the steel pool fence, which is partially buried within dense foliage.


At this inner-Sydney home, Luigi Rosselli Architects added a lush pool area evoking a “watering hole discovered on a creek”. Photography by Prue Ruscoe.

“There’s something quite lovely about discovering things in a back garden and creating outdoor spaces that feel quite contained,” says Rosselli, who outfitted the terrace with a built-in barbecue and outdoor kitchen bench. The home has distant harbour views, and the architects designed the whole area to encourage lingering. “I’ve never liked the idea of filling an entire back garden with a swimming pool,” says Rosselli. “It should always feel integral to a garden, rather than overpower it.”


While Sydney basks in long hot summers, Melbourne also gets a number of scorchers, with temperatures sometimes climbing well into the forties. As part of the large-scale renovation of a Victorian house in the city’s Kew neighbourhood, Inarc Architects added a swimming pool and cabana, the latter replete with heaters for the occasional chillier summer evenings.


The house is located on a prominent corner site, so the architects set the swimming pool behind the property’s large established cypress hedge for privacy. Inarc was equally resourceful with the building it inherited. “We used part of the former 1990s addition to create the cabana,” says director Reno Rizzo. 


Across the pool from the cabana is the outdoor dining area with its built-in barbecue, perfect for lazy summer lunches or evening gatherings. A large market umbrella shields diners from the afternoon heat. To ensure an unobstructed view out from the kitchen and living areas that form part of a new contemporary wing, Inarc installed a seamless glass pool fence. “Initially there was a large palm tree by the pool but it was breaking up the outdoor spaces, hence we moved it five metres closer to the house,” says Rizzo.


A view across the terrace to the pool and outdoor dining area at Wyoming, a Victorian home in Kew, Melbourne, reimagined as an entertainers’ fantasy by Inarc Architects. Photography by Peter Clarke.

As with the other architects mentioned above, Rizzo worked closely with a landscape architect, in this case Robert Boyle. This included selecting the right granite for the pool surround. “It’s a reasonably light granite, so it doesn’t reflect the heat, but it’s also dark enough not to show any stains,” says Rizzo.


While it may be tempting over the summer break to board a plane bound for a remote resort, with gardens like these offering a genuine escape just outside the back door, the question becomes: why would you? 



This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our tenth edition, Page 110 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Lap of Luxury”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  

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