The pool house mixes natural and manufactured materials for an eclectic contemporary look (top left). The pool house and the main house form a compound centered around the swimming pool (top right). Sliding cedar panels close off the lower level when the house is not in use.concrete floors and streamlined, easy-to-maintain furniture were a necessity for the ground floor (bottom left). The bunkroom looks out over surrounding woods, giving guests a peaceful view (bottom right).

The goal of a vacation house is to provide an escape from everyday hustle and bustle. But sometimes, when company arrives en masse, you need an escape from the escape.

Cedar paneling along the staircase wall adds a natural warmth to the space.

Such was the case for Daniel and Allison Baskes. To more comfortably accommodate guests at their vacation home in Sawyer, Michigan, they built a pool house, a place for daytime get-togethers that would also give them—and their overnight visitors—some privacy.

“We wanted it to be a place for our family and friends to use as a retreat and feel like they were really getting away from it all,” Allison says.

Despite the pastoral setting, the design-minded Baskeses weren’t looking for a rustic vibe. “We wanted a contemporary, clean structure that would take advantage of the landscape,” says Allison. They turned to Peter Nicholas of Nicholas Clark Architects, who had worked with them on their home in Chicago. “They’ve become more adventuresome over time,” he says of the couple’s taste in architecture; the pool house’s modern aesthetic represents the evolution of their style.

For the exterior, Nicholas was inspired by the idea of a deconstructed barn, with each area delineated by different materials. Corrugated metal on the upper level provides an urban, industrial contrast to wood siding on the ground floor. Sliding cedar panels can be pulled across to protect the building in the off-season and then pushed aside when the family is in residence. “We wanted to bring in as much natural light as possible,” says Allison. “In the family room, with that wall of windows, you feel like you’re sitting outside.”

A bank of windows floods the upstairs with natural light.

While the lower level is oriented toward the pool, the upstairs bunkroom was designed to draw attention in the opposite direction, toward the woods. A screened-in porch is a tranquil place to take in the views.

Although the Baskeses wanted the pool house to have a stylish look, practicality was key. (What’s the point of a pool house where you can’t relax?) Concrete floors on the ground level mean no worries about wet feet. Allison, who has done design work for private clients, took charge of the interiors, choosing unfussy, easy-to-maintain furniture, mostly from CB2, Ikea, and West Elm. “It’s a very family-friendly building,” she says. “We wanted to keep everything easy and affordable.” The result is a house that looks and feels effortless.

Befitting the unspoiled natural setting, environmental awareness was a consideration throughout the design process. The building is heated and cooled using geo­-thermal energy (which takes advantage of the earth’s constant underground temperature), and recycled materials were used wherever possible, including for the wood floor upstairs. An old metal cabinet was repurposed as a kitchen sink.

Allison says her family’s woodland retreat fulfills the vacation house promise, acting as a tonic to daily stresses. “As soon as we get to the house, a calm comes over us,” she says. “We love that it’s so peaceful.”

Nicholas, the architect, is particularly proud of the way the pool house works as part of a larger whole. “There’s a compound aspect I really like,” he says of the property. “You wander from one building to the other to the pool. It’s a wonderful gathering space.” He speaks from experience, having been a guest in the pool house he designed—an appropriate reward for a job well done.

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Photography: Linda Oyama Bryan


Buy Guide

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Architect: Peter Nicholas, Nicholas Clark Architects, 509 N. Wolcott Ave., 312-243-7799. Project designer: Jacob Wahler, Nicholas Clark Architects. Deck: Lounge chairs, West Elm, 1000 W. North Ave., 312-867-1770, White table, Ikea, Family room: Couches, CB2, 800 W. North Ave., 312-787-8329, Overhead light, Random Light, Bertjan Pot for Moooi, Design Within Reach, 10 E. Ohio St., 312-280-4677,