Autumn trees standing watch, a house of clean lines, the distant
rhythm of the Potomac
Warm Ipe wood, cool bluestone, underwater glass that hides
THE MASTERPIECE: A curved vanishing edge imitates the river’s
shape, discipline, freedom, a bridge between industrial steel and
Sometimes the greatest innovations occur when visions
collide. That’s what happened when a Washington, D.C.-area
family asked one of the most celebrated contemporary architects in
the region for a natural pool.
They loved the sculptural home he had designed. It was an
assembly of clean lines, stucco, steel and gray-washed wood. But
when discussing the pool, they reverted back to traditional
“They wanted a natural pool with boulders. I thought that
was going to be a little too rustic for this house,” says
Mark McInturff of McInturff Architects in Bethesda, Md. “So I
tried to bridge the gap by making a pool that was sort of organic
in shape, but still answered the actual geometry of the
By combining the lines of the house with the mood of the site
— and packing in several fun features — McInturff
developed this masterpiece. It’s spare enough in line to make
it undeniably contemporary, yet has enough warmth to mingle with
its woodsy environs.
In a way,
the clients’ desire for nature made sense. The Potomac River
sits about a quarter-mile away, with a pond nestled in between.
“We saw the pool as the first of three bodies of
water,” McInturff says.
The pool needed to reach in two directions: toward the profuse,
natural scenery and then back to the contemporary home. To bridge
the gap, McInturff knew a reflecting pool was a must. Black plaster
would enhance the mirror effect of the water, and a 6-by-6-inch
flagstone tile line would retain the deep color and elegance of the
McInturff designed one pool wall in a curved shape to mimic the
arcs of the home’s Great Room, which acts as a combination
kitchen/dining/family area. He wanted the pool to wrap around much
of the back façade, so it could be seen from most rooms in the
home. However, he didn’t want a structural behemoth to
support on the sloped slot. To reconcile these conflicting
objectives, he made the main pool a manageable width and extended
narrow legs on either side of it to run close to the
The side walls of the main pool also were dictated by the Great
Room, which surrounds a circular light well. Steel beams on the
ceiling radiate from the light well toward the back. McInturff
extended two of the lines to the back of the property to establish
the pool’s side walls. Now the vessel had a fan shape to
properly frame the panoramic view.
To integrate the pool with the natural view, McInturff used its
outer-most wall, which has a vanishing edge. He loosened up the
lines, giving the pool a free-form, serpentine edge for an
impressionistic panorama of the riverbed beyond.
“It’s almost like ripples in a pond,”
McInturff says. “It loosens up and becomes a more free-form
kind of shape.”
He had the pebble-in-a-pond analogy in mind from the beginning.
“It’s almost like we dropped a stone in a pond at that
circle and all the ripples gave us the Great Room and the pool edge
as they went out,” McInturff says.
The heart of the matter
With the form established, he could focus on what the clients wanted to
experience, namely, fun. “I wanted to have a bridge that you
could swim under,” he says. “It’s like taking a
gondola ride on the canals of Venice and looking up at all the
bridges overhead as you go under them.”
The bridge enabled McInturff to incorporate two primary
materials from the home exterior (steel railing and wood paneling)
into the hardscape. He chose Ipe (pronounced e-pay) wood for its
elegance and durability. People can dive off the bridge or swim
under it via one of the pool’s narrow legs.
Opposite this whimsical feature is the center of relaxation, a
spa at the end of the other “leg.” A glass wall cordons
off the warm water from the cold. That way, the homeowners have a
separate body of water while still retaining the pool’s
Construction went smoothly for Lewis Aquatech Pool &
Supply, a Chantilly, Va., firm tackling some of the most upscale
projects in Washington, D.C. Vice President Don Gwiz is almost
nonchalant about it, except for one detail. “We’ve
probably built 40 negative edges, but this is the first [one] we
did that has a serpentine wall,” he says.
Creating curved forms with the rigid 3/4-inch plywood was a
challenge. He and his crews maneuvered the curves with
narrower-than-normal sections of wood, which measured about 2 to 3
Installing the glass wall that partitions the spa was a unique
experience, too. Lewis Aquatech had only done it one other time. To
prepare the shell for the glass, crews notched it and then placed
marine-grade fiberglass channels in the impressions. “It was
almost like a jam for a door,” Gwiz says. The glass slipped
into the strip, recessed about 1 inch into the
Then they used a marine-grade underwater caulk from the boating
industry to seal the joints from the pool and spa sides. The caulk
had some elasticity, so it allowed movement during freeze/thaw
cycles. “We couldn’t just cement it in,” Gwiz
says. “Otherwise, as the freeze/thaw cycle came and hot water
from the spa hit it, any slight movement would crack the cement,
which would make the spa drain into the
When the project was completed, it exceeded expectations.
“The pool isn’t just giving you a recreational
experience,” Gwiz notes. “It’s giving the
homeowners all kinds of aesthetic pleasure.”
Mark McInturff, founder, McInturff Architects, Bethesda, Md.
- Specialty: Contemporary architecture.
- Inspiration:Other architects, travel and clients’
- Favorite materials: It depends on the site, but generally
dark plasters for their reflectivity and serenity.
Don Gwiz, vice president, Lewis Aquatech Pool And Supply, Chantilly, Va.
- Specialty: Collaborating with architects and landscape
architects to create entire sites.
- Inspiration:Technically difficult and innovative projects,
and other architectural professionals.
- Favorite materials: Natural stone, especially granite and