Bathing Beauty

When architect susan narduli was asked to design a pool house for a client in Mandeville Canyon, she wanted something both beautiful and functional. Turning to ancient Roman bathhouses for inspiration, she designed a minimalist 30-by-12-foot structure with three small rooms: a sauna, a bath and a combination meditation room and playroom.

"It's all about natural materials," says Narduli, of the Venice-based firm Narduli/Grinstein. She chose the pale green, mica-flecked sandstone that faces the building for its color and texture. She selected teak for the doors that open onto the pool and terraces. The boomerang-shaped pool was resurfaced in darker-pigmented concrete and Bouquet Canyon stone was used to pave the terraces. Tucked into the hillside, the pool house is not only an intimate gathering place for the owner and friends, it's an integral part of the landscape. A narrow stone stairway wraps around the outside of the building and climbs to a rooftop terrace that affords a lofty view of the pool and backyard. The stairs also lead to an aromatic garden designed by Pamela Burton, who planted rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, Pride of Madeira and acacia.

Although a dramatic site, the steep, shady slope posed a problem for the architect. "Because we had to carve into the earth," she says, "I needed to find a way to bring in natural light." The solution came with a childhood memory of the glass tiles set into New York City sidewalks to allow light into subterranean areas. "We researched until we found the company that still makes them," she says. Cast into the concrete ceiling of the sitting room in a mandala pattern, the glass cylinders funnel sunlight in shimmering circles onto the pool house floor. At night, recessed lighting in the meditation room sends beams of light up through the cylinders, illuminating the roof terrace.

What pleases Narduli most about the finished pool house is what she calls the "ethereal" quality of the building. "In sunlight, the sandstone becomes iridescent and almost formless," she says. "At dusk, its reflection in the dark pool melds with the water and landscape--it's a very heavy building, but when the light hits it, it almost seems to vanish."

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