A look into three glamorous L.A. backyard retreats

Few structures are as iconic as the Hollywood swimming pool. A symbol of glamour, luxury, and the good life, the pool and its attendant poolhouse came fully to life concurrent with the birth of the star system and the subsequent glitter of 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood. In modern-day California, the poolhouse has survived with its allure and status fully intact, an enduring emblem of fine living. It is an appendage beyond the main house to be used as a complementary environment for entertaining and high-profile mingling or, increasingly, as a place of tranquil repose for the owners. Regardless of how it is used, what has not changed over time is the desire for a fantasy beyond the home that lends an escapist air to any proceedings—as well as offering one of the most rewarding views of a swimming pool sparkling in the enviably radiant California sunshine.At the end of a long expanse of neatly groomed lawn edged in dramatic native grasses rests a sleek pool and pavilion.“We designed it as an object within the landscape,” says Brian Tichenor, partner in the Los Angeles—based husband-and-wife architectural team of Tichenor & Thorp, speaking of the thoroughly modern poolhouse/guesthouse he created for actress Elizabeth Oreck and her partner, television and film producer Gavin Polone. Located high on a hill in the Trousdale Estates section of Beverly Hills, the pavilion is a tranquil celebration of its natural surroundings.

Strategically positioned on a long, narrow spine of land that drops off dramatically on either side, the site had its challenges. To address them, Tichenor’s “big idea” was “to establish the severe lineal elements of the swimming pool and poolhouse, then blur the edge of the hill with plants like wild grasses in order to lead the eye to the treescape and vistas beyond,” a sweep that encompasses the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Santa Monica Mountains on a the other. “The whole poolhouse concentrates on these views,” he says.

From the outset, Oreck and Polone wanted a large guesthouse that would also serve as a spacious poolside entertaining spot. But as is the case with many Hollywood poolhouses, the anticipated flurry of overnight guests and avid swimmers has not materialized. Instead, the remoteness of this elegant environment from the busyness of the main house provides an easy escape for Oreck, who uses it as a personal retreat. “It gives me a chance to go someplace else to relax or read a book,” she says. “It’s a peaceful place away from our houseful of dogs and other distractions.”

To accommodate her hypothetical guests, Oreck organized the 1,100-square-foot, loftlike space by defining separate areas with furniture groupings, creating distinct dining, living and sleeping areas within the open plan. A full kitchen and spacious bath (replete with spalike amenities still waiting to pamper a lucky guest) are obscured behind one interior wall. A king-size Tempur-Pedic mattress drops down from behind one of two sets of tall, recessed closet doors. The interior’s wood walls are stained the color of driftwood and the concrete floors wear a compatible soft gray. The house is generously endowed with boldly mullioned windows that take in the views and flood the space with ever-changing architectural patterns of light and shadow.

“Our objective was to keep it modern and clean,” explains Oreck. “We didn’t want the house to be overwhelmed by furnishings or to have the interior detract from the outdoors, the grasses, the deep blue of the pool or from the spacious views just outside the windows. “The decor strikes a modern tone. A pair of extra-long, George Nelson style custom sofas by Modernica in Los Angeles are comfortably positioned near the fireplace and upholstered with Ultrasuede, a fabric that she admits works “only because the house is the sole dog-free zone on the two-acre property.” The dining table by Shelter, also in Los Angeles, has extra–wide proportions to accommodate the scale of the area.

Furthering the structure’s connection with the landscape, its exterior plaster is stained a sepia tone that complements the mood and color of the plants, many of which have an undercurrent of orange in their foliage. The pool is painted a dark blue with a hint of brown, a mix that, Tichenor says, lends it “a natural but formal tone.” This crisp composure gradually gives way to increasingly random and natural plantings and edges in a design gesture that is suitably harmonious with the project’s enticingly sleek yet restful air.