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Adding a poolside cabana

The only thing nicer than having a backyard pool on a warm, summer night is a cozy cabana with a fireplace and wet bar for relaxing after a dip in the pool.

That's exactly what Jacksonville residents Mike and Christina Johnson opted to build. A small poolside cabana built by Mike, a builder, offers shade on a sunny day, a toasty fireplace for evenings and, done in Craftsman-style tongue-and-groove, an attractive hideaway to tie the main home and pool area together with style.

"It's not a big cabana, just a little shaded area next to the pool, but it's a nice kick-back place," says Mike.

"We had just built this huge pool deck, about 3,000 square feet, and we needed a big fireplace and a place for shade and a sink and wet bar. Plus, our cabana lets us entertain family and friends here instead of at the main house. It really tied the main area and the backyard together, too."

While it's hard to imagine a downside to a backyard pool on a sunny afternoon, wet towels and poolside clutter can wreak havoc on the interior of a home and on a homeowner's nerves.

Big or small, a pool house provides the perfect staging area for a dip in the pool; a place to change wet clothes, stash pool supplies, mix cold drinks or grab a warm shower. What's more, a pool house can serve double duty as a pump house, a private guest or exercise room or an outdoor kitchen for a poolside barbecue.

"A pool house gives you a place to have a little shower and bathroom," says Country Class Pools and Spas designer Arthur Guevara. "And anything else you can think of for that matter."

Cabanas can be as simple as a small prefabricated structure — open-air or closed — or as involved as a built-from-scratch custom structure to complement surrounding structures.

Most often, pool house construction is ideal during pool construction. Some pool contractors, in fact, are licensed for some or all phases of basic construction.

Homeowners with existing swimming pools and a large patio have a ready foundation for a cabana. Those without a concrete slab can easily pour one, but setback requirements and permitting varies from one municipality to another.

For an actual structure, cabana kits are available through a host of manufacturers like Summerwood (summerwood.com) and Cabana Village (cabanavillage.com).

Kits come in a range of sizes, styles and levels of prefabrication. Do-it-yourself kits can be as basic as a supply of precut studs, siding, rafters, joists and nails or as prefabricated as four or more walls that hinge together.

Most manufacturers offer a host of styles to choose from, from an elegant carriage house look to a tropical hut with large windows. Choose from various types of roofing and siding. Prefabricated setups offer cost savings over build-from-scratch methods. For example, a 12 by14-foot unit costs about $9,000 including delivery with added costs for permits, foundation work (if necessary) and plumbing and electrical accommodations.

Hiring a contractor to build a cabana from scratch can cost twice as much or more, says Guevara, but offers a chance for customization. When building, utilize leftover siding or shingles from the main residence, match colors and plan a layout not available in a catalog.

Size-wise, cabanas can be as small as a 4 by 4-foot shower stall with changing area, to a 40 by 80-foot guesthouse. Construction contractor Tim Hubbard says, aside from constructing a regular structure, a pool house would need only a special area for pump house equipment, sloped floors and drains and water-friendly flooring — such as concrete or tile — and moisture-resistant furniture.

For privacy considerations, tempered glass allows light in while avoiding blinds or curtains. A sunroof can add more light. An important note when constructing a cabana is to include all the amenities now rather than trying to figure out how to add them later.

"As long as you're going to go to that much trouble, you'll want to include everything you could wind up wanting," he says. Possible amenities range from bathroom areas and a wet bar to an exercise or entertainment room with surround sound.

"And as far as design goes, it's unlimited, like building a house," says Hubbard. "You can pick the siding, your interior, everything totally unique to what you want."

Adding a poolside cabana