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For an architect, sometimes the smallest project can present the biggest design challenge. This was the case for Chris Brown, principal of b Architecture Studio, when clients on the North Shore approached him and project architect Kurt Stavdal to transform a detached two-car garage on their property into a hospitable pool house—one offering much more than just a place to change in and out of a bathing suit.

“They wanted a separate, comfortable place for their adult children to stay when visiting,” explains Brown of the homeowners, Kevin and Dee McCurry. “Our plan was to completely transform the under-utilized garage and the outdoor space, which was essentially a blank slate.” 

Steps down from the small farmhouse and an artist’s studio, the transformed backyard offers four different living spaces within a confined area.

One garage bay was kept, mainly for storage. The remaining 285-square-foot space was cleverly reimagined within the structure’s original footprint, and the formerly standard-issue backyard on the double lot was revamped into an oasis comprising a 12-foot by 20-foot pool and a patio replete with a pergola and a fire pit. Huge granite boulders forming a natural-looking wall nod to the origins of the town, Rockport.

Even though there are essentially four outdoor spaces the family can enjoy, a feeling of intimacy prevails. “We wanted the scale to be modest and reasonable, not overwhelming,” says Kevin McCurry, explaining that it was important to him and Dee that the newly renovated structure and landscape mesh aesthetically with their small mid-19th-century farmhouse. 

Brown, who is a master at using every square inch in projects with tight, typically New England constraints, credits the McCurrys, soon to be empty-nesters, for having a clear vision for the future—the intention to maintain their property as a place for family to enjoy for years to come. 

The new pool house has a cozy living area, a full bathroom, and a stunning kitchenette. No shortcuts were taken on design and material decisions. “The fun part for us,” says Brown, “is that we designed all the spaces inside as if they were for a full home project, with attention to detail, craft, finishes, and finish selections.” 

Collaborating with Premier Builders was strategic as the contractor is known for its cabinet-making prowess. Brown and Premier designed a queen-size Murphy bed that folds out directly over a custom sofa without needing to move it. Even the main sofa cushion stays put. Built into this wall, there is upper storage for occasional-use and seasonal paraphernalia, while below and beside the sofa there are cupboards and drawers for more frequently used items. 

“When you’re dealing with a confined space, the placement of everything is a big deal,” says Brown. 

Among other conveniences, the kitchenette has a beverage fridge and a dishwasher, so that the clients don’t have to run up to the main house to retrieve items they need. Premier Builders milled the kitchen shelves from a beam that was no longer needed in the garage, wood that was also used behind the Murphy bed and to back shelves on that wall. Wide-plank ceramic tile flooring throughout looks great and is also durable, holding up to foot traffic to and from the pool.

The bathroom, with its subway tile and beadboard, has an upscale residential feel, too. “The walk-in shower’s glass doors and glass partition are details you’d find in a lot of the full homes we design,” notes Brown, adding that the wall-mounted rain shower head and black hardware finish are also touches you would see in a primary suite bathroom. “The client didn’t want it to feel any different [from a nicely appointed home].”  

Outside, the gunite pool and patio, of high-quality concrete pavers that mimic bluestone, extend the eating and living space, while the pergola connects the pool house to the outdoors. “The clients wanted to have both the use of the pergola and the purlins to create shade,” says Brown. “[These features] also help define the area for the dining table, a place where lighting options and candles can be played with to make it a fun place to hang out in the evening.”

Relinquishing the two-car garage was a small price to pay for what the family got in exchange—a completely separate guest quarters and an outdoor retreat for entertaining. The McCurrys, who had toyed with this undertaking for 10 years, are generous with their praise for the architects. “Chris and Kurt took our ideas,” they say, “and made them better.”