12 features of a contemporary cabana


Visit any world-class holiday resort in a tropical location and you’re guaranteed to be surrounded by structures that fuse indoors and out

Luxury hotels know how to make the most of the gorgeous weather and boast wall-less lobbies, open walkways and rooms that open out to swimming pools. Australia has a fairly mild climate, or at least enjoys a warm summer, so it’s understandable why many are choosing to create a structure that allows them to embrace the outdoors in all weather conditions.

A poolside cabana is a way to make your pool more functional, finishing off your outdoor space with an area to enjoy in all weather conditions, dry off after a swim in the pool, cook and relax in. We asked landscape designer John Storch of A Total Concept about one of his favourite style projects — contemporary cabanas.

Contemporary design is one of your favourite and most commonly used design styles. Tell us why you gravitate towards it.

We design a lot of contemporary cabanas, granny flats and outdoor rooms as these often suit the properties that we are working in. This style is also very popular and often requested by our clients. That’s not to exclude our expertise in other styles. I believe a good designer should be able to design for any look and our portfolios support this. I like to design holistically and often the most appropriate design for integration is the style that best reflects the architecture of the property, although not in every circumstance.

How do you define contemporary design?

Contemporary design is design of the times; that is, current and cutting edge. It incorporates trends that come and go. Contemporary design can be very eclectic for that reason because it is always changing and borrows from all eras, including Modernism.

1. What are some of the design features of a contemporary cabana?

In cabana design the contemporary style is recognisable by its clean-lined internal and external expansive planes for walls, windows, doors, floors and roofs. Walls are often white, adding to the spacious feel. Contemporary cabana interiors are generally open plan and have bare floors in recessive-coloured large-unit flooring materials.

2. What are some popular materials used in a contemporary cabana?

Natural materials such as timber and stone are often used as walling, flooring, or as an eclectic feature mixed together with materials such as polished metal, glass and concrete. Recent material developments such as monolithic-panel roof and wall sheeting are also used extensively. Colours are often soft and recessive or left natural such as stone or
weathered timber.

3. What are some plants that complement a contemporary-style structure?

A broad range of plants is used in contemporary design. They include plants used informal design such as Japanese box, magnolias and camellias; tropical design such as kentia palms, dwarf philodendron and red ti; native design such as coastal rosemary, gymea lilies and bottlebrushes; and other plants from all periods and styles mixed together in interesting eclectic combinations. Colour is quite often strong as a contrast to the more muted natural tones of
the architecture.

4. What is the average size of a cabana and what size do you find to be most effective?

I have found that the ideal size of the contemporary cabana that is designed as a single structure to incorporate all the mod-cons in the one room should not be smaller than around 5000mm x 4000mm, and does not need to exceed 8000mm x 5000mm. These dimensions are based on comfortable architectural design measurements for a single room such as a lounge or living room. Bathrooms and change rooms ideally are in addition to these sizes. An important consideration is the space into which the cabana is to be positioned. As with any structure, it is important that the cabana does not totally dominate the area in which it sits.

5. How can a cabana be incorporated into a small backyard or courtyard?

Not all properties will suit a cabana. I think it is important to recognise the limitations of space, however there is always a viable option for designing a structure that may incorporate some of the features of a contemporary cabana, whether it is a bathroom, kitchenette, storage area or outdoor room. Designing small spaces is much harder than large-space design; not only do you have less space than in a large garden to hide the utility functions that are necessary for everyday life, but there is also less space available to develop the mood and style.

6. Do pool cabanas need to comply with pool fencing requirements?

Tougher pool fencing laws restrict what can be incorporated within the poolside areas and some smart design ideas can visually integrate the cabana and pool. Floor-to-ceiling glass in the cabana along the side facing the pool, and sliding doors that can be opened wide towards the home or entertaining areas make the cabana more inviting. A pergola structure extending over the poolside area from the cabana can also integrate the pool and cabana while providing shade to the sitting areas around the pool.

7. How close should a cabana be to the pool?

I don’t think there is any magic measurement for this. In the past we have designed cabanas that extend over pools and those that are set back from them. It really depends on the integrated layout. To develop a sitting area between pool and cabana, the minimum dimension should be in the vicinity of 3600mm.

8. Tell us about the basic features most people choose to include in a poolside cabana and some additional luxury features homeowners can choose to include.

A poolside cabana may be as simple as a covered pergola with moveable lounges and a barbecue or, at the other end of the spectrum, an elaborate structure incorporating luxurious bathroom and kitchenette facilities with day beds and poolside wet drinks bar for entertaining purposes. The extreme options and everything between are popular and the ultimate structure is dictated by intended use, the available space and, of course, budget.

The trend for outdoor kitchens in pool cabanas has been to incorporate a grill, wok burner or barbecue, double sink, fridges, dishwasher, a microwave oven, and lots of cabinets for storage of towels, pool toys and games. The trend is to recreate all the conveniences of the home’s kitchen plus some fun items. Pizza ovens, bars and ice makers are all ideal for neighbourly get-togethers, dinner parties and family reunions. The continuing trend is for the cabana kitchen to be individually designed to suit your needs rather than a cheap and cheerful prefabricated unit.

There is a growing trend to incorporate bathroom facilities in a contemporary cabana. One reason for this is to allow flexible use of the space, such as turning the cabana into a guest bedroom. A simple bathroom may be just big enough to incorporate a toilet and small hand basin to ensure children don’t need to run soaking wet through the house. A more elaborate one may also include a shower and spa inside, or externally in a dedicated exotic small courtyard. Another approach is to place an outdoor shower at one end of the structure so swimmers can quickly rinse off before they go inside. Using large pegs attached nearby for hanging clothes, robes and towels is also a growing trend.

Swivel wall-mounted flat-screen TVs are essential in any good contemporary cabana!

9. What are the heating and cooling options available?

Heating and cooling is the difference between constantly using the cabana or using it only when the temperature is right. Popular cooling methods include various combinations of umbrellas, canopies, curtains, screen enclosures, and adjustable louvred roofs that are waterproof when closed and allow directional light in when open. To obtain more heat, a popular choice is to use radiant heaters to provide warmth and fire pits to create atmosphere. Large decorative fans are often included in cabanas to keep air moving around, and reverse-cycle air-conditioning may be used on more elaborate designs, especially where the function of the cabana is to double as a granny flat or extra bedroom.

10. Can a contemporary cabana be fully enclosed to function as a guest house?

Cabanas are often enclosed to function as a guest house or granny flat, and a popular trend is to design adjustable external walls and floor plans to allow for changeable spaces. This enables maximum flexibility, given cabanas are a big investment. Sliding and concertinaed doors, movable internal partitions, removable external walls, retractable ceilings and awnings, and louvres that can be opened or shut allow for great flexibility. This allows many cabanas to be adapted to a variety of specialised needs, such as an office, gym, yoga retreat, artist room or spare bedroom, in addition to the usual
entertaining function.

11. What are some contemporary trends in cabana design that we haven’t covered?

• Automated systems are the biggest trend in cabana design this decade, such as centralised control of lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) and appliances. Security locks on doors and control of adjustable awnings and roofs provide improved convenience.
• Fixed opaque roofs and adjustable louvred roofs that are waterproof when closed and allow natural light in when open are popular.
• Night lighting is being more correctly and extensively used than in the past, with LED replacing other types of lights. Enhanced ambience is also created with candles, torches and fire pits.
• The trend in furniture has been to move away from on-site fabricated furniture like fixed timber benches and day beds with cushions, towards shop-purchased lounging furniture to create a comfortable atmosphere for relaxing. Furnish the cabana with weatherproof, padded, reclining chairs, lounges and comfortable seating. Outdoor versions of indoor furniture is all the rage to help integrate the spaces.
• Popular current colour choices are softer shades with patches of vibrancy to act as a focal point. Inside colours such as pastel blues, turquoise, browns, fresh yellows and greens, with bolder primary feature colours as well as black and variations of white, are carrying through from inside to out.
• Homewares ranging from mass-produced items to one-off tailored products such as scented candles, sculptures and art are becoming increasingly important to complete the overall feel of the cabana.

12. Cabanas provide extra space for a plethora of uses. What have some of your clients used them for?

Cabanas can suit a diverse range of uses, including a family entertaining space with pool table and flat-screen TV for weekend barbecues, a guest bedroom or spot for teenage sleepovers, an art or yoga studio, gym or pool cabana, as well as a family study or home office. It’s common for the contemporary cabana to be linked via design with the house and other external elements such as swimming pools, gardens and entertaining areas. The use of consistent design and materials throughout will ensure the overall project is well integrated.

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