Key West, meet Midwest. In central Illinois, lifelong friends team up to create an island-inspired backyard retreat in a new pool house.
Illinois pool house
Jay Wilde
| Credit: Jay Wilde

Paula Hudachko remembers the sweltering August day her pool house was born. Six couples—close friends since their wedding days, and now enjoying life as grandparents—had gathered by her East Peoria, Illinois, pool to celebrate summer birthdays. As the sun baked down, conversation shifted to the heat. "My patio looked like a tent city, covered with umbrellas," Paula says. Someone floated the notion of a pool house, and the idea hung in the air, shimmering like a mirage.

Lofty plans became concrete when one of the gang, retired carpenter Bruce Wilson, volunteered to manage and design the project. "We love the Keys and were drawn to that casual, island feel," Paula says. She envisioned a blue, turquoise and white color palette, with textural and architectural details commonly seen in colorful, laid-back Key West. With input from her friends, she and her husband, Brad Mayeur, penned a wish list: a covered three-season living area with fireplace, a bathroom-shower combo and an outdoor kitchen. All for $25,000.

As thanks for decades of memories, the couple's friends jumped in to help, giving the project the feel of a barn raising. Over seven months, they distressed barn doors, poured cement countertops and landscaped—with some help from one "younger guy," Paula confesses. One 90-degree day, they slogged away side by side, passing patio bricks assembly-line style. And when the space was complete, the crew basked in the success together. The pool house has hosted birthday and retirement parties, Chopped-style cooking competitions, and plenty of everyday hangouts—sun hats now optional.

Illinois Pool House Interior
Credit: Jay Wilde

All-Inclusive Like a deluxe cabana, the pool house has a cozy living area, a fully stocked kitchen with walk-up bar seating, a full bath and a view that feels like vacation.

Walled In Galvanized-steel exterior walls echo the inexpensive, rustic style of Key West. (Vacations there inspired the pool house.) Interior walls are weather-resistant, pressure-treated wood.

Local Harvest Paula Hudachko and Brad Mayeur chose hard, decay-resistant Osage orange (aka hedge apple) wood for the pool-house mantel. Bonus: It came from a friend's property.

Blue Steel A bright blue standing seam metal roof mirrors the pool water and sets the color stage for accessories.

Rain or Shine A 3-foot roof overhang makes the space functional even in a drizzle. When the weather gets too cold for swimming, a fountain brings the pool to life.

Illinois pool house kitchen
Credit: Jay Wilde

Cold Hardy The kitchen is built to survive Midwest winters, thanks to synthetic decking on the floor, galvanized-steel cabinet panels, concrete countertops and easy-disconnect water lines (just like the ones on an RV).

Illinois pool house
Credit: Jay Wilde

Guest Privileges Paula wants guests to feel that her space is their space, so she insisted on individual cubbies where frequent visitors can keep belongings

Brush Strokes Paula painted the bathroom's barn door, giving it the look of driftwood's washed-up texture and matching the surrounding trim color.

Pool house seats
Credit: Jay Wilde

Concrete Plans Friend Bruce Wilson built low-maintenance stools with budget-friendly steel pipes. For seats, he used oil pans as cement molds.

Container plants on deck
Credit: Jay Wilde

'Round the Dock Around the patio, a fence made of weathered wooden posts wrapped in nautical rope has a harborside feel.

Hosta-lined path to pool house
Credit: Jay Wilde

Leaf It Alone Layers of lush hostas line the shady path. Create a tropical feel with varieties like 'Guacamole', 'Tropical Dancer', 'Island Breeze' and 'Rainforest Sunrise' that are hardy to Zone 3.

Paula Hudachko and Brad Mayeur
Paula Hudachko and Brad Mayeur
| Credit: Jay Wilde

Keys to an Island Look

Beachy Hues Embrace a watery palette: Pair minty green, turquoise, cobalt or even baby blue with bright white trim or walls.

Rugged Materials Channel the up-for-any-weather architecture of the coast with durable choices like galvanized steel and concrete. Weathered wood (real or faux) adds to the salty vibe.

Air Flow Sky-high ceilings and open-air trusses let hot air rise and breezes pass. Ceiling fans work wonders.

Bold Blooms Dial in a Margaritavilla mood with hues that lean a little flamboyant, like coral, magenta and purple. Bonus: You'll lure lots of butterflies and hummingbirds to your backyard paradise.

How to Plant an Escape

These beauties from faraway lands are grown as annuals in the Midwest, so maximize growth with liquid fertilizer.

Credit: Courtesy of White Flower Farm

'Bronze Pagoda' Coleus These fast-growing Asian and Australian annuals (dubbed the Hawaiian shirt of the plant world) have wild colors and patterns. Buy by the flat to fill pots and borders.

Bird of Paradise
Credit: Denny Schrock

Bird of Paradise Nothing says tropical like regal Strelitzia reginae with their long-lasting, crane-like blooms. Native to South Africa, these plants are closely related to bananas and feature similar leaves.

Elephant Ears
Credit: Denny Schrock

'Borneo' Alocasia Go huge (7–10 feet) with 'Borneo' elephant ear, native to the rainforest floor. Or try other elephant ears like 'Lime Zinger', 'Black Velvet' and 'Polly' with a striking white vein.