Pool cabana ideas – 11 designer-approved ways to create a splashy lounge space right next to the water

From massive pergolas with outdoor kitchens to tiny tented structures with sun loungers, we’ve picked some of the best pool cabana ideas from expert designers

Pergola and outdoor seating area beside an outdoor pool
(Image credit: Chad Mellon)

If you're looking to elevate your poolside experience, we've pinned down the top pool cabana ideas for you this summer. The very idea of a pool cabana is one of laid-back luxury. After all, in order to install a stylish pool cabana in your yard, you need to be lucky enough to have a pool in the first place with enough space left over to add yet another sizable structure.

But what is a pool cabana, anyway? Not quite a pool house and more substantial than a clutch of parasols, when it comes to pool ideas  featuring cabanas we can range from a kitted-out pergola to a built-out structure with three permanent walls. In short, they are a freestanding element with shade and an emphasis on serious lounging.

The point of the cabana, of course, is to create a space that’s close to the water’s edge while escaping the harsh sunlight; it’s a place to cool, dry, and doze off when the weather is right. It’s the reason that one of the most common additions to a cabana is a set of sun loungers, while you can also find other over-the-top features like mini-fridges, an outdoor kitchen, and even garden TVs.

Looking for ways to spruce up your poolside entertainment? Take a look below for some of the best ways to make the most out of your stylish pool cabana.

Pool cabana ideas

1. Start small with a covered lounger

Small covered lounger outside in front of a pool

(Image credit: Julie Soefer)

While cabanas can be large enough to rival a three-car garage, you need not go overboard: you can still achieve a pool cabana look to act as the perfect accompaniment to any small backyard pool ideas. In its simplest form, a cabana is a covered space for lounging, and there are plenty of small-scale, modern outdoor furniture ideas that fit the bill (without a costly buildout).

In the photo above, the elegant daybed is designed with a draped fabric roof that boasts breezy cabana vibes right out of the box. 'Pools are often a gathering place for friends and families, making outdoor entertaining areas like cabanas or pergolas necessary,' says Houston-based interior designer Marie Flanigan. 'However, sometimes homeowners don’t want to disrupt the landscape, but need additional options for shade and seating. A solution like a covered daybed allows for added day-to-day function and comfortable seating but can be easily moved to make space for entertaining a crowd.'

2. Make a splash with bold, playful colors

Colorful outdoor pool cabana with seating by Champalimaud Design

(Image credit: Beverly HIlls Hotel)

When in doubt, seek out inspiration from posh resorts where pool cabanas are as coveted as they are kitted-out. Chief among them, the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel is bursting with bold colors and splashy patterns after its iconic poolside cabanas were designed by New York’s Champalimaud Design.

An exciting combination of stripes with the hotel’s classic Martinique print (now in a pink colorway) creates an irresistible poolside moment. 'By using large scale terrazzo at our coffee table and TV console, introducing the pink and white stripe circus-like interior and the back wall featuring the beautiful CW Stockwell banana leaf wallpaper recolored in custom pink tones, the interiors create a light-hearted and fun feeling as soon as you spot them from across the pool,' says Courtney Brannan, a principal at Champalimaud Design. 'Each piece of furniture was designed with the guest's use in mind, making the space feel comfortable and luxurious.'

3. Create an easy cabana with a pergola

Pool with a pergola and outdoor seating area under balcony

(Image credit: Chad Mellon)

Not sure what type of structure to pick? Even the most basic pergola offers a swift, affordable install (there are plenty of DIY kits available online) that will define a space for a variety of functions — and, if you’re using one as a cabana, a clutch of poolside lounge chairs is all you need to complete the picture.

The beauty of the pergola’s minimal frame also makes it a perfect solution that blends well with a variety of landscapes and layouts. In the Newport Beach home above, Southern California’s Brandon Architects worked with the backyard’s existing patio ideas to create a new zone with a cabana-inspired pergola. 'It is always our goal to create outdoor living spaces that are well connected to the interior,' says Christopher Brandon, the principal architect at California’s Brandon Architects. 'Flexibility is important as well as providing a variety of outdoor spaces, including the covered cabana, open trellis, and fire pit area.'

4. Grow some natural coverage

Outdoor seating area under a cabana next to a pool

(Image credit: Anthony Crisafulli)

If you’re creating a pool cabana by way of a simple pergola, you can create a natural canopy that will protect you from the elements. By hanging plants and growing vines (or other vertical garden ideas, including climbing plants like wisteria and clematis) up the pillars and across the lattice roof, you’ll create a lush and luxurious vibe that’s embedded in the landscape. 

In the above cabana, the pergola offers a snapshot of the early stages of a leafy green cabana — the vines are just beginning to grow up and over the edges of the roof. 'This pergola is more of a garden structure that is open and designed to have trumpet vine covering it for shade,' says Christopher LaGuardia of LaGuardia Design Group. 'Because trumpet vine is slow-growing, we installed woven willow branches to give shade for a few years until the trumpet vine provides the needed shade.'

5. Spring for a prefab cabana with bells and whistles

Cabana with seating next to a pool and palm trees

(Image credit: TUCCI)

Sure, some pool cabanas are oversized beauties that require lofty construction projects. But there are plenty of prefabricated designs that make the process a breeze. Better yet, some of the latest products are loaded with bells and whistles (think built-in lighting that complements other pool lighting ideas, and integrated outdoor heaters for chilly evenings).

For starters, the above Solanox Cabana, a new concept by TUUCI with high-tech features (like a roof that automatically adjusts to block out sunlight), is part of a new fleet of snazzy designs changing the game. 'The Solanox Cabana was engineered to transform the traditional outdoor space into a comfortable shade destination with varying degrees of environmental controls,' says Lindsay Kissel, VP of Business Development for TUUCI.  'The open trellis and a fully louvered roof allow a customized experience with sensors and automation that instantly adjusts to filter sunbeams, redirect rain and snow, or open/close for wind. The cabana is also further elevated by the inclusion of lights, heaters, fan and TV mounts, as well as other accessories that help achieve optimal outdoor comfort.'

6. Make it an all-day cabana with a fireplace

Outdoor seating area by a pool under a cabana with a fireplace

(Image credit: Anthony Crisafulli)

In its most basic form, a pool cabana is a structure that offers shade on hot, sunny days. But what happens when the temperature dips in the evenings, and the sun has long disappeared? In addition to installing lights (there are plenty of garden lighting ideas that will do the trick), you can also warm up your cabana by installing an outdoor fireplace or setting your cabana near a stylish fire pit.

In the chic design above, inspired by the owners' travels to Bali and Singapore, earth tones abound while an inviting fireplace takes center stage. 'The fireplace centers the space on the swimming pool helping to visually connect it to the overall design,' says Christopher LaGuardia of LaGuardia Design Group. 'The sheer curtains and furnishings are all by interior designer David Scott and are carefully curated in various earth tones to evoke the feeling of an Aman resort.'

7. Go all out with a permanent build-out

Pool with jacuzzi and outdoor seating under a cabana

(Image credit: Ryan Ford)

If a construction project is in your budget, the sky is the limit when building a cabana from the ground up. One way to create synergy is to think of your cabana as an extension of the actual house; although it’s not connected, it can drive home the property’s exterior aesthetic with complementary architecture that jives with the main house.

In the open-air design above, the cabana rises up like a proper dining room. 'The success of this design lies in the site planning,' says Jamie Chioco of Austin’s CHIOCO Design. 'It forms a visual and functional center to the rear yard with nods to the existing mid-century home.' Complete with a floating steel credenza, a cluster of suspended Tom Dixon lights, and an Ipe-topped table, the white stucco walls and cantilevered roof planes give the entire space another layer of permanence.

8. Create an outdoor living room

Pool cabana with outdoor sofas, rug and TV

(Image credit: Anthony Crisafulli)

If you’re hoping to use your cabana for serious lounging, approach your cabana the same way you would with an indoor room — an array of interior-inspired furnishing (like supple yet durable outdoor furniture and cozy outdoor rugs) add an extra layer of comfort while other high-tech entertainment features (like built-in lighting and a sleek garden TV) can turn your cabana into a proper outdoor living room. This way, you can achieve the same effect as these pool house ideas, while still maintaining that open-air feel. 

In the top-of-the-line cabana above, the sprawling design has it all, including wood floors, a patterned outdoor rug, a large outdoor television, and ample lounge seating. 'The cabana contains all the things you need to spend the day by the pool well into the evening,' says Christopher LaGuardia of LaGuardia Design Group.

9. Connect your cabana with other outdoor elements

Cabana next to a pool with a barbecue, seating and gym area

(Image credit: Sara Essex Bradley)

While a classic cabana stands all on its own, you can also integrate your cabana with other structures — whether it’s an extension of your outdoor patio or connected to an outdoor entertainment space, the cabana can be more than just a lounge space.

Alongside the pool above, architects created integrated a cabana with an outdoor gym, creating space for a range of the owners’ pursuits all in one place. 'They already were working out, but their equipment was placed all over the house,' says New Orleans architect Nathan Fell. 'They were already grilling and sitting outside, whenever they could, but only when the weather permitted or in a less than ideal way.'

If you’re designing a mixed-use space, Nathan recommends a moment of reflection. 'Think of [your cabana] on the most ideal, beautiful day and how it can take advantage of that,' he says. 'Customize that day to your lifestyle. Do you like to cook, read, lounge, sunbath, work-out, nap, or a combination of all of those things.'

10. Cram your cabana with the whole kit and caboodle

Pool cabana with outdoor kitchen

(Image credit: Anthony Crisafulli)

If the cabana’s main purpose is to offer a break from the sun, the real perk is being able to stay by the pool all day long — why go back inside the house if you don’t have to? To that end, landscape designers often cram cabanas with everything and anything you might need, like stylish outdoor kitchens with stocked mini-fridges, outdoor speakers and sound systems, or even adjacent bathrooms.

In the kitted-out cabana above, every want and need was considered in the design process. 'The main goal of this cabana was to support the swimming pool area, which is quite remote from the house, so the cabana contains everything needed to stay by the pool all day and into the evening,' says Christopher LaGuardia of LaGuardia Design Group. '[An] outdoor kitchen, cabana bathrooms, built-in TV, and music all support a lively day by the pool.'

11. When in doubt, keep it simple

Pool with a cabana and outdoor seating and plants

(Image credit: Caitlin Atkinson)

At the end of the day, even a simple cabana will transform your poolside experience while creating a striking visual for your landscape. 'For us, it comes down to simplicity,' says Chad Johnston, a pool and landscape designer at California’s Johnston Vidal Projects. 'I know some people like all the bells and whistles, TVs, fans, etc., but we really like to keep it simple.'

In the celebrity cabana above — part of the California home belonging to Mandy Moore — a minimal four-post pergola runs nearly the entire length of the pool, creating an elegant, elemental design that doesn’t detract from the landscape. Paired with suspended lights and a stylish outdoor dining table, it needs nothing more and nothing less. 'Good materials, steel posts, and nice wood really made this pergola in particular beautiful,' adds Chad.

Keith Flanagan is a New York based journalist specialising in design, food and travel. He has been an editor at Time Out New York, and has written for such publications as Architectural Digest, Conde Nast Traveller, Food 52 and USA Today. He regularly contributes to Livingetc, reporting on design trends and offering insight from the biggest names in the US. His intelligent approach to interiors also sees him as an expert in explaining the different disciplines in design.