Built to Fit
The Valley’s Customized Quarters
The Pynn home’s exterior makes it an iconic standout in the Valley.
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Rigor Meets Regionalism in an Architect’s Home
BY Pamela Mason Davey
Sun Valley was never known for its modesty. Since the first Hollywood stars and starlets boarded an Idaho-bound Union Pacific train nearly seventy-five years ago, it has been a place to shine.
And yet, even as the infamous trophy homes dotted the Valley, the community that lived here full-time expressed their values with a different, quieter kind of home. Today, if you peek into the canyons and back roads that spider off of Sun Valley’s more well-trafficked boulevards, you’ll find them, homes rich with character, and each built to fit the unique individuals who reside within.
Mark Pynn refers to the home he designed and built for himself as, simply, an Idaho house. No doubt that the motorists who whiz by the striking steel structure perched above East Fork Road would name it differently. A Lunar Landing House, perhaps. Or James Bond Moderne. Truth be told, it looks like no other house in the land, or in the Valley, at least.
But look closer and you’ll catch a glimpse of Fairfield’s iconic grain elevators in its steel flanks, a hint of sage and native grasses in the green battens that stripe the outside, and a strong horizontal nod to windswept prairies and views that go on for miles.
“This little structure is based on a 25-year exploration of the essence of what makes Idaho special,” said Pynn, eponymous owner of Mark Pynn Architect, LLC. “I’ve lived here for a long time, and spent a lot of time driving around the state, observing the land and its vernacular.” Pynn held the property—a pie-shaded parcel with a challenging hillside pitch—for seventeen years before beginning to sketch. In 1996, the opportunity arose to immerse himself in a three-week design intensive at Taliesan West, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. In that monastic desert environment, as Pynn called it, the Idaho House was born.
It’s clear from the orderly symmetry of the residence and the careful way it sits upon the land that Pynn is interested in Wright’s notion of organic architecture, of integrating buildings into their surroundings and leaving no design detail to chance. “The nature of organic architecture is to have a rationale for everything. There is no arbitrary,” Pynn said.
Accordingly, you’ll find everything in Pynn’s residence built to rigorous mathematical proportions, employing a four-by-eight-foot grid horizontally and a sixteen-inch vertical pattern throughout.
“This kind of visual unity and consistent order adds a subconscious quietude to a building,” Pynn said. “But it’s also more cost effective. Plywood comes in standard four-by-eight-foot sheets, so there’s no need for special forms, and very little waste. My Dumpster was small.”
The architect made dozens of deliberate decisions when siting the home to blend into the surrounding landscape. He chose to bury the snout of the garage into the hill and cantilever the main floor over it in order to make the building appear “of the hill.” The central living plan is lifted to capture natural light and the surrounding views of Greenhorn Gulch to the west and East Fork’s Mindbender peak to the south.
It was Pynn’s intention all along to keep the home’s footprint small—essentially one-level living—but to open up space inside. At the heart of the home is a stacked stone fireplace built by local mason Don Fraser. Not only does it anchor the living spaces, but utilities and roof drains are ingeniously tucked away in this central hearth.
As for materials, Pynn likes to keep things “honest.” No fussy high-maintenance elements, no topical finishes, nothing that takes away from the intrinsic natural beauty of the material itself.
Concrete is a favorite, as seen in the rough aggregate walls of the home’s exterior and in the polished indoor floors. A special recipe made from native aggregates of the Big Wood River was used in the latter, first seeded into the mix, then ground smooth into a polished natural terrazzo.
Wood’s good by Pynn, too, when naturally expressed, of course. The wood floors in the kitchen, for example, are due to the wood-framed garage substructure beneath them.
Even the landscape is as honest as the earth. Pynn admits with a laugh that he has a “black thumb” when it comes to gardening, so where the house ends, the native landscape begins—a profusion of grasses and sage. Here again, planning was key: The architect engaged local Bill McDorman, of Seeds Trust, Inc., to do a seed survey before building in order to create a special seed mix with which to revegetate disturbed areas.
The result is a one-man home that is perfectly suited to the land and its owner.
It’s an embodiment of the way Pynn approaches his work overall. “If you look at my work there are two things that inform my architecture. One is the site. The other is the client.”
So how did Pynn like working with “the client” on this architect/contractor/owner-driven home? “He was great,” Pynn laughed. “A little tired, but great.” >>>