Four fabulous homes we wish we could move into
Mohn residence designed by Williams Partners, Architects.
Photo: Tim Brown
To be creative is one of architecture’s highest ideals. It is the quality from which innovative design, functional simplicity and vibrant living spaces all proceed. The “dream homes” in this issue are remarkably all original compositions. In the end, the following homes remind us that cottages can be as moving as castles.
Modern in the Mountains
Creativity seems to thrive when faced with constraints. Consider the Japanese haiku: “Given its compactness, the poet must be inventive by default.” The finest haikus sound effortless; content and form blend so well that one forgets there were rules in the first place. Architecture is no different: the finest homes never appear forced into existence, but instead use nature’s limitations to their creative advantage. For a shining example of organic design, look no further than the sagebrush hillsides of Elkhorn, where natural parameters sparked the construction of a home deftly integrated with its surroundings.
Although nothing about this dream home feels contrived, there were initial complications with the property, which, despite spectacular views, was fairly steep and littered with boulders. Yet, the homeowners saw promise and approached architect Jeff Williams to design their contemporary mountain abode. Williams’ plan was to embrace the incline by putting the driveway below the main level, thereby connecting the home with the ground on both floors. In addition, said Williams, “We tried to slope everything down, so that when you approached, the scale was low despite it being a two-story house.” So sympathetic were Williams and his clients toward an organic philosophy that builder Brian Poster didn’t blast a single boulder; residence and landscape were to be an interrelated work of art.
Besides integrating habitation and habitat, the owners also wanted to go modern. Apart from the chic lighting fixtures, there’s an enjoyable absence of ornament. Natural light floods the open living spaces, its glow juxtaposed by tasteful elements of blackened steel. This motif begins at entry, with a beautiful custom-made front door, and courses throughout the home. Finally, natural hardwood flooring brings a subtle warmth to the contemporary aesthetic. “This is a house that, at the end of the day, I would live in,” said Williams. With its modern stylings, packaged to fit the sagebrush surroundings, and views that inspire poetry, we completely agree.
ARCHITECT: Williams Partners, Architects
BUILDER: Poster Construction
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER: Clemens Associates, Planning and Design Consultants
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Jennifer Hoey Interior Design
For builder Craig Johnson, the housing crisis was an opportunity to change directions, to build smarter and smaller. The plan was to avoid energy-sucking pitfalls, embodied by excess space on isolated properties, and turn a decrepit Hailey cottage, within walking distance of downtown, into a model of eco-friendliness where he and his family could live. Moreover, Johnson knew he could build small while still providing “all the amenities of a large home and that sense of luxury,” he said.
The home is an expression of the people who live there. Johnson said, “I was trying to build an environment that represents how I feel about being a good steward of the earth.” To begin with, Johnson slimmed down, charmingly, from an enormous home to one that was no longer a carbon sink. Next he installed green essentials: high-efficiency everything, premium insulation, recycled flooring and low-volume flush toilets. Outside, Johnson threw up photovoltaic cells, which nearly cover his home’s summer energy needs, and rain sensors to prevent over-watering. Considering that Johnson also uses a push mower and grows heirloom tomatoes, it’s clear that this house is part of a broader lifestyle.
“I think the concept is where people should be going,” mused Johnson, “having a home that is extremely desirable, yet somewhat smaller.” Creating desirability meant making small spaces feel larger. The intimacy was there by default; comfort was the task. The home’s marked flow is immediately felt, which creates a sense of largeness by pulling rooms together, even those that are outside. In the summer months, the patio doubles as a dining room, an organic part of the interior. As both designer and builder, Johnson also made heavy use of custom insets, shelves and attic space to keep the atmosphere open.
The end result is a paradigm shift: an elegant “green” home that doesn’t contradict itself, an alternative build that saves energy logically, by reducing the square footage.
DESIGNER/BUILDER: LMJ Builders/Craig Johnson
ENGINEER: Mike Bouiss
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER: Sun Valley Garden Center
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Laura Johnson
Lost River Retreat
The town of Mackay (pop. 517) is a sanctuary of the Old West, a ranching refuge accented by a mountainous backdrop. With endless views, blue-ribbon fishing and a proud history, Mackay is the ideal location for a “traditional, understated, warm and inviting cabin,” said David Sheffner, co-owner of the “Lost River Retreat,” as he calls it.
Committed to the concept of a “cabin [that] had always been there,” Sheffner hired Marla Felber of FK Design Group to direct the renovation. Felber’s background is in historic buildings, specifically log cabins, and her knowledge of scale and design guided the process. The paradigm for this Idaho getaway, built by Pritchett Construction, was to embrace the surrounding grandeur—the Big Lost River flows just yards from the residence—rather than outshine it. The two-bedroom retreat, entirely constructed of salvaged deadfall from Montana, is 1,900 square feet. It sits invisible from the road, sheltered by high grasses, a windy entrance and a used Aermotor windmill that spins noiselessly above a rustic, detached garage.
The site of this fishing retreat was evaluated at length to ensure sunlight from early morning to sunset. From the wraparound deck, which offers panoramic views of the White Knob Mountain Range, the view is captivating: rows of peaks are grounded by the sweeping basin of the Big Lost River. As a result of the cabin’s exposure, and a smart row of country windows, light also floods the interior. The floorplan is open, anchored by the vaulted-ceiling “great room,” which creates an intimate but comfortable space that encompasses the kitchen, dining area and sitting room.
Casually appointed with denim couches, Grandpa’s leather recliner and fishing decor, there’s little pretension here—inside or out. One visiting friend even missed the turn into the cabin, admired Sheffner, because after seeing the vintage nature of the buildings, he figured it was “the old homestead.”
ARCHITECT: Marla Felber, FK Design Group
BUILDER: Pritchett Construction
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Marla Felber, FK Design Group
While many homeowners are fixated on the use of local and recycled materials, Lisa Rose wasn’t looking for inspiration in the Old West. She’d rather go to Europe—with her husband and architect Jim Ruscitto—and track down stone, wood and metal from the Old Continent. So, for over a year, the trio criss-crossed the Atlantic, discovering a world not of antiques, but of artifacts. What they brought back, from corbels to columns,
gives “recycled materials” a whole new meaning.
For Ruscitto, whose network guided the treasure hunt, “The concept was a blending of European materials into a contemporary format,” he said. Matching the two was important: Rose and her husband wanted their classically-inspired home to feel open and livable, with views of the river. Nestled amongst the cottonwoods beside the Big Wood River, this well-scaled dream home doesn’t betray its setting. The project’s true brilliance is its ability to harmonize unique and foreign subjects with the native landscape.
“We honestly didn’t know how we would use certain pieces,” said Rose, “but that was the exciting part.” Touring the home, it’s clear that uncertainty was tastefully resolved by Ruscitto and builder, Craig Johnson, through active incorporation: a tarnished metal arch accents the stove hood, lengths of aged steel frame the media center and an immense stone frame defines the glass-doored wine room, to name a few master strokes.
More impressive, though, are the structural elements underlying the European aesthetic. The principal beams, which span the central gallery and most of the ceilings, are all unpainted French oak; genuine Versailles tiling runs along the ground—also shipped over, also recycled. “It’s not veneered cosmetic,” said Ruscitto, “but has a sense of real integrity. Everywhere you look there are details.” Details that allude to tales of an older world.
ARCHITECT: Ruscitto | Latham | Blanton Architectura, P.A.
BUILDER: LMJ Builders/Craig Johnson
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER: Eggers Associates
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Lisa Rose Design