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.” >>>
Emilie DuPont brings her travels home
BY Matt Furber
Architect: Knox Barclay, AIA
Builder: Board Ranch Builders
Designer: Emilie DuPont
For Sun Valley native and world traveler Emilie DuPont, 27, a place called Board Ranch in a secluded canyon west of Ketchum serves up a meditative redoubt of the Far East.
A logo on DuPont’s refrigerator reads “I Bali.” Artifacts of a decade spent traveling the world anchor the newly refurbished property she shares with her husband of just a year, Chris Callahan, and a steady stream of friends, yoga students and barbecue guests.
“It started out by giving my time and love to help people in need,” DuPont said while petting her puppy, Ringo. She sat in the recently completed second floor great room of the above-garage building she affectionately calls the “Garage Mahal,” a lofted temple to travel, yoga and adventure sports. Her first home, this 2,100-square-foot structure was built adjacent to a 1963 Warm Springs Creek cabin.
There is plenty of lofty space above the radiant-heated bamboo floor in the main room that also serves as a yoga studio. In good weather, yoga sessions even stretch onto the adjoining deck.
Some of the couple’s culturally significant objets d’art were integrated into construction, such as tiles from India and Sri Lanka in a glassed-in bathroom. A collection of wall-mounted vessels display her sand collection from beaches of the world, including India, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Puerto Rico, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Indonesia.
As material memories, DuPont’s decor also functions as a reminder of the struggles of many less fortunate. In India, she taught English and life skills at an orphanage with her sister, Madelein. With her other sister, Alexis, she taught at a child safety center in Cambodia, helping girls once confined by the sex trade.
“They would come and learn how to sew and do other things to make money,” Emilie said. “In the Third World, you see people spiraling down—not blessed to be an American with the infrastructure that we have. What a lot of these people want is to be a U.S. citizen.”
Indonesians greet people by asking, “mau kemana?” (Where are you going?) Who you are and where you come from is immaterial. In that part of the world, people are more interested in what you intend, and DuPont and Callahan intend to make Board Ranch their home.
“The greatest luxury I could think of was a garage,” DuPont chuckled. “You need a place for your dirt bikes and mountain bikes and skis and chainsaws, animal skins and ski skins and rakes—everything that an Idaho home needs. We have everything we need and more.”
Living above their gear, DuPont and Callahan have active dreams. They see Board Ranch bonfires and custom skateboarding ramps. On nights when it snows, Callahan can’t sleep because he is so excited to shovel. This girl found a guy willing to take on a wild Idaho.
Though a mountain girl at heart, DuPont hails from the well-known Delaware family.
“Not living in Delaware, I didn’t realize that [being a DuPont] was weird until I went East,” she said, describing part of her affection for Idaho. “Here I am just Emilie. That is the beauty of Board Ranch—and Ketchum, too.”
Even so, a girl can’t always escape her roots. When builders worked to wrap the Garage Mahal in Tyvek, a DuPont product, light-hearted teasing ensued.
DuPont’s fascination with Board Ranch took root at 16, when she visited the home of former U.S. Ski Team member and 2001 X-Games Skiercross champ Zach Crist. “We played horseshoes in the backyard with the river running by. There are so many characters out here, and we are here for the same reason. You can still ask your neighbors for an egg.”
DuPont said it feels good to live in a place where dogs and friends stop for unscheduled visits. And although she has found a spot to hang her hat, the dwelling, which is still undergoing finishing touches, is likely to be more of a base camp than a traditional maison of permanence. And for the time being, DuPont is focusing her penchant for travel on her own backyard.
“We have an Airstream,” DuPont said. “This summer we will probably cut loose to check out some parks in the U.S. and camp out Trail Creek.” >>>
Local builder uses local resources for his Board Ranch home
BY Chrystal Thurston
Just two miles west of the Warm Springs base lodge, Clint and Carrie Lightner’s new home is surrounded by wilderness. The Lightners can ski right off the back side of Baldy to get home in winter, if the mood strikes them. In summer, they swim in nearby Warm Springs Creek.
Their cozy and secluded Board Ranch spot is a haven to an enclave of young families, including the Lightners and their two children—Maya, 5 and Tess, 2.
At first view, the uniqueness of the home’s tilted roofline is striking—at once elegant and modern but simple as well.
“It’s a contemporary and clean look that also maintains the spirit of the rural neighborhood,” said Clint Lightner. “It didn’t require a lot of extra time, labor and materials to create fancy dormers . . . and it’s still architecturally pleasing.”
Lightner designed and built the home himself, with help from reliable local friends and resources. It was important to them, Carrie said, “to source as many things locally as we could to help the Valley’s economy.” For Clint, who runs his own construction company, Greyhawk Construction, and is also a project manager for Sawtooth Construction, it was always a dream to use his professional skills to build his own home.
“I didn’t think the opportunity would come to me at the age of 36, but it did, so we jumped at the chance.”
He built the project with Sawtooth Construction, a local company owned by Preston Ziegler and a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Lightner went to great lengths to build consciously, aware of both the local economy and environment.
The home’s exterior siding is reclaimed Wyoming snow fence. Snow fencing along Wyoming highways is replaced every twelve to fifteen years and the leftover wood is sold and recycled. “It’s a solid product, very workable and millable. Since it’s not 200-year-old Vermont barn wood, it’s still got some life to it from a carpentry standpoint,” Lightner said. “It’s predominately Lodgepole and Ponderosa pine and covers almost the entire exterior.” The fence’s vertical gray boards lend the structure a natural, weathered look while their rough texture adds depth and character to the home’s modern lines.
Natural light was another resource the Lightners valued. “We wanted a passive solar design with a southerly aspect and a very open floor plan.”
Entering through the heavy walnut front door, there is an immediate sense of space and light even though the home is only a little more than 2,100 square feet. In the living room, the high ceiling angles up to large windows, capturing a remarkable view of the nearby towering mountain ridge.
“The goal for the transom windows was to be able to see the skyline,” Lightner said. The living room leads out to a recycled mahogany deck, enclosed with welded wire- mesh railings that keep the deck safe without spoiling the views.
An abstract landscape painting from Gilman Contemporary by local artist Abby Grosvenor reflects both the home’s dual modern and natural themes. Dark brown hand-scraped hickory floors add a rustic element, contrasting with white walls.
“It’s a very hard, durable wood so it can stand up to a lot of wear and tear,” Carrie said, “which is great for kids and dogs.”
In the kitchen, dark walnut cabinets, from Dutchman’s Cabinets in Hailey, set off the cream-colored IceStone (recycled glass and concrete) countertops, an attractive and economical alternative to the usual granite. A beige rectangular cloth chandelier over the dining table and simple glass pendants over the island add original contemporary touches.
Upstairs, five-year-old Maya was thrilled to pick out the color for her bedroom walls all by herself. And Carrie discovered Maya’s pink wooden bed at a garage sale. It’s weathered and hand carved and painted—antique chic. The master bedroom across the way opens to a magnificent view of the Smokys and in the spacious master bath, the shower area is lined with light beige travertine tile and a natural pebbled floor.
For the Lightners, the house represents a fresh and very personal interpretation of mountain architecture and the local landscape.
“Living in an incredible setting like this, we wanted to incorporate as much of the outdoors in the design of the house as we could,” said Carrie.
As for little Maya, although she loves her new lavender walls, when asked what her favorite part about her family’s new home is, she responded enthusiastically—“My baby sister!”