Community October 21, 2010
City Sanctuary

If you happened to be walking on First Avenue in Ketchum, making your way south from the post office, you would eventually come upon a most unusual building. You might wonder at its Oriental columns and arches, and at the sculpted railing of the balcony on the second floor. If you were to ask, you would be told that the ornate door is two hundred years old and from Pakistan. You probably would not suspect that you are looking at a structure that did not exist two years ago. Instead you’ll assume that it has always been there, because it has that look of belonging, of being rooted in its location.

The sign hanging from an ancient Islamic jalousie window framed by two fourteenth-century columns identifies the structure as “Davies-Reid Oriental Rugs & Art.” As it turns out, however, there is a home above the shop–and there is a story about how the building came to be here.

Sharon Davies and Terry Reid have been established in Ketchum as specialists in Oriental rugs and Asian objects, artifacts, and antique furniture for a long time. Over the years, they collected old architectural pieces–columns, pillars, and doors–from such countries as India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, selling some and accumulating others in their basement, with the idea that some day they could be used in an unusual, artistic way. The massive door they built in their former store using some of those ancient pieces piqued the interest of their friends and clients, who found the concept of marrying artifacts with a modern building an appealing one.

Terry and Sharon knew they had a concept that could be developed, and eventually they decided to build a house, their dream house, around it. Once they had decided to embark upon the ambitious and enormously challenging project, they couldn’t wait to start.
In 1996 they found the land just a few blocks from their store on Sun Valley Road; by 1999 they had completed the design; and by spring of that year construction was ready to begin. Fourteen months later, the building was nestled solidly in its place, somehow seeming as if it had always been there, one of Ketchum’s landmarks.

In the Old World tradition of living above one’s shop, the space is divided between the store downstairs and the penthouse upstairs where the family resides. After climbing the main staircase, one enters the penthouse through a massive, two-hundred-year-old, intricately-sculpted door decorated with a Muslim inscription.

Up a few more stairs, an open, 1800-square-foot living room leads to an inner courtyard filled with vegetation and the peaceful whisper of a fountain. Windows run all around the living room, offering views of the mountains from all angles. Ancient Asian pieces are tastefully integrated in key spots around the room. The mantel of the fireplace is made up of three seventeenth-century pieces of crown molding from India. On the street side of the room, a twelve-foot-deep wooden balcony, sculpted both in Pakistan and locally, provides a nice buffer for privacy.

Terry and Sharon entrusted the work of designing and overseeing the construction to local architect and friend Steve Cook, someone with considerable European experience and exposure. His imagination, flexibility, and scope of vision throughout the project allowed the work to advance smoothly and rapidly. Sharon and Terry had a clear idea of what they wanted, and Steve, aided by his assistant and project coordinator, Jennifer Duke-Turner, helped them realize their dream.

They envisioned the penthouse as a private, protected space built around an inner courtyard that would allow them access to the out-of-doors, thus avoiding the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in an apartment. They showed Cook, and subsequently the contractor, Peter Dembergh, the mountain of objects in their basement that they wanted to integrate into the structure, offering the two men a challenge neither had ever before encountered.

How to decide which pieces should be used and where? It became obvious to Sharon and Terry that such decisions could not be made unilaterally, that they had to give the workers freedom to figure things out along the way. The crew was hesitant at first, unaccustomed to working this way, but quickly fell into a groove, surprising themselves with their own creativity. Working in concert with the owners and with each other, rummaging through the dusty pile of objects in the basement to find what they needed for each particular aspect of the job, each artisan and craftsperson was able to realize an individual sense of responsibility and authority.

Because of the nature of the work, everyone had to adapt and change constantly, and this prompted a high level of creativity. “If you don’t give people the license to use their imagination,” says Terry, “you don’t get anything. You can’t be too controlling, otherwise you stifle creativity.”

The artisan who was put in charge of the kitchen and pantry is woodworker Paul Bates, in Terry’s words “the most artistic carpenter of all time.” Sharon and Terry had worked with him on their former house, so they knew from experience that if they gave him artistic license, the results would be exquisite.

“The only proviso was that if I picked a piece that was particularly high in value,” says Paul, “I had to make sure that it would be visible.” The ancient Islamic jalousie that Paul integrated into the base of the kitchen counter, for example, is the centerpiece of the structure.
At first, Paul chose geometric pieces to fashion the cabinet façades and counter details. As Sharon had imagined the kitchen to be very floral, however, Paul returned to the treasure pile in the basement. The columns that frame the counter and cabinets are carved with flowers and birds, and Bates has used a minimalist style that effortlessly integrates, and doesn’t detract from, the artifacts.

The ancient objects highlight Paul’s craftmanship, and every element is a piece of art in itself. The knobs on the cabinets, for example, are small sculptures made of bent pieces of metal, all different sizes and shapes. The result is a smooth, easy dialogue between two dissimilar styles—one ornate, the other simple; two time periods–ancient and modern; and two civilizations–Eastern and Western.

Making the kitchen practical, as well as artistic, was foremost in Bates’ mind. Drawer sizes were adapted to fit Sharon’s needs, and everything is within easy reach. Sharon didn’t want to have to stand on her tiptoes or, worse, have to climb up on a chair to reach something, and Paul made sure that wouldn’t happen.

Turning away from the kitchen and out to the west end of the living room, one is drawn through an opening to the left of the fireplace and into the inner courtyard around which the penthouse is built. Here, Steve Cook has incorporated various elements of the West and East, from old dwellings in Spain, Italy, and France, to mosques in North Africa, Turkey, and India.

The living quarters all converge around this area, where there is a peaceful hush one might encounter in the inner courtyard of a Turkish or Moroccan mosque. The central fountain and the lush vegetation create a cool, moist environment that offsets the dryness of the climate, and the gurgling water masks the sound of traffic from the street.

An outside fireplace and cooking area, strategically placed with a southern exposure, are protected from wind, rain, and snow so they can be used in winter as well as in summer. Radiant heat under the Roman pavers keeps the snow melted so that it is possible to have a barbecue in the middle of January.

Around the fountain and the sitting pool, the ground is covered with paving stones, deliberately simple and understated. “We didn’t want it to look like a carnival out here,” says Sharon, “so we intentionally picked textures and patinas that were matte and muted, so that they would blend with all of the old carved wood pieces.” The tasteful assemblage of disparate pieces is coherent in style, while evoking, depending on the people who visit it, many different places–from anywhere in Europe, to Turkey, India, or even Nepal.

Extending from either side of the living room are the two wings enclosing the courtyard. The south wing houses the children’s quarters and guest room, while the north wing encompasses the main bedroom.

Entering the main bedroom is like stepping into an Arabian Night. The ochre-colored walls are decorated with Turkish motifs, the bathroom is equipped with antique Turkish sinks, and when the Turkish ambient lights go on, one is surrounded by soft sensuality. Painter Laura Weithorn is largely responsible for creating this soothing atmosphere. The earthy, aged quality of the paint creates a feeling of warmth and familiarity. In the bathroom, Sharon has added her own touch. An antique stained glass window from a church in San Francisco–which she had carried with her for thirty years–brings in a wonderful, subdued light, and allows for more privacy from the courtyard.

Across from the sitting pool is a small guesthouse with all the amenities, and underneath that is an apartment, also built with many pieces from their eclectic collection. Sharon and Terry have rented the unit out.

In contrast to the precise, symmetrical shapes in most modern architecture, every room in the house has an asymmetrical quality that imbues it with a soul and character generally possessed only by old houses. It is as if this home has been lived in for a long time, and has traces of the personalities and idiosyncrasies of its owners.

This effect is due in part to the fact that Terry and Sharon allowed themselves the luxury of changing their minds as the construction evolved, to better suit their tastes and personal styles. Occasionally, some completed work had to be undone and replaced. When Sharon and Terry realized, for example, that they had built a closet that obstructed a spectacular view of the mountains, they decided to put a window in that spot instead. The proposition was expensive because of how it had to be approached structurally, but aesthetics were not to be sacrificed for practical purposes. For the same reason, some windows were included for the sole purpose of providing a sight corridor to other windows, which frame a view of the mountains. As a result, from the north hallway, one can admire the mountain view to the south by looking through a window aligned with another on the other side of the courtyard, which is aligned with a window on the outside of the south hallway.

Window placement often had to be decided during construction, in order to adjust for the view. This is but one of many examples of the seamless cooperation between the architect, Steve Cook, who decided on the changes, and the contractor, Peter Dembergh, who did what had to be done to implement those changes.

The remarkable attention to detail is evident everywhere. A cat door, for example, does not have the usual nondescript plastic cover, but instead is covered with an old piece of Kilim rug padded with weights.

The house is full of hidden and mysterious areas, making it a great hide-and-seek playground for children (Sharon and Terry have two grandchildren), as well as a potential place of solitude for anyone feeling the need to disappear for a while.

Terry and Sharon enjoy living above their workplace in the traditional European style, but they have made sure that the separation between the shop and the penthouse is very clear. When their work is over, they climb into a private world of their own. And what a world!

They love living in town, walking everywhere, seldom using a car. As do many city dwellers, however, they also have their country house. On the Snake River, they can escape city life for a while–if city living can be applied to Ketchum–only to appreciate it more when they return.

This is Sharon and Terry’s second experience with penthouse living in Ketchum. They had come to understand exactly what they wanted, and consequently avoided the pitfalls of apartment living, particularly the lack of open space. On the path to achieve their dream, they took along many craftspeople and artisans, and honored each one of them with the freedom to express his or her talents.

Many challenges were encountered along the way. Major structural issues surfaced with the excavation and continued on through the construction of the building, as most traditional means of support had to be forsaken. The penthouse presented a challenge in itself, because the open-to-the-sky courtyard meant there could be no span across the top level–and the fountain and sitting pool required large quantities of water that had to be supported. Added to the engineering puzzles were constant, smaller creative decisions that had to
be made on a daily and, sometimes, an hourly basis.

Steve Cook’s originality and flexibility set the tone for the powerful creative energies that were unleashed throughout the realization of the project. There was a feeling that everything was possible, that all obstacles could be overcome. And they were.
Terry and Sharon had rescued more abandoned treasures than they could ever sell in their shop. Instead of letting them continue to gather dust in their basement, they have found a new home for them, and in doing so have built their own treasure, a source of ongoing pride for everyone who participated in the project.

 

 

 

This article appears in the Fall 2001 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.