Home & Design September 16, 2009

Inside Angle

For a small community, ours is home to a disproportionate number of innovative architects and builders. Their work determines the spaces where we sleep, work and celebrate the mountain life. They also have opinions. We found a few who were willing to talk about the hard things: local development, family secrets and the future of the Valley.

Steve Kearns
Kearns, McGinnis & Vandenberg

What brought you to the Valley?

A ’64 Chevy towing a four-by-eight trailer. It was 1980, and our three-month-old son rode with us all the way from Laguna Beach, California.

Favorite Sun Valley landmark
The Reinheimer Ranch barn. When I’m driving into town and I see that white barn, I know that I’m in Ketchum. It’s the building that welcomes me to town.

Most important building project on the horizon
The hotels will have a huge impact on the community. Ketchum needs a shot in the arm, and they are a part of it. And, of course, I’m hoping for some fabulous architecture.

Opinion that can silence a dinner party
Friedman Memorial Airport absolutely has to move, and it’s going to be very good for the Valley’s economy when it does. We are going to get double the visitors when we get a reliable, all-weather airport. There are so many good, synergistic things that will happen when it moves. It’s a shame we don’t have unanimous support for it, but at some point these people will quit wringing their hands and stomping their feet. One of these days, the community is going to get behind a new airport.

What do you do when you’re not working?
I like to cook—it’s a lot like building except you get to eat it at the end.

Left or Right?
I was a delegate for Barack Obama at the Idaho Democratic Convention.


 Jim McLaughlin
McLaughlin & Associates Architects

Biggest success
Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church. It is a public building that has and will be part of many people’s lives now and into the future.

Local project you are most proud of
That’s kind of like asking which one of my children is my favorite.

Controversial local opinion
The airport. ’Nuf said.

What’s up with housing?
Several types of housing existed when I moved here almost forty years ago. We shouldn’t focus on just home ownership, but on all kinds of housing solutions, including rental housing, guest houses, etc.

Favorite local landmark
The Sun Valley Lodge. It’s a grand building with a timeless quality. Gilbert Stanley Underwood designed it shortly after he designed many of the National Park lodges.

His use of stained, board-formed concrete impressed me so much that, thirty years ago, I designed and built my own A.I.A. award-winning home using the same technique along the Big Wood River.

Do you have a secret?
I’m an Idaho native. I grew up in Mountain Home. It was a lot like growing up in the Wood River Valley—a small, safe place to grow up. >>>


Mark Pynn
Mark Pynn Architect

What makes your steel-sided house in East Fork an ideal Idaho home?

This house deals with its Idaho context of site, climate, lifestyle, and current building technology in a beautiful way. It’s a tiny building that attempts to make a strong statement with quality construction on a modest budget.

Favorite local building
It’s hard to narrow it down. There is the concrete house above Sun Valley City Hall and the solar home by Arnie Bystrom on Fairway Road. Also, my own home is significant.

If I had to choose one, I would say the Blaine County Court house. It’s on the National Historic Register. It’s a major architectural piece of its time and was the most prominent building in the area at the time it was built. It was a county seat building that brought a higher level of architecture to the area.

Least favorite building project for the Valley
I’m disappointed in the Ketchum mayor and city council and the way they have taken care of the city lately. I’m not opposed to large buildings, and I really think we need hotels, but these hotels, particularly the proposed Warm Springs development, are not the appropriate scale for the area. I think you need to hold developers’ feet to the fire and build quality, not quantity.

Radical local opinion
There are a lot of houses built in imported styles—like quasi-European or French country styles that I don’t think are appropriate for the region. The architecture for this region should be taken from the genius loci. We are deep snow country, with cold weather conditions and a high-dry climate. Those elements should influence the type of materials and the form of a building. The native colors of an Idaho site should be celebrated, rather than supplanted by Versailles or the English countryside.

People have their dreams and notions of what they want in a home. If you want a nice French country house, I say, ‘Let’s look for a nice site in France. If you want a house in Idaho, I say let’s celebrate Idaho.’ I’d rather be honest and true than build something that I don’t think belongs here.


Jim Ruscitto
Ruscitto, Latham, Blanton Architects

How did you arrive in the Valley?
In 1966, I took a train from Kansas City to Pocatello. I had transferred to architecture school at Idaho State University so I could be close to Sun Valley.

First job
In the winter of 1963-64, I worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, who still owned the mountain then, as ski patrol.

Most significant project
When we designed the Warm Springs Lodge in 1992, it set the stage for a new era in America ski lodge design. We were proud of that one, and we were asked to design a lot of other lodges throughout the country because of it. This culminated in a lot of large log homes and the log structures at the 2002 Olympics site at Snow Basin, Utah.

Who do you love?
The architect—Gilbert Stanley Underwood—worked for Union Pacific designing major railroad stations, major National Park lodges and hotels. The Sun Valley Lodge was poured-in-place concrete dyed to look like wood. People still walk up to it and knock on it. Thinking that far ahead, in terms of materials and techniques, was pretty innovative.

What gets you excited?
The development of River Run. It’s the only property that has the ability to unify Ketchum. It has the opportunity to be a classic, the new Sun Valley Lodge landmark.

What don’t we know about you?
I started out being a pretty good skier. I was a professional freestyle skier. And today, I’m still stupid enough race on the Rocky Mountain Masters’ circuit, and downhill is my specialty. I’m looking at a trophy that says I’m a Masters’ national speed champion. I guess that makes me the fastest, dumbest architect around. >>>


Jeff Williams
Williams Partners Architects

Romantic Sun Valley story
I had just taken a new job when I met my wife-to-be at a wedding in Seattle. My new love interest was from Sun Valley, and within three months I quit my job and moved over to give our relationship a try. Originally I thought I would stay through the 1986-87 winter, then move back to Seattle. Nearly twenty-three years and two teen-age sons later, I’m still here.

Favorite part of working with your clients
Some of our homes have been like a fine aged wine. Over the many years our clients live in their homes, their identity has become almost inseparable from the home.

Why do architects love the Sun Valley Lodge?

The Lodge defines this place in a singular way. Beyond the small mining town, beyond the agricultural ranching town, it is the building that most represents what makes this place unique.

What project could improve our lives?
The Sun Valley Center for the Arts building and the entire planned Simplot property development. I think these projects will have more importance to the living community of Ketchum than the other tourist-oriented projects. I think it has the opportunity to become an important component in the day-to-day identity of the community.

How can local government promote small business?
In the central business core of Ketchum, I think ground floor businesses should be subsidized in some way.

How big should Sun Valley build their planned hotel for the base of River Run?
I think a hotel at the base of the mountain ought to be allowed to go as high as the developer would like to build it, as long as it is very close to the ski base.

Yin and yang of life in a small town
I run into people all the time who have lived in the valley for twenty or more years and have never heard of me. As a businessman, that grates on me a bit. As a resident who likes the outdoor life, it suits me fine.

Does architecture run in your blood?
My great-grandfather was a prominent early Seattle architect (Harlan Thomas), who designed, among others, the Sorrento Hotel, Harborview Hospital, the Corner Market building in Pike Place Market. Plus he was the chairman of the University of Washington department of architecture for about 14 years.


Tobin T. Dougherty
Tobin Architects

Why Idaho?
Fifteen years ago my wife and I moved from Palo Alto. We wanted to change our lifestyle and to raise our kids in an environment such as this.

How have your buildings contributed to the Valley?
I designed and built the Parks and Recreation Building at Atkinsons Park for the city of Ketchum. I’m very proud of that because it has served the community well. It is an inexpensive building and offers a place for people to gather. I also built one of the first LEED-certified homes in the Valley, in the Bellevue Triangle.

Favorite Valley landmark
I really like the new Sun Valley Pavilion. I like its progressive architecture and how it fits into the landscape. It also brings the community together as a place to celebrate music and the arts.

Your vision
A community that is involved in appropriate, sustainable growth. 

What is appropriate, sustainable growth?
A community that offers the average family a place to live and grow in a building that’s well designed. I’m working on a zero-footprint community as a model right now and something that we could consider for this community in the future.

Something our towns could use more of
The Valley’s towns need to focus on building density and diversity. Increased density will allow more growth within a town in order to save the outskirts and the open spaces. More diverse height limits and multi-family buildings will make housing affordable—not to be confused with low-income housing—for more people. We need denser buildings so people can buy a town home and let that value grow, rather than being forced into a deed-restricted, low-income housing project.

Where have we gone wrong?
Over the last twenty years, there has been a lot of waste and money pumped into the dream, and it has distorted what true living should be. Who the heck needs a 20,000-square-foot house? Honestly. We have been guided by money.

What can we do right?
Look at the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, or the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco. The theme there is the same as what is needed here: get people back into the core of the city, where they can live and shop and eat and afford to be there.

Radical local opinion
In a walking community, two cars for a single family are unnecessary.

Role of an architect
Architects are dreamers of the future, what we think it should look like and feel like. >>>

Susan Desko
Architect Susan Desko

Why Idaho?
My husband and I had a two-year-old daughter, and I had been working 110-hour weeks in Frank Gehry’s office. We were ready to slow down. Then we both became really busy again, so we have yet to take that break.

How did you begin?
I wanted to support the local art community, so I bought a painting (it has been my lucky charm). And just by striking up a conversation at a local gallery, my first first client found me.

Notable local project
The steel house on Fairway Road in Sun Valley (owned by the Vogels). They took a leap of faith with me, and we just made it happen. I had a great working relationship with the Vogels and with Kearns Builders. It was controversial, but has become almost a mini-landmark along Fairway Road.

Design feedback
Somebody was flying out of Friedman Memorial in a small plane and passed over our triangulated project—the triangle house in the Bellevue Triangle. They took a photo of the house and brought it to the county building inspector to make sure they knew about it. They were trying to turn us in for sneaking the house into the Triangle!

What local work inspires you?
It’s a tie between the historic train bridges that run over the river and the original chairlift near Proctor Mountain.

The bridges are like little mini-cathedrals that you pass through. They are like a charm bracelet of multiple landmarks—you go from node to node and each is an outdoor pavilion under the sky. It’s impossible for me to cross over one of those bridges and not imagine the trains having passed over them and having brought all these people here and also hauling all the mining away.

The original chairlift (on Ruud Mountain) was based on a banana carrier! It’s a produce-conveyor for people. Honestly, given these mountains and all the ski resorts around the world, it’s crazy that our pioneers were the first ones to invent it. Now it’s so rickety and fragile and delicate looking, and it inspired this whole jet-set way of navigating the terrain. It was the spark.

Favorite looming project
The Center. They have great programming and their needs far surpass their current facility. It’s great they will have such a key location in town, near the post office and near the mountain and with expansive views. One of my personal favorite architects, Tom Kundig, is designing it (see article, pg. 40).

Local pet peeve
The sidewalk expansion project in Ketchum. We don’t need another could-be-anywhere-USA sidewalk-scape. And, I was very unhappy to see retailers lose their parking. Let’s do a little work on Main Street here, people.

I don’t think Ketchum is a great town—I think it’s a great base camp. When people come down from the mountain or in from the trails or the river, they want provisions and they want it quick. You want a quick, easy place to pull up your horse, so to speak, not to stroll around or sit on a bench. Main Street needs a little bit of help, and now Fourth Street is competing with it.

The big mystery
My big family secret growing up was that my father’s second cousin was Bonnie Parker, of Bonnie and Clyde.


Gary Storey
Storey Construction Inc.

Favorite Valley building
The Sun Valley Lodge. It is dyed concrete and the color impregnation has held up since 1936. It’s never been re-dyed that I know of.

Recognizable Valley accomplishment
The big gray hangar with the glass front at the airport. We built it for three Seattle entrepreneurs. There are still jets in there today.

Strongest local opinion
The dismantling of the airport, which isn’t building exactly. But dismantling or moving the airport would have a very negative impact. Take our business, for example—most of our clients come in on private aircraft. Very few if any are using commercial carriers. Convenience is a huge issue for them. When our clients are inconvenienced, it will change the construction industry and hence, the Valley.

It would be bad if…
Again, if the airport moves. In our industry, it doesn’t concern us to get larger aircraft and more people here. Sun Valley Company has voiced the same concern. To move the airport would be economic suicide.


This article appears in the Fall 2009 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.