Home & Design September 29, 2011


Three core materials. Three unique houses.

















Three core materials. Three unique houses.One thing in common: creating an eloquent and distinct home by expanding upon the traditional use of resources.




noun: a solid material that is typically hard, shiny, malleable, fusible, and ductile, with good electrical and thermal conductivity (e.g., iron, gold, silver, copper, and aluminum, and alloys such as brass and steel).



Richard and Jill Blanchard dreamt of of a owning a cabin near the high peaks of Idaho. In 2006, they discovered their dream location for a home in a remote area in the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains, a place untouched by civilization—and they wanted to preserve it that way.

To find their unique cabin, you have to leave all paved roads behind and meander along an old dirt one for miles, encountering little more than sheepherders and wildflowers, gurgling springs, elk, deer and a majestic view of the Pios, as the range is fondly referred to by the locals.

Suddenly, at the end of the road, way up in the hills, hidden behind a knoll, an old homesteaders cabin is secretly nestled away. But this is more than just a little cabin in the hills.

What appears to be a log cabin is actually a stunning structural achievement—a home crafted entirely with an exterior of rusted metal, Montana stone and added chink lines that gives the illusion of being a historic timber framed cabin because of the color and design. “We felt that being outside of any fire district in the middle of sagebrush, the house had to defend itself from fire so we chose to make the entire exterior non-combustible,” explains draftsman/designer and former fireman David Lister of Precise Drafting, Inc. “It’s unique in that aspect. It’s a first to be totally metal.”

The cabin was framed by Darrell and Mike McKenzie and then clad with steel siding and trim by Brad Baker of Professional Roofing. Jim Mizer, a local metalworker, developed and applied a special treatment process that accelerated the rusting over a period of weeks until the metal finally resembled rustic wood. A stone porch, framed in rusty structural steel, wraps around three sides of the home, opening onto a 180 degree view of the mountains. Lister remembers walking the site with the Blanchards, “figuring where we could tuck this in where it’s the lowest profile and yet there’s still some great view opportunities.” This is no mega-McMansion spoiling and dominating the natural landscape. It nestles in naturally, the reddish-brown tones melding into the Idaho earth.

Entering the cozy cabin, a handsome copper verdigris clad front door opens to a homey room serving as living room, dining room and kitchen. The residence, although limited by hillside ordinance to 1,200 square feet, is opened up by a view of the Pioneers from every room.

“When you walk into that main room, it feels like a 100-year-old homesteader’s cabin,” marvels interior designer Marina Broschofsky of Red Door Design House in Hailey. The interior, with a classic Montana ledge stone fireplace topped by a one cut stone mantel, was initially inspIred by an interior in the book “Cabin in the Woods” by Ralph Kylloe. There is wood everywhere—fir ceiling, walnut floors and rich dark pine walls. The homesteader’s look continues with the acacia wood coffee table, plaid chairs and antique-style lamps.

The biggest challenge, says Broschofsky, was, “blending the different styles of the owners. Richard Blanchard wanted a rustic cabin in the woods and his wife Jill wanted a bit of modern style and elegance.” She and Jill chose contemporary colors to light up this homesteader’s-style cabin.

So in the kitchen, underneath log rafters that date from the turn of the century, are modern sage green alder cabinets (by David Leslie from Timeless Design Studio), one of which slides open to reveal the dishwasher. A Fisher & Paykel range has a bronze tile backsplash (Rocky Mountain Hardware).

The most striking piece of furniture is the elegant yet rustic cabinet/bookcase created by local artist/craftsman Doug Tedrow of Wood River Rustics. This alder breakfront is bordered in lodgepole pine and embellished with Tedrow’s signature inlaid willow twigs shaped in a Native American teepee motif and accented by beautiful oval turquoise ceramic knobs encircled in silver rope detailing.

The spectacular mountain views are not boasted from the usual huge plate glass windows. Instead, windows are divided into deliberately undersized openings enhancing the wonderful old-style feel.

In the guest bedroom, red painted beds add a contemporary whimsical touch. The master bed is painted an elegant black and topped by aqua seaglass tinted sheets and quilt, surprisingly made of bamboo. Parchment light shades adorn the bedroom reading lamps. The walls are a warmly painted modern sheetrock while the ceiling has two, finely finished log beams. Wool kilim rugs with native American designs add that modern color scheme again—rust, sage and tan. A sage green armoire is elegantly curved to snuggle into the corner, saving space.

The master bath features a slate floor and a charming clawfoot tub, but maintains that touch of luxury with a modern heated combination bidet/toilet. The Victorian-style hardware is a curved satin nickel.

Lister feels that our Valley has developed an exceptional talent pool of artisans over the years. “This was a dream project to be involved with. It takes a team to pull something like this together,” he said.

Richard Blanchard agrees. “Now we can snap into our bindings and ski or lace our boots and hike up into the hills from our front door,” he said, adding, “and after a good workout we can come back by the fire or watch the sun set from the porch. It has all worked out well.”



noun: A heavy building material made
of broken stone or gravel, sand, cement, and water, that can be spread or poured into molds and forming a stone-like mass on hardening.



Sometimes if we’re lucky, what begins as a tragedy can end up as a triumph. The story of the Nasviks’ home, tucked not far from the banks of the Big Wood River, is just such a tale.

On a wintry afternoon in 2009, the Nasviks—Jon and Kate, and their two kids, Nate and Sophie—left their cozy log home in the Zinc Spur neighborhood north of Hailey and went off to go a-sledding. When they returned a short spell later, their home was no longer there to welcome them.

Life as the Nasviks had known it had literally gone up in flames. The main fuse panel for the home had gone awry and within 15 minutes it ignited a roaring blaze that took the fire department 20 hours to extinguish. All that remained were ashes, memories and the front door.

“It was tough,” Jon said in a slightly choked up, soft-spoken voice.

Naturally, the Nasviks were devastated. But they managed to dust themselves off and to realize that the tragedy of losing their home and all their worldly possessions was also an opportunity for some positive changes.

“There was nothing we could do about it. The house was gone. All our stuff, all the little details of our life, gone,” Jon explained with a tinge of lingering sorrow. “So we went with it as an opportunity to build something that would better meet our lifestyle, something that could fix what didn’t work in our old home. I mean, how often do you get a clean slate to build in the same place you’ve lived for decades?”

And that’s exactly what they did. About a year and a half later they moved back in to an entirely different house; a one-of-kind concrete home that meets all of the Nasviks’ needs, and its most comforting feature­—it’s fire resistance.

“Concrete doesn’t burn,” Jon said, and he should know. Jon has been in the concrete business for more than four decades, including the last 20 years running his business, Cliffhangers, Inc., here in the Wood River Valley. Examples of his stunning work can be seen throughout the Valley and across the country, from the Grand Wailea Hotel on Maui to the Tropical Forrest Pavilion at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo.

But besides being fire resistant, constructing a house made almost entirely out of concrete also has a number of eco and cost-friendly components. Plus, it gave Jon, a former art major, an opportunity to get creative.

“I wanted to explore new uses for concrete. I really wanted to push the limits,” Jon declared with a boyish grin. “It was a fun experiment.”

Inspired by the creative work of local architect, Mike Brunelle of Brunelle Architects, and builder, John Lee of Lee Gilman Builders, the first experiment involved framing the house, which took a mere two days thanks to a product called SIPS. SIPS, or Structurally Integrated Panels, are factory-manufactured panels in which a foam plastic insulation is sandwiched between two structural skins of oriented strand board. While they cost about as much as traditional wood framed houses, SIPs greatly reduce construction time and waste material. Jon then covered the panels throughout the home, inside and out, with pre-cast, colored and textured, half-inch thick concrete slabs that were poured on a table out in the garage.

“The reason I chose this path was because it gave me complete control over the color, pattern and texture of any space that was made available to me,” Jon said, explaining the attributes of the medium. “The great thing about concrete is that it’s liquid. So it can be almost anything and can take any size, shape, color or texture you want. Then when it dries it’s as solid as rock, relatively maintenance free, maintains temperature well and it’s very durable. This house will last a lot longer than I will.”

From exterior walls that look like fractured slate, to countertops and bathtubs that are as smooth as glass, Jon’s experiments with concrete became more creative as the house progressed. “It was nice to have the freedom to just explore. You’re not going to get too many customers that say, ‘Just go for it!’” Jon said.

Among the more striking artistic expressions Jon created in concrete includes: trout glimmering from broken glass swimming above the stove, which is surrounded by bamboo cabinets built by the Gillman crew; a kitchen counter that looks like marbles were frozen into it; and a Thomas Shrunk inspired wall, which gives color, depth and movement while following a set of free standing stairs up to the open study loft.

Even accidents helped Jon discover new looks and ways to play with his muse. After letting a piece sit too long, it left odd marks. Jon figured out how to control the process, as is displayed in the master bedroom, where a tree is etched into the cream-colored slab. All the bedrooms are south facing, and the house is aglow in natural light.

“It’s an interactive thing for me, a place that is hopefully fun for exploration and discovery. Your house is how you express yourself,” Jon explained. “You want to talk about who you are to anybody walking in without saying a word.” And the Nasviks’ home certainly does that.

You can’t even knock on the front door—the same concrete-based one that was the sole survivor of the old house—without realizing this home has a pretty inspiring love story to tell. 



noun: A large rock, typically one that has been worn smooth by erosion.



“Fallingwater,” the renowned house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at first glance seems to be resting on nothing, hovering effortlessly above a 30-foot waterfall. It is a design to trick the senses, certainly. But more importantly, it undercuts our notion of gravity and has a way of freeing the imagination.

One experiences a similar unmooring from reality in approaching a Ketchum home designed by architect Michael Blash and built by Watson Construction. With this small (1,800 square feet) riverfront home owned by a young software engineer and Ketchum native (who prefers to remain anonymous), however, it is the roof—actually two roofs designed to mimic the outline of the Sawtooth Mountains—that appear to float on a pillow of air above a structure of steel, stone, and glass. Like “Fallingwater,” the illusion is thrilling, but the lasting effect is to lighten the building, as if to give it flight.

To enter the house proper, one follows a nature path of native landscaping winding to a “cave” entrance of boulders and brown, weather-mottled steel siding. Go through the front door and it feels for a second like an Alice-in-Wonderland moment in which the outside is inside: built into the stairway and front door landing is a 42,000 pound, 11-foot tall, basalt boulder with rivulets of water bubbling out of it and down to the lower floor. There can be few entries as disarming.

The boulder, like all the others used in the house, was tumbled smooth 15,000 years ago when Lake Bonneville—precursor to the Great Salt Lake—broke loose and flooded the Snake River Plain. As it turned out, these “melon gravels” as they are known, became a sort of prehistoric playground for the owner when he was a kid visiting family property near Twin Falls. All of the rocks in the house came from that land along the Snake River. Blash offered that he had a few guidelines, but one “mandatory requirement” was to use that 21-ton rock in the design. Its aesthetic and emotional value aside, the feature also provides a natural indoor humidifier for the otherwise dry Idaho air.

In approaching a new design, Blash said he tries “to capture what the client wants, his personality and cultural background, and the future of the client in the house.” In this case, there were three key themes to be incorporated: the boulders, the surrounding mountains and geothermal water or hot springs. Add to this mix, Blash said, his client “…is young, fun to work with and really thinks outside the box.” Evidence of the latter is in the design of the “grotto,” a hot tub designed to look like a natural hot spring. One enters it by walking down some stairs from a sitting area, swimming through a cave hole and into a lighted hot tub area—not unlike the Blue Grotto on the island of Capri, Italy.

The grotto ties in a fourth theme evident throughout the house: the interplay of structure and nature. This concept goes back most famously to Frank Lloyd Wright, and it clearly influenced the owner. “I had studied the architecture of ‘Fallingwater’ in a class at school, and I visited it while in the process of designing the house,” he said. “I’ve always been deeply impressed by the artistry of how Frank Lloyd Wright designed the house so that it communicates with and becomes part of the natural surroundings. While unfortunately it wasn’t possible to build my house directly on top of boulders and to leave that stone penetrating through the house like it exists at ‘Fallingwater,’ at least we have all been complimented by the fact that many people have asked whether the house was built around that central boulder.”

Perhaps less visible to the layman’s eye is the diminutive carbon footprint of the home. Indeed, it is a small home in a valley of big homes. More importantly, it was built to comply with Gold Level requirements of LEEDs, the internationally recognized green building certification system. For example, the house is heated with geothermal heat pumps. The temperature differential between the surface and 200 feet underground is used to both heat and cool the house via forced air and radiant concrete floors. And at the base level, the house was constructed with foam blocks—five inches of foam mold filled with six inches of concrete—and foam-filled steel tubes that were then wrapped with insulation. All of the windows were sealed and will be shaded with passive solar shades. “It’s really more like something you’d see in Europe,” Blash said.

Certainly creating a green home demands thoughtful design and construction, but equally important is how energy is managed once the house is built. Conspicuously absent from this house are light switches. With a background in programming and technology, the owner wanted to be able to manage the house—the lights, media, climate, hot tub, sprinklers, garage, and security system—with his iPhone. Discovering that there wasn’t anything on the market that did what he wanted, he decided to write the program and build the system himself. To that end, there will be iPod touches and iPads throughout the house communicating wirelessly to a central server. Something they don’t have at “Fallingwater.”

In the end, the two and a half year project was not easy. As the owner pointed out, “There were design challenges in doing everything that we wanted to do in the available space. The design Michael created is complex. Rod (Watson), the contractor, was fantastic about always making sure that the work met my and Michael’s approval, and was tireless in making sure we were happy with the final product … I couldn’t be more pleased with what they have created.”















This article appears in the Fall 2011 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.