Stepping through the front door of the Luhr residence in Sun Valley and turning the corner into the living room, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the expanse of windows that frames a view of Bald Mountain that is so intimate and yet so huge, it takes one’s breath away.
“It’s a ‘pinch-me’ view,” smiled owner Sherri Luhr, “and we never tire of it!” Ketchum Area Parking Map
Luhr, an interior designer and former graphic designer, had spent years collecting tear sheets from magazines with architectural details and floor plans, textures, materials and color schemes that captured her interest. After she and her husband Dave, an ad agency executive, purchased the 1.5-acre lot across from the Sun Valley Golf Course, Sherri took a tear sheet of a house she particularly liked to architect Janet Jarvis.
“She’d cut it out of a magazine and had carried it around forever and had no idea I’d designed it!” laughed Jarvis. “Our sensitivities to style are very similar, which is one of the reasons we worked so well together.”
The Luhrs’ vision was to build a home that was “mountain rustic,” reflective of the Sun Valley aesthetic, emphasizing simplicity and comfort but with an understated overlay of elegance. “I wanted it to be a place where my family could be comfortable and relaxed,” she said. And a place where her artistic sensibilities could shine.
Luhr chose builder Paul Conrad for his creativity and ability to build not only the house but custom interior elements such as two sets of rolling barn doors and the kitchen range hood. (“I’m a closet interior designer,” he grinned.) Added Jarvis, “A lot of builders will just say ‘give me the plan and I’ll build it’ and they don’t vary from the plan. What’s great about Paul is that he’d call me up and say, ’what if we did this?’ He was full of ideas specific to this house.”
The location of the hillside site—while boasting a killer view—presented several practical challenges for Jarvis and Conrad. The soil condition was mostly silt from a century-old landslide and the lot was at the mouth of a canyon that wouldn’t carry the weight of the house. To transfer the weight from the foundation to bedrock required pilings sunk 40 feet deep and 174 anchors. In addition, a water main ran right through the middle of the lot!
The house was designed to work with the existing topography. Landscape architect Rob King of Clemons Associates was charged with blending the landform into the surrounding landscape while fashioning exterior living areas. Naturalized fescue grasses, which can be mown when the Luhrs want a more traditional lawn, create a low-growing meadow. And King used a limited palette of plants to create a simple overall composition to complement the surrounding vegetation. The result is a seamless visual transition in color and texture from the house itself to the setting of meadow grasses, trees, sky and, of course, Baldy itself.
“I love, love, love the siting of the hot tub!” exclaimed Luhr. (King placed the tub just to the side of the bank of living room windows so as not to obstruct the view from the interior.) “We turn off the lights and it’s like camping: there are millions of stars! I love the simplicity of it.”
Nowhere is the view more breathtaking than in the living room. The vista of River Run is framed by the soft arch of distressed reclaimed beams from Idaho Glulam. Angled knee braces flow halfway down the sidewalls in a graceful touch. Luhr’s color palette throughout the home is neutral and understated, reflecting the natural hues of the surrounding meadow. The colors softly whisper a promise of relaxation. An 18-foot-long pinball table, situated directly beneath the windows that face the iconic mountain, is testament to Luhr’s ability to keep the house comfortable for family as well as stylish.
The flooring in the living room is cerused oak. Ceruse is a derivative of white lead that was once used as a face powder by Queen Elizabeth and her 16th century contemporaries. Toxic to human skin, cabinetmakers used a paste to fill the open grain of oak planks, which highlighted the grain, also known as limed oak. Today, ceruse is made from non-toxic colored waxes.
The diamond plaster walls have a lime base and are what Conrad calls “old school.” The technique is labor intensive and involves three layers: the scratch coat, the brown coat which gives it density and texture, and the final coat which adds color and finish. Superior troweling requires the hand of an artisan, says Jarvis. “When clients ask me if they should spend the money on plaster walls, I say yes!” noted Jarvis. “Plastering such as this absorbs sound, reflects light and gives off a warmth that you just can’t get with drywall.”
Guests who merely glance at the dining room wall that abuts the master bedroom often look askance at their hostess’ choice to leave what appear to be gaps between the bedroom and the reclaimed wood slats on the wall. “If you look closely, you’ll see the wood is actually backed with mirror,” said Luhr. “I love the way it bounces back the light.”
The kitchen can be separated from the dining and living areas by rolling the metal barn doors. Luhr had a tearsheet of a rolling barn door she’d seen in a winery, and Conrad and his metalworkers were able to create a custom door for her with a warm, rich patina. He also created the hood over the LaCanche French range. As he likes to do, Conrad first made a model from wood to ensure that the size and scale were correct before committing his client’s resources to metal.
Windows are the soul of the home, says Jarvis, and she and the Luhrs spent considerable time to find a company that would create the details they wanted. Bend River Sash supplied the casement windows with clever pull-down screens that won’t block the view and muntin bars. The bars create a more traditional feel while the upsize of the windows add a modern twist. The windows outside are framed in wirebrushed cedar that will withstand the elements; inside, they are smooth.
Both architect and builder were cognizant of blending the right materials—shingle, barnwood, metal and stone—for a sense of permanence in the exterior and interior to achieve the Luhrs’ vision. But the sweeping vista is what drove all else.
“Before we laid the foundation, Paul built a viewing platform at floor level on the site” said Luhr. “Dave and I would sit there in our beach chairs with our glasses of wine and just drink in the view.”