Home & Design July 24, 2008

The Elegant Barn

Inspired by the rustic design of Vermont's historic Shelburne Farms, the home is bright and cozy with a character unique to the area.

Builder: Dembergh Construction
Architect: Arbonies King Vlock Architects
Location: Golden Eagle Ranch

American architect Robert A.M. Stern once said, “The dialogue between client and architect is about as intimate as any conversation you can have, because when you’re talking about building a house, you’re talking about dreams.”

For a couple from Piedmont, California, it was both dialogue and an amazing team effort spanning three states that brought forth their dream of building a Vermont-style barn home in the Wood River Valley.

Nestled in the Golden Eagle Ranch subdivision off Highway 75 between Ketchum and Hailey, the two-story home blends the simple with the sophisticated.

Inspired by the rustic design of Shelburne Farms, a complex of historic barns and farms in Vermont, the home is bright and cozy with a character unique to the area.

The owners call it their “Elegant Barn.”

Connecticut architect Sandra Vlock was first brought into the project after the Piedmont wife read an article in House Beautiful about one of Vlock’s designs and the close relationship she had developed with those homeowners during the process.

“It was a very personal description about our working relationship and how collaborative it was,” Vlock recalls. “There was something in the article that prompted her to pick up the phone and call me. We talked at length, and there was an instant rapport.”

The wife said that calling Vlock was “out of the blue.”

“I was heading back East at the time and gave them a call,” she says. “It was just out of the blue, because we weren’t planning on building at that time. We had the property, but had decided to wait awhile.”

Vlock and her husband Glenn Arbonies live in Branford, Connecticut, and own Arbonies King Vlock (AKV) Architects. She says that when she first got the phone call from the homeowner, she had never heard of Sun Valley, Idaho.

But, that soon would change.

“A few weeks later, on our way to a conference in Portland, Oregon,I convinced Glenn that we should schedule a stop to meet them at their home in northern California,” Vlock recalls. “Designing houses is a very personal experience. The two-day get-together confirmed my initial impression—and I suspect hers, too—that this was the perfect fit.”

 “We’re very process oriented,” Vlock continues. “We encourage a lot of give and take with our clients. Sorting through countless magazine clippings and books, endless sketchings and quick study models, and a lot of conversation—in the end, this house is an expression, literally, of their vision of ‘an Elegant Barn’.”

Says the wife, “After we got together with Glenn and Sandra, the project just started evolving, working together beautifully. And then we met the folks at Dembergh Construction, who had built the Potters’ barn complex out in Greenhorn Gulch, and that’s what drew us to them,” she says.

Construction on the new home began in May, 2005, and was completed in November, 2006.

“This past year has been the first full year that the family has enjoyed the house,” says the wife. “Our youngest just left for college. That’s partially why we built the house. The kids all love Sun Valley and the house was built with the hopes that they will always come home.”

And this home truly does give them a reason to come back again and again.

Situated on a little more than two acres, the 7,000-square-foot home includes all the touches of a Vermont barn, including board-and-batten wall paneling, custom-made carriage house doors, a cupola on the roof sporting a brass weathervane, and an expansive gambrel-style ceiling running the length of the spacious living area.

The front of the home has two wings coming off the main part of the house that create a welcoming center courtyard in the front. Natural all-wood shingle siding is painted a soft brown color, which harmonizes with the hues in the granite entryway and stone molding surrounding the base of the house. Windows and eaves are trimmed in white, and it is here that you first begin to see the skillful blending of materials and details that give this home both its individuality and complexity. >>>


“This home is very unique to the area, and a pleasant departure from most homes you see,” says Mat Hall, project manager with Dembergh Construction.

“The architects brought an East Coast style to the home, and made just enough changes to the details that it fits nicely into the area. It’s a house I’d love to live in myself,” he acknowledges.

A red double front door with arched top and large glass window panes visually pops out to offer a bright hello to visitors. The door is set into a bold stone entryway constructed of granite found in an Oakley, Idaho, quarry. Young trees and new landscaping on each side of the entryway reveal the home’s newness.

Inside the red door, guests step into a large foyer where again you see the blending of various materials to create a feel. Here, a rich quartzite stone floor contrasts with pristine white board-and-batten wall paneling and a bead board ceiling. The contrast of the rustic with the crisp makes this a favorite room of the wife.

Straight ahead is a bright, expansive great room, with a wall of windows and glass doors that open up to a granite patio, a sprawling backyard pond, and a magnificent view of the nearby hills and valleys of Greenhorn Gulch.

“You can’t upstage the view here—it takes your breath away,” Vlock says. “Drawing from the idea of the borrowed landscape, the windows frame the vistas and create memorable vignettes. The interior celebrates the exterior,” she explains.

In designing the home, the architects took the image of “elegant barn” to its literal conclusion, creating interiors that marry past and present, casual and stylish, country and city. The idea was to build a new house that had the feeling of a Vermont-style barn, but with all of today’s amenities.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the distinctive great room, with its warm 19th-century reclaimed oak flooring milled from old barn beams, clean white board-and-batten paneling, custom-made round barn windows, and an extraordinary 22-foot-high alder wood gambrel-shaped ceiling.

A gambrel-shaped roof, explains Hall, is like a barn roof, with a shallow pitched upper portion and a steeper lower roof area, giving the look of a traditional American hay barn.

So, in a surprising architectural move, the architects fashioned the interior volume of the great room to take on the gambrel form. The gambrel’s matching end walls are defined by two small barn sash windows and Idaho-granite fireplaces. The playful use of vertical board-and-batten siding inside along with classical details such as painted pilasters and crown molding combine familiar comfort in an elegant setting.

The reference to Shelburne Farms is unmistakable with the large, round, multi-paned windows on the upper story, and the palette of the interior has a refreshing lightness.

The two matching granite fireplaces at each end of the room stand almost like rustic bookends. In between are two separate seating areas and an informal dining space, creating a comfortable filled-up feel to the large room.

Reds, blues and yellows are the dominant colors in the home’s décor and the style can only be described as pure Americana-—a whimsical, hodgepodge of stars, plaids, flowers, flags, moose and bears, and old Sun Valley posters. Handmade quilts can be found throughout the home, placed purposefully but casually over banisters, the backs of chairs and on beds.  And it all works delightfully together.

“I’m a strong believer that if you buy something you love, it works with everything else you have,” the wife says.

In front of one of the fireplaces, four overstuffed chairs in red, blue and yellow plaid surround a light green wood coffee table, creating a comfortable conversation area. Mounted above the fireplace is an old American flag with 48 stars and a set of old wooden skis, while a few star figurines are set on the mantelpiece.

By the other fireplace, two flowered sofas share space with two horse-printed high-backed chairs and a couple of tables to create another cozy spot for reading or relaxing. A chicken statue lamp looks on from a corner table, and colorful throw pillows and quilts are within reach for snoozing on those cold Idaho nights.

Separating the two seating areas is a long wood dining room table surrounded by eight weathered-looking, wooden yellow chairs that the wife found on a girlfriends’ trip to Nantucket. And, underneath it all is a red, blue and yellow patterned room-sized rug that ties it all together through common colors. >>>


The wife says, “You just put things together and somehow they all work. We don’t try to decorate, we sort of add little things from our travels, and then they’re more meaningful.”

The spacious interior includes five bedrooms, six bathrooms and a pair of bunk beds in a finished basement. Throughout, the owners’ personal style prevails. In one room a pair of red, white and blue cowboy boots serve as a doorstop. In another room, the theme is bears, with bear lamps, bear pillows and a carved wooden bear statue. Many of the pieces that make the décor unique were found in Sun Valley or on family trips.

“Subtle textures and patterns offer the perfect backdrop to the owners’ colorful collection of quilts, books, folk art, and Sun Valley memorabilia,” Vlock says of the owners’ pattern choices. “We inventoried much of their furnishings on our first visit because we recognized that the new house needed to embrace their unique personal style.”

Two spiral stairwells, one at each end of the home, lead up to a second-floor gallery, an open loft that looks directly down on the main living room. While the gallery naturally serves as a passageway from one end of the house to the other, Vlock has designed it as more than just that.

“We agreed that hallways should be lively spaces, with niches and nooks and crannies.

“The shape of the house, with its two wings framing the entrance, creates a unique opportunity to energize the interior. It’s not only about the view; there’s the fun of seeing people and activity move through the house. The stairs and the second-floor gallery are event spaces, too,” says Vlock.

In fact, tucked into the second-floor gallery is a small open nook in which the owners have set up a comfortable home office decorated in their trademark patriotic colors.

Most everything in the home is custom-made, from the barn-style interior doors used throughout, which were made locally by Valley Door Inc., to the windows, the crown molding and baseboards. Hall says that the extremely precise details took a lot of time and there was very little tolerance for misalignment. 

Hall notes that the two staircases took a craftsman almost one full year to build. “They are handmade and there is nothing straight or parallel on them. This home is one of the more complex houses we’ve built.

“It took a lot of patience and a little head scratching to execute all the things the architect threw our way,” he says with a laugh.

One of the more fun rooms, and also another favorite of the wife, is the all-purpose mudroom. Although it features tons of storage space for the couple’s recreational equipment, there was a bit of a quandary about how and where to store the family’s long canoe. Ultimately, it was Vlock and Arbonies who came up with a fun solution after visiting a restaurant in which a canoe was seen hanging from the ceiling.

“We always knew the mudroom was going to be a fantastic space. It became the perfect opportunity to display and store their Old Towne canoe. This is a very active family—from the ski slopes to the tennis courts, it’s all about the gear and how to organize it,” Vlock notes.

The mudroom also provides a dog wash for the family’s two Labrador retrievers that is not only functional but beautiful. “Our labs love the dog wash,” says the wife. “They know to go right in it after we go for a walk to the river.”

Red is the flavor of the master bedroom, with a red quilt, red side tables, red wooden chair, a red-flowered ottoman and pillows and cushions in varying patterns of red prints. In contrast with the white walls, the look is clean, bright and simple.

Just off the master bedroom is perhaps one of the most indulgent rooms of the house—the master bathroom. Light floods the room through the same round barn windows found in the living room. A 6-foot-long walk-in shower and a Kohler K-700 Vintage soaker tub provide luxurious pampering for the owners, while a large dressing area is just outside the bathroom.

“The master bathroom is beautiful and I just love the architectural feel of it and how my two antique pine chairs sit in there creating such a clean aesthetic,” says the wife.  

Hall personally worked with the Sigma Faucet Company to custom design a shower head that would contour to the crown molding in the shower. He also worked with the owners to design the cabinets throughout the home.  

“Mat was so involved with us and made it just such a pleasure to build this home,” the wife adds.  “Everybody was truly on this sort of journey together.”  Hall understands her sense of a shared journey, and says it all came together because of a team approach.

“It was a good team all the way around,” he says. “They’re fabulous folks and they are very particular about things and it shows,” he says. “We enjoyed working with architects who had taste and sensitivity to detail. I’d love to work with them again.”

Vlock says she and her husband share great admiration for the Dembergh Construction crew as well. “We’d get to the job site, and every vehicle was perfectly aligned and perpendicular to the house. The job site was always neat as a pin. It’s indicative of the careful management of the project from start to finish,” she notes. 

The owner of the house says, “It was a fun project. It was all about the journey and it really was a journey for all of us. And now we have this beautiful barn, this beautiful house.”

This article appears in the Spring 2008 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.