Dreams Can Come True

Pick the right team, and you can design and build the exact house you imagined.

Dreams Can Come True

Pick the right team, and you can design and build the exact house you imagined.

By Joohee Muromcew ∙ Photography by David Agnello

The south-facing sunroom—a bright, warm place for morning coffee or afternoon doodling—was an early request in the design process. The author’s potted Meyer lemon trees, beloved reminders of a Bay Area garden, will soon move in for winter. Materials, finishes, and color choices were kept to a minimum. Farmhouse white, black trim, rich woods, and low-key hardware create an elegant backdrop for judicious use of color, like the Cabot-red barn guesthouse.

“This ended up being exactly the house I imagined. How did that happen?” I asked our architect, Peggy Gilday of GYDE Architects, and Alex Romaine, owner of Wind River Builders, as we sat down to a sadly wineless postmortem in our newly built home in the Dairy Ranches subdivision. It’s rarely the case that a client’s vision of a home ends up being the one they unpack their dishes in.

“Well, first, it was a good fit,” Gilday said. So true. Before my husband, Alex, and I had even bought the property, my favorite chapter in Jean Rehkamp Larson’s book, The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home, featured Gilday’s former residence in Wilson, a modest, red, barnlike home with clean lines, minimal variation in materials, and warm finishes. Perhaps a year later, Alex and I found ourselves looking at an aggressively grand house on the West Bank. While the main house wasn’t our style, its guesthouse captivated us. It was a modest stone structure with a beautiful, modern interior that felt historic and contemporary at the same time and was very low-key and quiet. The architect? Gilday. (She didn’t do the boorish main house, just the charming guesthouse.) I googled her like a fangirl, pinning photos of sexy architectural details like a sliding barn door and a corrugated steel wall to my Pinterest page.

I had strong views on the project’s aesthetic—a contemporary take on the iconic American farmhouse, crisp and tidy, with a Cabot-red barn and a stone icehouse.

I finally met Gilday after we bought our first lot in Dairy Ranches (long story!). We immediately fell into shorthand conversation as I could reference her house in Wilson and that stone guesthouse. For our sweeping fifteen acres of flat former ranchland, I had strong views on the project’s aesthetic—a contemporary take on the iconic American farmhouse, crisp and tidy, with a Cabot-red barn and a stone icehouse. I also had a bunch of random details I wanted somewhere in the house, like wired-glass cabinetry, wall space for a to-be-commissioned Jared Sanders painting that would relate to the view on the opposite wall (wherever that might be), and a sunny south-facing room to drink coffee in while watching my Meyer lemon trees grow—you know, the usual checklist. Alex had quite silly ideas like adequate storage, proper lighting, and a functional home office where he could drink coffee while working. Each of our four kids wanted their own bedroom and bathroom, and, unlike most people who are not your grandparents, we wanted a formal dining room and formal living room. And, we wanted a ground floor guest suite in case we got old or fractured a pelvis. Creating a place for Alex’s wine collection was like accommodating a fussy in-law, always needing the right temperature and humidity—not too much light!—and having to be very carefully moved from one resting place to another. Our needs were many and some were admittedly extravagant. And, it was important to me to work with an architect who would deliver a work of architecture, not just draft whatever we carelessly said we fancied after a fun trip to Rome or somewhere, which is something we totally did. (Gilday has a gentle way of saying, “It’s just not something we do well,” when a directive is too far from GYDE’s sensibility.)

Gilday managed to propose schematics that turned our daydreamy ideas (minus our Roman fascinations) into sophisticated interpretations of a farmhouse estate, and always with a point of view. Looking back on this long process, which started in Spring 2014, we can see that finding the right architect—one in accord with our aesthetic sensibility and with whom we could have a collegial working relationship—was the most important decision in setting us up to move into the house we had envisioned in our heads.

Romaine was still coughing politely in the corner about the budget, but he found savings elsewhere that Kaiser Wilhelm would never have noticed.

Gilday says the third leg of the “stool” supporting any successful construction project is the builder, and Romaine certainly kept things from getting wobbly. Even though a client may set an overall budget, the builder is accountable for it, and a seasoned professional is invaluable in deciding when to splurge and what can be value-engineered. As Romaine puts it, he “treads lightly on design. It’s not about my having ‘good taste.’ It’s about being discerning about the work and materials.” I was frequently reminded of that old adage “measure twice, cut once” as we went through so many iterations of siding, exterior paint colors, stone, and siding again, as Wind River and Gilday’s team worked to build consensus on some very expensive decisions. I tired of this part easily, though my husband had endless interest in seeing infinite variations of stained, but not polished, though buffed, quartersawn oak, and also of Montana moss stone. There were months of mind-numbing mechanical engineering gobbledygook (which my husband loved). I was grateful to have trust in our architect and builder so I could at times distance myself.

Eventually, though, every paint color, countertop, door handle, and cabinet pull in this 10,000-square-foot house had to be selected. Alex and I had done an extensive remodel and built new construction before, but with this project—because of its scale and level of commitment—he had a hard time envisioning rooms based on paint chips and tear sheets. I was fine leaving most of this decision-making to Gilday’s team; Alex wanted to be more active in the process, but he lacked the vocabulary to express himself, though he tried. We had some pretty tense and difficult meetings pondering squares of granite and cabinet paint against potential floor stains. We needed an interpreter of sorts, and that’s where Rush Jenkins came in.

The highbrow luxury of Jenkins’ namesake studio, WRJ Design, can be intimidating at first—why not choose those European-mounted elk antlers once owned by Kaiser Wilhelm for your family room?—until you relax into a comfy Ralph Lauren sofa, and one of Jenkins’ sweet dogs curls up at your feet like you own the place. Jenkins immediately honed in on Alex’s need to see and touch furnishings and finishings in their spaces without a lot of designer vernacular. We visited several of WRJ’s clients’ homes, and Jenkins was able to draw out what Alex did and did not want.

While touring one of these homes in the Gill Addition, I seized upon a stunning bathroom wall covered in an opulent white marble mosaic. It was feminine in its delicate details, and mesmerizing in its geometric intricacy. GYDE’s John Stennis raised his formidable eyebrows, letting me know right then that this could blow our entire tile budget. We had seven bathrooms to consider. Stennis presented a design solution for our squarish master bath, proposing a center inset of the gorgeous tile mosaic surrounded by a complementary plain white border in matching stone.
The floor of the shower would also be finished in the mosaic, making two perfect focal points that produced the desired effect. Romaine was still coughing politely in the corner about the budget, but he found savings elsewhere that Kaiser Wilhelm would never have noticed. The elegant simplicity of Gilday’s design and Romaine’s careful attention to craft elevated all of the finishes, whether high-end or value, to a higher level of aesthetic sensibility.

The house that Gilday designed, that Romaine built, and that Jenkins furnished is truly the house I imagined, a statement that astonishes anyone who’s built a new home. Neither I nor my husband will ever be an architect, builder, or designer. The most we can take credit for is bringing together an extraordinary team to execute our desires for our home. It really was all about collaboration.

Volume and height can be a challenge, but the horizontal lines of the beadboard and abundant light from above keep the entryway from being cavernous. The French doors, painted in a custom shade of Pilgrim blue, open to an antique Oushak rug. Craig Spankie’s Number 815 above the antique altar table speaks to the design’s historic-modern, organic-linear balance.
The kitchen design fulfilled an ever-growing list of needs and desires to be the heart of the home. Wired-glass cabinetry from a farmhouse vernacular, wood beams, and a double country sink warm up the coolly elegant lines of the Sonneman Lighting Tribeca lamps, white tile backsplash, and black granite and white marble countertops.
A beautiful view from the sink was imperative, as was the Aga six-burner range.
A departure from open living plans, the main house maintains a sense of intimacy in its spaces. Black doors with frosted glass open to a sun-filled playroom and the children’s bedrooms. The breezy lightness of northern and southern exposures winks at Craig Spankie’s Take It To The Bridge.
Alex’s home office, part of a two-room office-library suite, is anchored by a writing desk designed by Mariette Himes Gomez and an Oushak rug, but the Mount Glory views might prove distracting. Gilday’s team designed clever concealment for printers and cords in the cabinetry.
“Design in Everything” is GYDE Architects’ working ethos, and this view into the family room, kitchen, dining room, and beyond presents all elements—design, family, dog, life—in one perspective. Every point of view was intentionally framed. Note the window beyond the kitchen, drawing the eye outdoors.
The master bedroom faces the Teton Range and its glassy reflection in the one-acre backyard pond. A pair of Verellen wing chairs are invitingly cozy, but nothing could be sexier than the Poltrona Frau dressing table made of saddle leather, Canaletto walnut, and brass.
The master bathroom is spa-like and elegant in its simplicity, yet just feminine enough with the mosaic tile inset on the floor and a double-slipper bathtub. GYDE designed and framed views in every room, even here where the lines of the black-trimmed windows speak to the rafters and the Tetons beyond.
The white farmhouse discreetly disappears into the winter landscape, while the Montana moss stone garage and red barn guesthouse break up volumes and space in classic American farmhouse fashion.
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