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An architect and his partner have wildly different styles. Their compromises create a home as unique as they are.
By Joohee Muromcew ∙ Photography by Taylor Glenn
Visiting the home of a renowned architect can at times feel like a trip to a strange, foreign city: with rigorously straight lines, crisp edges, and all that impossibly uncluttered counter space, it’s nice to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Jackson architect Larry Berlin’s house, therefore, completely defied my expectations. Berlin and his partner, Pam Case, share an East Kelly Street home as gracious and personal as it is elegantly designed.
Berlin and Case, and their two cats Willy and Sammy, welcome me on a rainy Saturday night for a glass of wine. Berlin designed the house with input from Case, who is a development officer at the Jackson Hole Land Trust.
“Pam wanted it to be eclectic, interesting,” Berlin explains. This echoes an earlier conversation about Berlin’s architectural work, now leaning toward more sculptural masses and increased use of color. He points out a richly hued tapestry hanging over the steel fireplace, and one could imagine him gratefully explaining that Case has made him more eclectic and interesting.
The exterior of the house, one of three in an urban compound of sister houses surrounding a courtyard, is strongly representative of Berlin’s work: clean lines with warm materials. Its interior, however, speaks to Berlin and Case’s very vibrant relationship. They are still quite captivated by each other and each other’s differences, and the space exhibits the constantly evolving conversation between these two very different sensibilities.
We gather around an ingenious people cache in their open kitchen—a round cocktail table built into a corner of the kitchen island. Case and Berlin have been discussing their favorite topic, travel, with a grand atlas opened up like a book of wishes. A trip to Milan and the coast of Italy is in the works, and our conversation turns to past and future journeys. There was the time in Paris when they engaged in a highbrow scavenger hunt of sorts for buildings designed by Le Corbusier. A birthday trip to Berlin was memorable for its quest for Berlin’s ancestry, taking them to Strasbourg, then France and then back to Niederbronn in Germany.
Berlin designed the kitchen to be slightly more traditional. The painted-gray china hutch is a gentle departure from the home’s more modern elements, like the striking black steel X-brace intersecting the large windows facing Kelly Street and the steel surround on the fireplace. He “didn’t want the kitchen to look like a chemistry lab,” Case says. Rather, it serves as a culinary diorama of previous adventures to Italy, Greece, Spain, and elsewhere. Colorful tins of smoked paprika from Spain and Hungary are stacked among the formal china. A riotous collection of cooking oils, vinegars, and wines cheerfully stand around the range and backsplash like a crowd of parade watchers.
“Sometimes it drives Larry crazy,” Case confides with a sideways smile, nodding at the beautifully cluttered counter space. Regardless of how they go about it, the pair love to cook and entertain, and the house lends itself to hosting both intimate and large parties. Case favors comforting stews and one-pot dishes simmered in her Staub pots, like hearty boeuf bourguignon and osso bucco. Berlin takes great pride in his pulled pork, cooked for sixteen hours in the Big Green Egg smoker-grill: “I put it in at midnight the night before, then I check on it all night. I love the whole process—lighting the fire, smelling the charcoal, and getting the temperature just right.”
Their home office space, set in a loft overlooking the kitchen, features an oversize partners desk of Berlin’s design. Its vertical-grain fir top echoes the trim on the walls, and the legs are simple steel tubes welded onto rollers. Berlin’s half of the table consists of trim stacks of notebooks and file folders. Case’s half represents an ambitious amount of reading to be done, including books, magazines, travel guides, and newspaper articles. A wire and metal mobile sculpture, one of Berlin’s works, hangs midpoint between the shared spaces.
Berlin’s sculpture and paintings mix in with a highly personal collection of art. The master bathroom, spacious and spa-like with Italian glass tiles and a concrete floor, is an unexpected spot for a Frank Gehry-designed bench made of corrugated cardboard. When asked if he worries about this iconic work of art being next to the bathtub, Berlin’s quiet sense of humor emerges. “[It] gives it character,” he says.
Walking down the staircase, a John Thompson mixed media collage begs for explanation. A childhood model airplane covered in newspaper papier-mâché floats on top of a distressed wood frame. Every piece in their collection has a story behind it, and there’s often a personal connection to the artist.
No room could be more personal than the bedroom, and I enter the master suite feeling a little invasive. “It’s a work in progress,” Berlin says, noting the orange fiberglass bedside lamps are to be replaced, and he is not so satisfied with the linens. A cherished family heirloom of Case’s sits atop a sleek set of smooth, white drawers.
“I can tell which side of the bed you sleep on,” I say to Berlin. He takes a look and laughs. On Case’s nightstand is a travel guide to Italy and an issue of Bon Appétit opened up to a graphic photograph of some very voluptuous fried chicken. Berlin’s side? Three slim books, stacked and centered, all right angles perfectly aligned.