Lemonade From Lemons
Homeowners planned for a remodel, but then the contractor discovered serious problems with the foundation.
By Lila Edythe / Photography by Tuck Fauntleroy
“The amazing, unobstructed views of the Tetons this house has proposed a challenge,” says interior designer Kate Binger, who founded Dwelling in 2007. “As awe-inspiring as it is, it can also be a little overwhelming.” In the combined kitchen/dining/living room, Binger started by deciding to use wood on the ceiling and floors. (The former is hemlock; the latter is white oak.) “The focus is still on the mountains, but the wood above and below the giant views envelops the mountains in warmth.”
Binger worked with Dave Daniel, of Molding Mud, on the custom two-sided fireplace. “I needed something that was contemporary enough for the clients’ desires, but also warm and textured enough to balance out the space and views.” Binger and Daniel came up with the idea of wrapping the entire fireplace in panels of matte concrete. “Concrete is physically a hard material, but here it is soft with the finish and the eased edges of the panels,” she says, “but still contemporary.”
“I called [the homeowners] and asked, ‘How married are you to remodeling this house?’” says Steven Landis, the owner/president of Select Builders. Landis made the call after his crew had been demo-ing the 1970s home for several weeks and well after the owners had finalized plans and permits for a remodel with Jackson-based architect Rick Merrell. “When we were doing the demo, we started modifying the foundation, and as we were doing this we saw cracks everywhere. We started digging for a new foundation and went 20 feet down and found there was no bearing soil,” Landis says.
A concrete resin matte charcoal dining table and mid-century modern teak chairs sit below an architectural light fixture. “I wanted to find a fixture that had some softness, but also had modern lines. As I was doing this house, circles became important to me—the shape softens the hard edges of the Tetons. The painting, Stick ‘em Up, is by Jackson-born artist Connor Liljestrom, whom Binger’s assistant discovered at one of the Art Association Art Fairs last summer. “He uses western icons and creates his own modern take on them, and then infuses them with abstraction and vibrant colors. To me, his compositions have a lot of depth,” Binger says.
If the homeowners answered Landis’s question with a “yes,” the remodel could still have happened, albeit on an extended timeline. The soil beneath the foundation could have been “reconditioned,” or helical piers could have been installed and the original foundation repaired and put on top of them. Reconditioning soil entails removing the existing soil, adding moisture to it, mixing it, and then putting it back in place before compacting it. A helical pier is a steel shaft that is rotated into the ground—much like a screw into wood—until it hits rock.
But the couple who owned the home, one half of which grew up in Jackson, wasn’t married to a remodel. “The original house was perfectly fine and we decided we could make a remodel of it work for us,” says the Jackson-born half. “But then the nonbearing soil happened. We had to think about it and regroup, but in retrospect, that was a godsend.” The couple and their three kids—a 13-year-old and 10-year-old twins—first visited their brand new house in June, shortly after construction was finished. Since then the couple has hosted numerous friends (with and without kids) and a family Christmas. “It is a great place to get together with friends and family and enjoy Jackson,” the homeowner says.
We don’t need a huge house. From the beginning we were more interested in huge views.”
[ Homeowner ]
Although the couple was able to start with a blank slate, the house they ended up building has a footprint similar in size to what their planned remodel would have had. “We don’t need a huge house. From the beginning we were more interested in huge views,” the homeowner says. And the property has some of the biggest, most expansive views in the valley; it is on an inholding in Grand Teton National Park. “This place is only on 1 acre, but it feels like it is on a zillion acres,” says the homeowner. “Grand Teton National Park is on four sides of us.”
Local woodworker Jeremy Landis made all of the kitchen cabinetry, which is bleached white oak. Countertops are quartz. “A challenge in the kitchen was the lighting—having enough task lighting and decorative lighting fixtures to balance the unencumbered views of the Tetons,” Binger says. To continue the circular theme, Binger chose ceramic tiles that have an undulating scallop relief pattern on them.
The biggest change between the original house and the new one (besides the new home having a structurally sound foundation) is the orientation. “The original house was oriented about 15 degrees off from looking directly at the Tetons,” says the homeowner. “That wasn’t a reason to build new rather than remodel, but when the soil [problem] was discovered, that was enough of a reason to build new. We took the opportunity to change the orientation.” Almost the entire northwestern side of the home is glass and faces the Tetons full-on. “They are very, very large windows and doors,” the homeowner says while sitting at a dining table in front of some of the windows. Landis, who has been building homes since 1979, says this glass wall, which stretches almost the length of the combined kitchen/dining/living room, is “the biggest open space we’ve ever done. One huge steel moment frame created two window walls on the main level. There’s another on the lower level.”
“We put a lot of work and thought into the plans for the remodel, and having that all be for nothing was a disappointment, but sitting here today, we couldn’t be happier,” says the homeowner. “We totally love it.”
Binger says the coffee table was one of the last pieces she was looking for. She found this slab of curly maple while in North Carolina. “I fell in love with the piece of wood and sent it off to the client,” she says. “Curly maple has a lot of movement in it—it has curly lines within the slab, and, again, it spoke to the circular theme I had been wanting to follow.” For the base, “it made sense to marry the concrete material from the fireplace into the base of the coffee table,” Binger says. On this, she again worked with Dave Daniel.
The sofas are from Stanford Furniture. “The client wanted mostly neutral upholstery, but with the intensity of the views it couldn’t be plain,” says Binger. “It needed pattern and depth.”
A credenza doubles as a dry bar. The two leather-wrapped mirrors hanging above it reinforce the circular theme Binger used throughout the entire home.
“I’ve worked on plenty of houses that have incredible Teton views,” Binger says. “But this is the first project where almost every room has views—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the entry, the den—they all have unobstructed views of the Tetons. For all of these rooms, the natural light and views were paramount.” In the master bathroom, a freestanding Victoria + Albert deep soaking tub sits beneath a window.
Binger has a common refrain when talking about interiors in Jackson Hole: “What would work in places that have a constant balance of greenery, like California or Florida, would not work here, where, in the middle of January we might not have seen the sun for three weeks. As beautiful as the views are, the whiteout conditions outside our windows can be depleting for the human spirit,” she says. With this project Binger worked to make spaces cozy enough to balance the “massive, stark landscape” visible from almost every room while still achieving the clients’ desire for a minimalist aesthetic. Like the other rooms with big views, the master bedroom has a circular pattern—here a starburst twig chandelier above the bed—to soften the intensity of the views.