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Meant To Be
A chance detour on a road trip leads to a family building a life and new home in the valley. The latter was designed to be beautiful but practical, and fun.
By Dina Mishev ∙ Photography by Matthew Millman
Two bathrooms—a first-floor powder room and the master bath—perfectly sum up a new house built north of Jackson for a family of six. In the powder room, there is a giant palm frond that separates the toilet from the vanity. In the master bath, there is a massive sheet of natural stone. The owner sourced the palm frond herself with no specific purpose, but “thought it was supercool,” she says. She went to Utah on a buying trip purposefully looking for stone, but unsure of the specifics. As she was looking at the slab of onyx that is now mounted in the master bath, someone opened the garage door behind it, which backlit the stone. “As soon as it was illuminated, it had all of this movement and life. It looked like lava,” she says. “I’m getting it,” she told a member of the construction team who was there with her. “Let’s figure out how we’re going to use it.” Then she added, “And it has to be backlit.”
“That’s what a lot of this project was: fortunate happenstance and the team coming up with creative solutions to my imagination,” the owner says.
The fact that this family came to build a home in Jackson Hole at all is due to happenstance. About seven years ago, while on a mission to drive to all of the states in the continental U.S. with their four boys (now ages fourteen to twenty), the family was in Montana—state forty-five for them. They were about to head home. “But since Wyoming was so close, we decided to drive through Jackson,” the wife says. The family pulled into the Town Square and “got that last parking spot in front of Moo’s [Gourmet Ice Cream] that is never open. I haven’t seen that space empty since. We parked and got out, and I immediately knew this was where we wanted to be.” (Part of the idea behind touring all fifty states was to look for a place to buy a second home.)
The family first saw and fell in love with Jackson in the summertime. A couple of weeks before Christmas that year, the wife flew out with one of their sons to see the valley in winter. They still loved it. When they were due to fly home, a big snowstorm temporarily closed the airport. It was during this unanticipated extra time in the valley that the wife found the property they ended up buying. “Again, it was happenstance,” she says.
The property was a 1980s home with a log guesthouse on ten acres that included Snake River access, a small pond, and several spring creeks. The main house, one of the first homes built in the subdivision, didn’t exactly suit the couple’s taste or needs. They looked at remodeling it. “It had been built prior to the county’s earthquake codes, though,” the wife says. “If we remodeled, the only thing that would have been left standing was the garage. I think you should redo instead of undo, but it just wasn’t feasible in this instance.” (The family lives in a renovated, one-hundred-year-old house when not in Jackson.)
They went to Carney Logan Burke (CLB) Architects with a clear idea of the big picture. “I had had that home built in my head for years and years,” says the wife, who was the most active family member in the design (although the oldest son did a short internship at CLB). “My idea was a log cabin that looked like it had been built onto. I wanted it to look like it had been there forever.”
Also important was that, visually, the house interact lightly with the land. “I wanted to be able to see the mountains through parts of the house,” the owner says. “I wanted it to be included in nature, not obstruct nature.” The glass “connectors” between the main mass and the two wings allow for this.
While the original home didn’t work for the family long-term, they lived in it for several years as the new home was being designed and built. “We really came to know how the world worked in that little section,” the owner says. “I learned there was a bald eagle that sits in the same tree almost every day, and I knew I wanted to be able to see it from the new house.” Principal architect John Carney says, “When you live on a site, you get to know it intimately.” The owner says: “Even though we knew when we moved into it that it wasn’t forever, leaving the original house was hard for me. It had become more than a physical structure; we had made memories there. I like knowing that the original house informed the design and details in the new one.”