2016 Home of the Year: A Contemporary Homestead
It’s hard to fool the human eye. It can immediately sense when a building’s scale is unsuitable, when its proportions are off, or when its materials feel out of place. It also perceives when an architect has gotten these details exactly right. It may not understand why, but it knows when a place just feels good.
Architect Paul Bertelli does know why. And though the answer is different for every building created by his team at JLF Design Build, a collaboration between JLF & Associates and Big-D Signature, it always begins with a response to the site—not just its topography and views, but its regional and historical contexts as well.
For the 2016 Home of the Year, a contemporary homestead built for a young family of five, that site is a sloping 35 acres atop Gros Ventre West, a finger of aspen-dotted hills halfway between the towns of Jackson and Wilson, Wyoming. Bertelli, project architect Ashley Sullivan and project manager Tyler Call wanted the home to appear to grow out of this landscape. “And in order to do that,” Bertelli says, “we had to respect the canvas we were given.”
The home appears to grow out of the landscape atop Gros Ventre West.
The home comprises a series of buildings that step down the hillside in a configuration Bertelli describes as “open arms.” In the center of that embrace is the understated entry, a little log building with a simple wooden truss above its porch. To its left, a guesthouse, garage and equipment shed are built into the hillside, with sage and wild grasses growing over the guesthouse roof. To the entry’s right is a stone structure containing the kitchen and living room. Stepping down from that building is the bedroom wing, a small log cabin “that looks like it has been there forever,” Bertelli says.
Comfortable teak furniture, cozy rugs and throws, and a large stone fireplace make this porch one of the homeowners’ favorite places to relax and dine nearly year round.
“We wanted the home’s entry to prepare you for what’s to come: a simplicity of line in architecture and furnishings,” says interior designer Rush Jenkins, who paired the homeowners’ midcentury George Nakashima credenza and chair with a suede-upholstered bench by Holly Hunt and Rocky Mountain Hardware’s Cube chandelier.
In the living room, excess grout was wiped away from the rock walls’ mortar joints to create a “smoother texture and softer, more feminine look,” architect Paul Bertelli says. The homeowners’ midcentury Edward Wormley sofas are complemented by a Calvin Klein lounge chair and a custom coffee table by Antoine Proulx. A large oil painting by Bradford Stewart rests atop the stone mantel.
The living room’s streamlined furnishings and soft, neutral color palette defer to spectacular views of the Tetons.
Though their home is built of weathered Montana moss rock and rustic reclaimed wood, the owners wanted more than a replica of a vintage building. “We designed this home not just for the couple, but for their three children who will grow up here and use it forever,” Bertelli says. “The house conveys a sense of optimism; it’s about the future.”
To translate that feeling into architecture, the design team began by incorporating broad expanses of ultra-efficient steel-and-glass windows—“shifting gears in terms of centuries, sophistication and technology,” Bertelli says. They built board-and-batten-style exterior siding with industrial Cor-Ten rusted steel, and added muscular steel beams to contrast with the living room and kitchen’s reclaimed-wood ceilings and rare American chestnut floors.
Engineering the kitchen’s cabinetry was “like building a German car,” Bertelli says. “The alignment was critical, the glass couldn’t chip, the corners couldn’t break.” Italian Basaltina countertops and a Lindsey Adelman chandelier accent the sleek expanse. The adjacent dining area’s table and banquette are custom pieces by WRJ Design Associates; Bolier’s Kata armchairs provide extra seating. Pistil pendants from Holly Hunt hang overhead.
In the kitchen, they pushed the contrast of rustic and contemporary to the extreme, choosing opaque white glass for the room’s custom frameless cabinetry. “We wanted something unusual yet practical, powerful yet transparent,” Bertelli explains. “It’s the iPhone in the room.”
Interior designers Rush Jenkins and Klaus Baer, principals of WRJ Design Associates, and contributing designer Emily Janak emphasized these striking juxtapositions by highlighting the homeowners’ collection of Midcentury Modern furniture, including a George Nakashima credenza, Edward Wormley sofas, and eight rosewood dining chairs by Henning Kjaernulf.
In the kitchen’s sitting room, a pair of Finn Juhl’s Danish Modern armchairs and a Verellen loveseat cozy up to a custom walnut-and-bronze coffee table by Zac Seipel.
“What made this project stimulating and challenging was selecting furniture, antiques, rugs, fabrics, art and accessories that would make those modern pieces really sing,” Jenkins says. “Midcentury furnishings typically have open arms, exposed legs and minimal cushions on the seats or backs, so we introduced some weightier furnishings to counterbalance that lightness.”
The dining area’s custom table expands from a small round game table to seat as many as eight guests. The rosewood armchairs are a Scandinavian Modern design by Henning Kjaernulf.
To accentuate the clean lines, the designers selected velvet, suede, mohair, linen and cashmere upholstery in a light palette inspired by the home’s natural surroundings: soft sage greens from the hillsides, pale blues from the skies and rich creams from the mountaintops.
The size and function of each room reflect a family that lives in contemporary ways. In lieu of a grand dining room, the homeowners requested several intimate dining areas: a small table with banquette in the kitchen, an adjacent outdoor dining table and the living room’s custom game table that can expand to seat eight guests.
“We wanted the home to feel approachable and comfortable,” says Jenkins, whose team softened the lines of the family room’s Danish Modern lounge chairs with an inviting wool fabric. With help from the homeowners, they worked closely with rug maker Elizabeth Eakins to design the custom floor covering.
— Interior Designer Rush Jenkins
Fur pillows and throws soften the contrast between the master bedroom’s rustic walls and streamlined furnishings: a custom bed by West Coast Craftsman and chest from Poltrona Frau.
The homeowners traded large mirrors for views in the master bathroom but asked Wild West Iron Works to design a small adjustable mirror that grips the window frame. The crystal disk pendants are by Ochre.
The homeowners also preferred an understated approach to the master suite. “They said, ‘We sleep here, but we live our life with our family in the kitchen, living room and outdoors,’” Bertelli says of the cozy log-walled bedroom. In the adjacent bathroom, the homeowners traded large mirrors for a view of the entire Teton Range. “Looking out that window is a wonderful start to the day,” the wife says. “The view reminds us that this is an incredible place to live.”
The little room perfectly sums up the philosophy that guided every aspect of this home’s design: On this ridge-top site, where the surroundings are so dramatic and the views so majestic, nothing should interrupt the experience of the natural beauty outside.
Architect Paul Bertelli explains how new technology—and some labor-intensive techniques—helped his team create a rustic homestead that performs for modern living.
Mountain Living: Are steel-framed windows energy efficient?
Paul Bertelli: Not always. If it’s 30 below zero outside, a simple piece of steel will be 20 below inside, so you lose energy through the glass and the frame. But this home’s steel windows have an isolation joint that separates the outside metal from the inside metal, which prevents cold air from being transferred to the interior.
ML: How about log walls?
PB: Log buildings are notoriously leaky. Our projects often incorporate old log buildings that we source from all over the country. Here in Teton County, we’re held to a high standard of energy efficiency. Our solution is to split each log in half, build a very narrow hermetically sealed wall, and then apply the inside of each log to the interior and the outside of the log to the exterior, like a sandwich.
ML: How do you preserve the log buildings’ beautiful corners?
PB: You can’t just slice that part of the building in half, so that’s where the craft comes in. We do what’s called a pistol cut: All of the log is sliced in half except for the first 8 to 12 inches on each side. This maintains the highly crafted, beautifully weathered corners that are vital to preserving the authenticity of the building.