An unconventional house on a central Idaho ranch provides big comfort in a small footprint
Seen from a distance, the 700-square-foot cabin on Summit Springs Ranch, a historic 3,785-acre property in Idaho’s Upper Little Lost River Valley, may bring to mind a rustic house-shaped spacecraft set down in a faraway wilderness. And that somewhat fanciful description is, in fact, not too far from its creators’ intentions.
“It’s a viewing machine,” explains Clark Stevens, president of New West Land Company in Topanga, California. With the help of project designer Thomas DeVoss, Stevens designed the modest residence with 360-degree mountain views on behalf of the ranch’s developers, Beartooth Capital, a Bozeman, Montana-based investment company dedicated to restoring and protecting significant western ranch properties.
The home Stevens and DeVoss designed had to be the sort that would “attract the kind of buyer amenable to habitat restoration,” he says. “It had to make a minimal impact on the site and become part of the landscape—instead of taking a big lodge-style approach—while providing every basic need in a charming way that fit the local vernacular.”
Stevens and his colleagues met these low-impact, landscape-friendly goals by conducting careful studies to identify possible settings that would best capture the beauty of the surroundings without impacting the environment (see sidebar). They chose a spot off to the side of the valley floor, a short stroll from a trout creek. In early autumn, before the cold weather set in, they sank four concrete piers into the ground. Then, the log-and-glass house was fabricated over the winter by Salmon River Log Homes, located just a couple of hours away in the town of Salmon, Idaho. The following spring, the house was trucked in on its steel-frame base and bolted securely to the waiting piers—where it will remain unless a buyer later decides to unbolt it and move it elsewhere on the ranch.
Stevens created the floor plan by combining three typical Western structures: “It’s basically an amalgamation of a calving shed and a granary, connected by a dogtrot,” he says with a note of amusement. Occupying the “calving-shed” portion of the building—about 40 percent of the total square footage—is a bedroom, enclosed toilet and sink, and an enameled cast-iron bathtub that sits out in the open and makes the house “feel more like a spa or retreat,” Stevens says. The long, narrower “dogtrot,” a living/sitting area, connects the bedroom to the “granary,” a towerlike space that contains the kitchen and, up a ladder, an 8-by-12-foot loft platform where guests can sleep or kids can hang out.
That’s a lot of function for such a small space. The design enhances a feeling of spaciousness thanks to sightlines that stretch from one end of the house to the other, few partitions and expansive windows at every turn. “Having less house makes you feel more like you’re living on the land,” Stevens says. And, in this case, that means calling 3,785 acres home rather than 700 square feet.
High- and Low-Tech Approaches to Siting a House
Modern technology can help architects position their designs with pinpoint precision. For the 700-square-foot cabin he designed at Summit Springs Ranch, architect Clark Stevens paired state-of-the-art digital software with on-site study.
Digital Modeling Stevens and his team began by constructing a 3-D digital model of the house on their computers, which allowed them to manipulate the structure and examine it from all angles.
Virtual Earth Still at their computers, they then figuratively “dropped the house onto the land using Google Earth,” Stevens says. The website’s satellite imaging allowed them to fully imagine how the house would look on the site and what the views would be, and adjust its orientation and window placement accordingly.
On-Site Observation Knowing that nothing compares to firsthand human experience, Stevens then visited the site with a stepladder in tow. “I carried it around to where the windows would be, climbed it and looked through the rungs at each window’s height,” he says. The result? Views that are “really fine-tuned.”
ARCHITECTURE Clark Stevens and project designer Thomas DeVoss, New West Land Company, Topanga, CA, 310-614-6636, newwestland.com DEVELOPER Beartooth Capital, Bozeman, MT, 406-551-4769, beartoothcap.com FABRICATION Salmon River Log Homes, Salmon, ID, 208-756-4155, salmonidahoconstruction.com ALUMINUM CEILING PENDANTS Ikea, ikea.com