A couple finds authentic Western charm in Big Horn, Wyoming
Photography by Audrey Hall
The town of Big Horn, Wyoming, represents the best of both worlds. It lies close to Sheridan’s big-town amenities but offers a rural lifestyle and a decidedly small-town feel. The community is defined by its location off the main road, tucked up against the east slope of the Bighorn Mountains and abutting the million-plus-acre Bighorn National Forest. There, the proximity to wilderness and a protected quality of life is unparalleled.
A Glenn Dean oil painting above a carved-front Hickory Chair chest provides a focal point at one end of the dining room.
For one couple, ranchers and horse breeders who spend most of the year in Texas, it was Sheridan’s world-famous polo club that originally drew them to the area. But it was in Big Horn that they found what was, for them, the perfect property: more land than house, with plenty of room for horses. Best of all, it came with a vintage building that could be restored with its authentic Western charm intact.
Timelessly stylish custom Molesworth chairs from Marc Taggart in Cody, Wyoming, are grouped in conversation with a leather Chesterfield sofa. The hand-painted ceiling light, beaded magazine rack, burled lamp and Old Hickory side table represent equal parts art and function.
According to Larry Baker of A&K Construction in Sheridan, previous visitors had declared the building a teardown. But for the buyers, the low-slung bunkhouse-like structure was a big part of the property’s appeal. Admittedly, it had been haphazardly constructed in the 1950s or ’60s. The foundation was minimal, the porch was flimsy, the second story barely usable with ceilings too low to stand upright. But the couple liked its scale, its appropriateness and the way it was sited on the property in deference to its agricultural neighbors and the greater landscape. Its prospect—looking west toward the Bighorn Mountains and south over open pastures to grassy foothills vibrant with wildlife—was breathtaking.
Old Hickory Grove Park rockers line the welcoming and functional covered porch.
Upon acquiring the property, the couple retained architect Dan Stalker to develop a concept that would save the soul of the house but make it usable and comfortable for everyday living. Architect Dennis Deppmeier of 2north, who has a background in historic preservation, was brought on to carry Stalker’s ideas forward and develop the interior architecture. Jeremiah Young of design firm Kibler & Kirch joined the team to infuse the structure with unique elements and timeless, handcrafted appeal.
A rustic kitchen designed by Jeremiah Young of Kibler & Kirch achieves perfect balance in scale.
First the roof was replaced and the upper level rebuilt with a staggered roofline; this broke up the monolithic lines while giving two-thirds of the house space for a second story, with dormers to allow for human-scaled bedrooms and baths. The architects introduced reclaimed wood and river-rock treatment on the exterior and reclaimed fir on the dormers to help the structure blend into the landscape. Standing dead logs were added to support the porch, which was first removed and then reconstructed for functionality and longevity. The new porch retains the bunkhouse style, running much of the length of the building, and helps preserve its vintage look, complete with red trim windows. In clement weather, the porch is the staging place for the day’s activities and, at the end of an active day, the preferred venue for unwinding.
A combined mudroom and laundry has handmade Mexican Saltillo tiles on the floor and counter.
Appropriately, the focal point of the home is the river-rock fireplace that anchors one end of the great room. The area includes a dining space and is open to the kitchen for ease of entertaining. The ground floor also encompasses the master bedroom suite, a roomy corner office with big views and a utilitarian combination mudroom and laundry room defined by handmade clay Saltillo tiles from Mexico. Upstairs, two bedrooms share a bath and open sitting room with views over meadows to the mountains. Throughout, the spaces are cozy and snug without feeling cramped, and are characterized by a feeling of solidity, honesty and authenticity.
The master bathroom reveals consistent artistry and level of craft in cabinets, hardware, tile and lighting.
This sense of authenticity derives from the extraordinary level of detail found from exterior to interior, from treatments to furnishings. The doors and floors, all reclaimed fir, were wire brushed for a tactile quality and distressed feel. All cabinets were custom built of reclaimed wood by Mark Sevier of Dovetail Designs & Millwork; for the twig mosaic design on the refrigerator door, architect Dennis Deppmeier collected the willow by hand along the edges of Pryor Creek in Montana. Steve Blood of Penrose Design in New York handcrafted the lighting to the designers’ specifications, while Montana blacksmith Frank Annighofer hand-forged the strap hinges and other iron elements found throughout the house.
—Interior Designer Jeremiah Young
Organic details in the railing and screen enhance the simple stairwell.
Before settling in Big Horn, the couple had spent time on a classic dude ranch outside Cody, Wyoming, where they’d been introduced to furniture by the exuberant, often whimsical, Western stylist Thomas Molesworth, whose works define the traditional school of Western style today. When presenting to the team a portfolio of interiors that spoke to them, Deppmeier recalls, the clients’ preferred style was strongly reminiscent of the ’30s and ’40s dude-ranch era that represented the designer’s heyday. As a result, from lighting to furniture, many items commissioned for the home were directly inspired by Molesworth. Taken together, they incorporate all the elements of his timeless design language: iron, leather, applied pole, Navajo rugs, Pendleton blankets, brass nailheads, fringe, burl and beadwork.
In the master bedroom reading area, designers from Kibler & Kirch transformed an uninspiring cabinet by introducing nail heads and hand painting.
The handmade furniture includes numerous pieces from Old Hickory Furniture, which has been using the same handcrafting techniques since 1899, as well as Molesworth reproductions by Mark Taggart of Cody, Wyoming, such as the hand-beaded magazine rack. The owners’ art collection—including Ansel Adams photographs in leather frames, paintings by Howard Post and Glenn Dean, and a collection of Edward Borein etchings—informed many of the spaces, guiding the overall palette as well as selections in new and antique rugs.
The largest volume of the home—an open-concept living, dining and kitchen space—manages to be both inviting and cozy.
The beauty in this understated ranchlike abode reveals itself slowly in its solidity, its details and its unique handcraftedness. The home, says Jeremiah Young, “is modest from a certain perspective. But everything is made by hand—every screw, every light fixture, all the hardware. The house is small, but no expense was spared, no corners were cut. The approach was entirely original and handmade. They probably should have started from scratch,” he adds, “but they didn’t because they wanted it to be as authentic as possible.”
Each upstairs bedroom includes additional sleeping space via built-in wooden beds with views of the Bighorns.
The home was designed with restraint in terms of size, yet still has transitional areas and a number of intimate spaces for reflection and solitude. Future plans for the property include converting an old grain barn to a guest cabin and developing a pond and an equestrian facility. But for now, the family has found, when you have a porch with a view, and a cozy interior to retreat to, not much more is really needed.
ARCHITECTURE Dan Stalker and 2North INTERIOR DESIGN Kibler & Kirch CONSTRUCTION A&K Construction
Excerpted from Cabin Style, by Chase Reynolds Ewald with photography by Audrey Hall, 224 pages, $50, Gibbs Smith, 2019.
As seen in the September/October 2019 issue