The New Old West

Along an old riverbed near Jackson, Wyoming, an innovative residential design marries traditional materials with modern forms

“Very traditional Western-style homes.” That’s what the design covenants required for new construction in this exclusive custom-home development in Jackson, recalls architect Tom Ward, co-principal of the award-winning local firm Ward+Blake Architects.

Ward’s client, however, had something nontraditional in mind for his seven-acre site. “A progressive thinker,” as Ward describes him, he wanted a modern, versatile house. “It had to function efficiently for him and his wife when they were the only ones there,” Ward says, “but it also needed to welcome their large extended family and a constant procession of characters from all over the world.” 

How, then, to reconcile Western style with modernism? The architect’s solution was to build a series of “modern structures that paid attention to traditional building materials and techniques.” For the main house, Ward designed a clean-lined, single-story, 3,900-square-foot structure that is large enough for gracious entertaining, yet comfortable for two. He oriented the house so its main living areas face north, allowing walls of windows to frame views of the Tetons. Paying homage to the local vernacular, a palette of rustic building materials features shale quarried in eastern Idaho; century-old reclaimed pine, fir and spruce siding; and COR-TEN steel weathered to a rust-hued patina. 

Just 15 feet away from the main house—and connected by a glassed-in breezeway—stands a 3,346-square-foot, barn-shaped log structure. It contains the garage and home theater/game room on its main floor, with guest accommodations upstairs. Ward’s design slyly “adds a new twist to an old form,” he says, with long, thin strips of laminated glass replacing the expected chinking between the logs (see below).

Despite the expansive surroundings, the house, barn and grounds occupy less than one acre, near a long line of aspen trees on an old riverbed that is “flat as a flounder,”  Ward says. The architect had the site built up by about three feet, not only to bring it even with an adjacent natural rock bench but also to raise the buildings well above the water table, just 18 inches below the original surface. “If you dig a hole here,” Ward says, “you get a pond.”

The Ward+Blake team decided to use that challenge to their advantage. Working with landscape architects Jim Verdone and Brannon Bleggi of Jackson-based VLA Inc., they made water an integral part of the home’s setting. Fed by a well drilled specifically for the project, water circulates among four manmade ponds surrounding the buildings and their outdoor decks. An above-grade watercourse between two of the ponds fills the air with peaceful sounds that mask traffic noise from a nearby highway. “During the day,” Ward says, “the effect of all that water is rather tranquil, and in the evening the ponds come alive as birds and other wildlife move in to drink.”

It’s a perfect complement not only to the buildings but also to the natural wetlands that border the site—yet one more expression of how this home’s design respects the past while living in the present.


Mortar Chinking Gets a Makeover

In his efforts to bring modern styling to traditional Western features, architect Tom Ward suggested to his client that, for the barn’s walls, they fill the gaps between the logs with glass instead of mortar chinking. The client enthusiastically agreed, and Ward found himself faced with a technical nightmare. “We know that logs sag over time,” he explains, “and if you squeeze glass between several thousand pounds of droopy logs, it will crack. The glass manufacturers and log guys we talked to thought we were nuts.”

Fortunately, Ward and his colleagues came up with a solution, composed of two key elements:

A Glass Sandwich The four-inch-wide strips of glass are three-quarter-inch-thick laminated sandwiches composed of a central layer of strong yet flexible tempered glass and outer layers of textured, light-diffusing cast glass.

Steel Shims Half-inch steel plates are set into grooves in the logs at six-foot intervals. The glass chinking is set into these plates, which serve as a stable interface that keeps the wood and glass from physically interacting. “We’re coming up on four years since we finished building, and there haven’t been any cracks yet,” Ward says.


ARCHITECTURE Ward + Blake Architects, Jackson, WY, 307-733-6867, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE Verdone Landscape Architects, Jackson, WY, 307-733-3062,

Categories: Contemporary Homes