IDAHO'S WOOD RIVER VALLEY HAS TUGGED ENOUGH HEART STRINGS throughout its history that many visitors who could not resist its siren call returned to become residents. Yet, whether here or anywhere else in the West, building a home can irrevocably alter the very landscape so beloved. Unless, of course, the project is in the right hands.
Jim McLaughlin moved to this central Idaho valley as a young architect and stayed through years of raising his own children and now the visits of his grandchildren. His sensitivity and passion for this place is evident in his projects here over the past three decades. Clearly, he lives here. Couple his architectural firm with clients who also seek to honor this landscape, and the resulting project quietly melds with the valley in a way that celebrates its very essence while allowing the residents the full experience of this high alpine environment. “The clients fell in love with this place while visiting,” McLaughlin explained. “They wanted their home here to echo the nature of their surroundings and bring them into it as part of their daily life.”
McLaughlin’s diverse clientele often hire his firm originally for Idaho projects and later return to McLaughlin & Associates Architects for their expertise in other architectural needs around the globe. As a result, he is keenly observant and inquisitive. His highly collaborative approach to design and construction draws not only an extended family of clients, but devoted contractors as well.
Located between the spectacular Galena summit that divides the Wood River Valley from the Sawtooth Valley to the north and where the valley spreads out to the south into the agricultural Camas Prairie, this residence is a fine example of clean, contemporary design. Yet, sleek lines and an open layout combine with natural construction materials to create a calming palette of color and texture. At once welcoming and elegant, it clearly resonates as a home in its warmth and serenity.
On a slightly elevated site, the home literally drops quietly out of sight from most perspectives. It is experienced in subtle layers of sweeping views, privacy, functionality and comfort. The deceivingly short drive from the valley’s main thoroughfare to the residence brings back the feel of arriving in a favorite secluded mountain picnic site.
The home cannot be considered small at over 8,500 square feet, yet the spaces feel intimate rather than soaring or grand. It has the visual weight and balance of a finely crafted ship. Douglas fir ceiling beams, limestone floors and cut sandstone columns anchor the house with comforting solidity. Steel fireplace surrounds, custom sliding walnut screens and hand wrought bronze hardware integrate pure and exceptional craftsmanship with a simple sense of humanity and grace.
The open gourmet kitchen pairs with a thoroughly functional butler’s pantry to allow art on kitchen shelving rather than supplies. Sweeping views from the great room infuse the space with natural light and the essence of this mountain landscape.
Retractable glass walls easily blur the distinction between indoor and outdoor spaces and bring inside the sound of birdsong, howling coyotes and bugling elk. An almost silent water feature on the main terrace dissolves any manmade sounds that may drift in during the valley’s busy seasons. The multiple outdoor terraces offer the full variety of sweeping views and sun exposure.
Window treatments and lighting were meticulously considered to provide warmth (visual and physical) during winter and evening hours, while also softening the valley’s famously intense sunlight from brilliant blue skies. Window shades fully retract into discreet ceiling pockets making them invisible unless they are in use. Integrated lighting fixtures in the floor and ceiling beams highlight the handcrafted stone columns and woodwork.
While the residence is built into a gently sloping site, the single-story central living area provides full accessibility; the homeowners’ very smart consideration in a mountain valley known for its recreational opportunities and any resulting occasional lack of mobility. Entertaining is also enhanced by this smooth layout as guests may move about easily from kitchen to terrace without so much as a threshold to navigate. A trademark in McLaughlin’s work, this practicality seamlessly fits into the aesthetics of the home in his finely tuned holistic approach to design.
Not immediately obvious due to its pure beauty, the convenience and functionality of the kitchen is any cook’s dream with plenty of work space for all participants and commercial quality appliances. An adjoining butler’s pantry houses not only the necessary supplies for cooking and entertaining, but adroitly, laundry capabilities as well. Essential to daily household management, a working desk is tucked discretely behind sliding doors between the kitchen and entry to allow easy access yet eliminate any day-to-day visual clutter.
Friends and family often visit, and the guest areas offer a comfortable blend of private spaces and connection with the main living areas. Each guest room has a private outdoor terrace and fully-appointed bath, yet a shared seating area gently removed from the great room area provides an inclusive but peaceful refuge. In a similar vein, the home’s wet bar and wine room are located away from the kitchen but incorporated into another gathering area to provide ease of flow and intimacy or camaraderie as the moment suggests.
With a nod to the homeowners’ daily lifestyle, the very private and graciously appointed master suite also offers a Zen-like balance of luxury and more practical considerations. A small retreat area adjoins the modestly sized sleeping space, spacious his-and-her closets, and a generous, restorative master bathroom. Wellness and physical fitness are easily accommodated with the inclusion of a fully equipped workout room.
Sensitive and skillful siting, careful selection of cultivated plantings to blend easily into the surrounding native growth, and a beautiful but visually subtle façade combine to gently immerse this very modern residence in its rustic mountain location. There is no doubt that this is high central Idaho, and in a tip of the hat to the open western landscape, the residence rests respectfully and quietly amongst sagebrush and pines.