Western Design: Living Streamside

Anglers come form around the world to fish the aters near Island Park, Idaho. The Henry’s Fork — selected by Trout Unlimited members as their favorite river — is the main draw, but add the South Fork, the Snake River, the Madison and the Yellowstone, among others, and the area is the stuff of dreams and superlatives.

While a fly-fishing guide working with an architect to site a house might be odd elsewhere, it’s perfectly reasonable here. Especially when the house being sited sits within casting distance of the Henry’s Fork.

The property that architect John Kjos, of Ellis Nunn Architects, and fly-fishing guide Lynn Sessions collaborated on is, appropriately, off a road named Fishermans Drive. Turning off Fishermans and heading down to the fish, its driveway winds through tall grass and various pine trees before dropping down to river level and passing under a log arch topped by a trio of oversize, carved trout.

Long and narrow, the 7 acres are bounded on the north by a rock bluff and on the south by the Henry’s Fork. “There isn’t much property that comes up along the river,” the owner says. “My friend, Lynn Sessions, who was my first fishing guide here, heard about this lot and brought me here. I loved it, called the listing agent and made an offer. It all happened over just a few days.”

While the owner, a retired healthcare industry executive living in Dallas, didn’t need to think long about buying this riverfront property, he spent years thinking about the area. For more than a decade, he was a regular visitor. He had grown up bass fishing on Louisiana’s lakes with his father, but the Henry’s Fork was his first fly-fishing experience. “Every time I came back, I was more interested in the place,” he says. “Eventually I realized I wanted to be here on a more regular basis.” He and his wife sold their condo in Snowmass and built where the fishing was world class. Sessions heard about the riverfront lot for sale before the couple even had a chance to list their Snowmass home. “We found the perfect property here before we had really started looking,” the husband says.

Finding an architect took more time. “I looked through probably 100 magazines before finding a house I really liked,” the owner says. “It had always been a dream of mine to have a log home and I wanted an architect with experience in this part of the country.” Eventually there was a log home that caught his attention. The house was actually on a lake in Texas, but the architectural firm, Ellis Nunn Architects, was based in Jackson, Wyo., about 90 minutes from the property.

Ellis Nunn, Kjos, Sessions and the owner first met at the site. “Ellis Nunn Architects’ signature style is timeless design that takes advantage of a property’s most outstanding views,” Kjos says. “It was a perfect fit with this property.”

The owners created a partnership with another couple to purchase the property and so the needs of the two couples influenced the design as much as the unique building site. Visiting the West had always been about traveling with friends for the owners; so creating a space to entertain guests was a natural inclination for the two couples. The house was driven by the river and maximizing views, but almost as important was that the floor plan allowed for entertaining. “We knew from the beginning there had to be two master suites and ample space for guests,” Kjos explains.

Kjos met the owners’ program and Fremont County’s strict building regulations regarding flood elevations with a stacked log design. Working with Pioneer Log Homes, he designed 6,000 square feet of interior living space with a wrap-around deck and an outdoor entertaining area. An attached stick frame garage clad in Montana moss rock and adjacent to the bluff allows most of the main house views of the river. The master suites, one on each side of the great room, open onto the deck and face the Henry’s Fork, which burbles by about 100 feet away. “I love that I can fall asleep listening to the river,” the owner says.

No one spends much time in the bedrooms at this house, however. As intended, there are few times when one of the owner couples is not hosting guests. In a five-week span last summer, nearly a dozen different groups of friends, a few with families in tow, visited for some length of time. Days were spent fishing, kayaking or tubing on the river, hiking or sitting on a deck reading, and evenings, everyone came together in the two-story great room.

Open to both the kitchen and dining area, the great room is the obvious heart of this house. A loft on the second floor overlooks the expansive space. Rough-sawn oak floors, an overstuffed, curved leather sofa, soft arm chairs and a coffee table topped with a patchwork of various kinds, colors and patterns of leather invite guests to relax, perhaps over a glass of wine poured from a bottle in the small cellar tucked underneath the bar. Contemporary lodge details — an antler chandelier, chiseled-edge granite counters, dining chairs upholstered with distressed leather, side lamps with trout jumping from their base, a custom wide-plank oak table — keep things informal. A ponderous stone fireplace and chimney stretching 30 feet to the ceiling are almost enough to distract from the views framed by floor-to-ceiling windows. Looking at this stonework, it’s not difficult to understand why it was so important that it be perfect. At one point in the building process, the contractor, unhappy with the way it was first done, had both fireplace and chimney dismantled and called in a second mason for a re-do.

“There were some hassles here during construction, but the great room turned out even better than I had hoped,” the owner says. “Everyone comes back from being out all day, sits down on the couch or in a chair by the fireplace and they talk.”

Only one area of the house rivals the great room’s sociability: the guest quarters above the garage. Because the owners often host a dozen visitors at a time, they knew the three guestrooms wouldn’t always be enough. “My wife got the idea for the area over the garage from a magazine,” the owner says. Within a large room, four queen-size beds are each tucked into their own gable, with their own light and window. “Everyone still has some privacy, but the room is obviously designed for a group — either kids or a bunch of guys — to have fun in.” Just in case there’s any doubt about that, the room has a pool table, flat-screen television and a kitchen/bar. One of the main log beams has a bear’s face carved into its exposed end.

Regardless of the indoor amenities, however, the owners and guests always find themselves drawn outside to the river. The owner says, “We put a lot of thought and work into this house, but it can never compete with what’s right outside.”

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