In Jackson Hole, a Contemporary Hillside Residence That Defies the Expected
Published June 2006
In the winter of 2001, Karen Warshaw, an antiques dealer from New York, and her husband, Peter, who is retired, flew to Wyoming, for a ski vacation in Jackson Hole. The slopes happened to be a little bare that season, and the Warshaws ended up pursuing another favorite American pastime—real estate hunting. Somewhat less typically, they came across their dream property in less than two hours.
“You’re 7,000 feet up, and you have a 360-degree view,” Karen Warshaw says of the five-acre ridgetop site the couple ultimately acquired. “Most of that is the Tetons, which we think are among the most beautiful mountains in the world. South is Jackson, east is the Sleeping Indian Mountain, and you can also see the elk refuge in Jackson Hole.”
Arriving at their dream house took a little more time. The Warshaws knew that whomever they hired to design it had to be well versed in both Jackson Hole’s strict building codes and its harsh weather conditions, so they limited their search to local architects. They also knew that, in terms of style, they wanted to get as far away from their conventional New York existence as possible (their English country-style house in Westchester County was decorated by the eminently traditional Mark Hampton). But they didn’t want a look that was predictably western. “I think what they call western architecture is what people who’ve seen a lot of western movies imagine houses are supposed to look like,” says Karen Warshaw. “There are so many materials besides logs.”
It’s a safe bet that no western movie has featured residential design of the sort conceived for the Warshaws by Jackson-based architect Tom Ward. In lieu of logs, for instance, there are flat expanses of concrete, glass and wood. Instead of a looming lodge or a rambling ranch house, the residence takes the unassuming form of a sequence of rectilinear volumes stepping down its hillside site. Their canopies are not heavy-timbered A-frames but flat roofs planted with wildflower sod. There’s no wicker-filled rear porch—just a series of concrete decks ringed by a meandering channel of water.
“We pretty much set the homeowners’ association on fire,” Ward recalls. “Then one of the residents said, ‘There’s a giant clause in our covenant that says the architecture should reflect the intrinsic values of the site—and this house does that in spades.’ ”
The house’s slope-hugging profile, winged and sod-covered roofs and rock-colored concrete planes all honor its spectacular location. The site’s most conspicuous intrinsic value is its views, and Ward’s stepped design fully exploits the vistas while conforming to the homeowners’ association’s 22-foot height restriction.
One enters the residence roughly at midlevel, where a view of the Grand Teton explodes through a window on the other side of the house. The master bedroom and guest rooms look out on the mountains both from inside and from their respective decks, and the living, dining and kitchen areas upstairs enjoy the head-spinning panorama that originally seduced the Warshaws. (The kitchen cabinets were placed below counter level to preserve the views.)
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