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"Alpine Jewel"

Timber Homes Illustrated, Summer 1997


An Idaho home employs big timbers to capture the flavor of a mountain lodge.


When Bill and Martha Merizon wed in 1994, they decided it would be romantic to build a new home to mark the start of their life together. Their passion for skiing had led the Wisconsin natives to Idaho's Sun Valley, where Bill owned a piece of property that enjoyed a 360degree view of the spectacular mountains and valley. The lofty setting suggested a house with an Alpine look. "We wanted as the theme a mountain lodge with a Bavarian feel, which seemed appropriate for a ski area," Bill says. "We wanted it to be warm and comfortable, with a certain elegance but not stuffy."


They approached Ketchum architect Steve Pruitt, who they credit for his uncanny understanding of their vision. "On one of our fist interviews with Steve, we started talking about the things we wanted, and he said very little," Bill recalls. "But he listened so well that when he came up with his first concept, it was very near what we wound up with."


They chose to use timbers for the house because they wanted something different from the many log home that dot the Sun Valley landscape. While traveling separately, the Merizons each spotted a picture in the same magazine showing a house whose large timbers conveyed exactly the flavor they sought. When they saw each other, they showed each other the same picture. Such a coincidence prompted an immediate visit to their architect, who took matters from there.


Bill and Martha longed for wood with plenty of character. Steve and contractor Carl Drew got in touch with Precision Craft Log Structures of Meridian, Idaho, which located timbers from a railroad bridge built in 1902 that was being torn down in souther Utah. "They're old timbers, and they're heavy. Some of the vertical timbers are 14 or 15inch square," Bill says. "Someone asked me about filling in the holes, and I said, 'Don't you touch them!" I wanted them just the way they were. They're so magnificent. People who visit the house can't help but stare at them."


To contrast with the wood, the merizons chose granite. They contracted with a local mason who had his own quarry and trucked in 85 tons of it to use inside and outside the house. "We were looking for pieces with a lot of grays that were very rough and irregular, giving it a natural look," Bill says.


Two elements come together in the granite fireplace with a huge timber beam for the mantel that is inscribed "HERE LET THE FIRES OF FRIENDSHIP BURN." Bill explains that those words were chiseled into a similar fireplace mantel at a YMCA summer camp in Wisconsin that he and Martha had attended as children and where they first met years later at a reunion marking the camp's 75th anniversary. "That was such a dear thought to us because of where we had met, and we said we have to put it on our fireplace," Bill says. "We found a craftsman who duplicated the lettering perfectly."


The 4,400 square foot house is laid out so the Merizons live upstairs. Below, there is ample room for family and guests. "It's both a big house and a little house," Bill notes.


For the main living area, they wanted an open floor plan but shunned the traditional great room concept. Steve's solution was having the kitchen, dining area and living room adjacent but set apart with different level floors and ceilings. The distinctions are reinforced by different flooring materials and half-walls. At the same time, the three areas are tied together by the massive overhead beams.


As a counterpoint to the massive timbers, all of the floors and doors are custommade from butternut, which was brought from the Midwest. Its honey hue warms the interior.


Martha took charge of the decorating, choosing colors and fabrics for upholstery and tapestries to reinforce the Bavarian flavor. The walls are painted in such a way as to make the plaster look like it has been there a long time. The illusion of longevity is the most striking in the kitchen cabinets, which were covered with seven layers of different color paint to make them look like they have been repainted many times over the years, when actually the process took only three weeks.


"We were fortunate in that Sun Valley has so many talented people who can do such clever things, and so many people in the building trade know them," Bill says. "If you can think up something, you can probably find someone to do it."


The result is a house that delights its owners. "It turned out perfectly," Bill says. "We took a lot of time to get it right. As we got into it, the house grew in scope. Almost everything we did turned into custom materials. but we just had to do itand we're so proud of it. It's such a nice, warm home, where the fires of friendship truly do burn."