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"Worth the Wait"

Timber Homes Illustrated, Winter 1998


A Sun Valley masterpiece was years in the making.


Like many people who enjoy Idaho's spectacular Sun Valley, Ralph and Linda longed to build a home there. When they finally had an opportunity to make their dream come true, the California couple took time to make things just rightalmost 20 years. "I spent a whole year just moving the footprint around on the site to gain the best advantage of the views," Ralph says.


The wait was worth it, they say, because they cherished every minute. And just look at the result: a breathtaking, 5,500 square foot home whose sturdy log timbers befit its majestic surroundings.


The idea for such a place germinated after Ralph and Linda first tested Sun Valley's fabled ski slopes in the early 1960s. After sampling other resorts, they decided Sun Valley was the nicest. When they returned they bought a 2.5lot that backs up to Sawtooth National Forest. They built a small log barn with a guest quarters on one side. It served admirably when the children were young, but as they grew, Ralph and Linda envisioned a roomier home they could live in eventually when they retired but enjoy now as the official family gathering place.


Ideas rattled around their heads for years, not just for the layout but the overall look. "We saw things we liked in magazines, so we borrowed from here and stole from there until we got the design we wanted," Ralph notes, explaining he and Linda strove for balance and utility. Custom windows balance the mass of building materials, for instance, while admitting ample light.


Originally, the couple figured to build with all logs, which are especially popular in this region of the Rockies. They changed their minds after recognizing that the size place they were planning would make that much wood seem overwhelming. Besides balancing fewer, large logs, the plasterinfill walls they chose provide a smooth surface to showcase artwork created by talented family members.


Ralph and Linda hired Ketchum architect Susan Schick to turn their ideas into drawings. Linda envisioned the key to the house as a large central great room with everything open so their four children, spouses and eight grandchildren could share more time. The result is a 25by 50foot gathering space that showcases stunning interior logwork and is punctuated by a towering Rumford fireplace.


The great room comprises the living room, dining room and family room. Also on the main floor are the foyer, the kitchen and a denlibrary with its own fireplace and a stairwell to another den on the second floor.


The den serves as a rumpus room for the children whose rooms are upstairs. Also on the second floor is the spacious mater suite, which features a roomy sitting area overlooking the lower level.


The finished basement has a bedroom, a half bath, a wine cellar and storage and mechanical rooms. Finishing off the house is a threecar garage, which was designed to be converted to more bedrooms later, and a huge carport. Decks and patios extend the living area into the outdoors.


The heart of the home is a 24to 30inchwide log in the center that extends from the foundation into the roof. Because other logs radiate from it, the framers dubbed this log the "Christmas Tree."


Once the plans had been drawn, submitted to an engineer and approved, the couple set about turning their dream into reality. Both took active roles in the project. Ralph took charge of building the home. Linda decorated it.


It helped that Ralph had worked in construction management. "I wasn't a handson guy in the trade, but I knew hot to oversee a project, get bids, hire subs, pay bills, so I became the general contractor," he says. He notes that the biggest difference between building in Southern California and Sun Valley was the engineering requirements to handle the tremendous snow loads.


First he hired Todd Avison and his crew to frame the building. He considered three log companies before choosing Precision Craft Log Structures to produce his logs. Besides supplying the hand-peeled frame and ceiling logs, the Meridian, Idaho, company built the double staircase in the great room.


Precision Craft also devised a way to join the large logs. Most log postandbeam houses rely on steel gussets to hold the logs together, but Ralph and Linda wanted a more natural look, so Precision Craft engineered mortiseandtenon joints to create a true frame. The company dispatched a representative to the home site to make sure the logs were assembled properly. The switch not only achieved the look that Ralph and Linda wanted, but also saved them $12,000the difference between fashioning the mortiseandtenon joints and the cost of the steel gussets.


The house took two years to build. It came only about 10 percent over budget, which Ralph attributes to upgrading some features along the way, such as changing tile kitchen counters to granite and adding marble to the master bathroom.


He admits he got his money's worth, created a home that is made all the more striking by it's attention to detail. When it came to the plaster walls, for example, Ralph and Linda didn't settle for drywall plastered over, they wanted real plaster, layered on board to work in the color and create a rough texture. "It looks old like finely worn leather and it goes with the logs real nice," Ralph says, noting that the complementary logs and plaster convey a Southwest look with a rugged accent.


Despite their careful planning, serendipity played some part in created the distinctive look. Snow load consideration changed the design, for instance. Rather than use steelreinforced or engineered timbers overhead, the log supplier devised a roof support system using double perlins. The result is both practical and dramatic.


Such an imposing structure requires skill to decorate. having been a professional interior designer for 20 years, Linda was up to the challenge. She actually started acquiring furnishings five years before the final plans were approved. Other pieces she had custombuilt for specific spaces. The 14foot dining table, for example, was crafted especially for the area next to the kitchen.


Large furniture pieces match the scale of the large logs and open spaces. Fabric colors and patterns continue the Southwest look. Custom hickory cabinets, red oak floors and massive beam used as a fireplace mantel add additional wood hues.


The house stands as the fulfillment of Ralph and Linda's imaginations. But the house isn't just to look at, it was built for living in. Ralph and Linda agree it's perfect for their entire familyoriented lifestyle. Ralph observes, however, that taking their time all those years to plan and build this perfect place, they're finding it hard to be patient and wait until retirement to move there full time.