Before beginning construction on their new home, architect Buffalo Rixon and his wife Katherine studied the vacant land up close. Very close. They pitched a teepee in the remote Idaho canyon where their home would be, located off the highway between Hailey and Ketchum, and devoted long hours to studying the light and learning about how the wind cascades down the valley.
Perched at 5,815 feet in a steep, serenely quiet meadow of wild sage and freely roaming wildlife near the base of the snowcapped Pioneer Mountains, the Rixons’ house is unique even among the local area’s eclectic architecture. Several styles are blended into the two-story, 3,340-square-foot house: There are hints of the vernacular rural Norwegian homes of the 1700s, along with 19th-century Adirondack style, and a strong dose of early 20th-century National Park Service dwellings, a sentimental tribute to Buffalo’s memories of Yellowstone park structures growing-up. Rising from the exterior stone base of lodge-worthy Montana moss rock is plank siding in new cedar timbers; barn-red siding liberally trims the exterior to accentuate the Norwegian motif. Just down the slope from the main house is a similarly articulated 1,200-square-foot guesthouse.
To first-time visitors the most striking feature of the house, which is tucked away on 78 acres at the end of a meandering 1,400-foot driveway, is its 28-foot-high gabled living room window. From inside, the couple has a sweeping view of a distant undulating ridge of forested foothills; at night, interior lighting turns the window into a beacon in the coal-black canyon darkness. Buffalo (his real name), a partner in Ketchum’s Ruscitto/Latham/Blanton Architectura, included a utilitarian window seat for reading or afternoon naps, one of many design gestures he made to turn the house into an inviting family home.
Except for the small separate study to the left of the entry, the main floor is a single, spacious area encompassing dining, living, and kitchen areas, all with rustic white oak flooring. Rafters and column posts in the generously scaled living room are reclaimed fir timbers from 100-year-old warehouses in the Northwest, while doors, baseboards, and window trim feature alder. A fireplace of green-hued Montana moss rock is the room’s focal point.
Throughout the house the architect achieved a varied visual experience that avoided a cavernous look by creating distinctive spaces. The trick, Buffalo explains, “was to define space by the relationship between floor levels and ceiling planes, using the relationship between the two design elements to create more intimate spaces and niches.” It was also important to articulate rooflines to further define the rooms.
Intimacy in the dining area was created by lowering the ceiling; the living room’s vault of fir beams soars to change the mood. Further delineating space is the kitchen ceiling that hovers over a butcher block–topped island. Complete with wine rack and storage drawers, the island was designed as a functional piece of furniture, and is used for informal family meals. Countertops in the room are black honed granite with alder wood cabinetry.
Midway up switchback wooden stairs to the second floor is a 20-foot-high window for a view up the private canyon where the family likes to hike. Upstairs, large, curtainless dormer windows protruding from steep roof slopes offer maximum views. Outside the master bedroom window elk, deer, bobcat, and grouse roam into view, and at night, Katherine says, the sky and stars “are brought into the house” through the large expanse of glass.
Buffalo and Katherine used a varied color palette and a generous selection of woods to further emphasize the changing room personalities. Neutral tones grace the living and dining room walls and a soothing selection of sunny yellow, Oxford grays, and pale greens define the bedrooms. The traditional master bath features bright yellow walls with painted white woodwork and cabinetry combined with green marble countertops.
“We wanted a down-to-earth, timeless look—
natural materials and design elements found in farmhouses and traditional homes throughout the century,” says Katherine, a real estate broker and the mother of 11-month-old Taylor. “We wanted it to look the way it would in the 1920s, 1960s, or 2005.”
Buffalo, whose father, Carl, was the builder, was thinking ahead when he drew his initial plan. By including an additional child’s bedroom, he acknowledged his and Katherine’s desire for an enduring family dwelling. “We wanted a home that creates a sense of comfort,” he explains, “for both our present lives and for an evolving family well into the future.”