Thursday, December 03, 2009

High-end Natural

This one will make you drool. This summer, I got to cover a national award-winning residential landscape in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Officially called the Two Rivers Residence by its designer, Verdone Landscape Architecture, it’s the family home of the Coxheads. They moved to this amazing spot from a cottonwood forest farther down the valley. The views are a little better here – their bedroom looks straight at the Grand Teton.

What I was impressed with (and what I cover in more detail in Landscape Architecture Magazine; get a sample here; see more images from ASLA’s awards site here) was how new the project is and how old it looks.

The main pond, nestled into the L-shape of the house, a patio visible behind a stone wall behind the pond.

Teton County has extraordinarily strict environmental regulations, so when the Coxheads went to develop their 35 acres (a county minimum lot size), they could only build on about two acres. The site was blessed with river frontage (that was invisible well beyond the building envelope) and existing conifer forests (again beyond the building envelope). Landscape architect Jim Verdone and Bozeman, Montana-based architects JLF sited the building, and then Verdone pulled the landscape up to the facades like a blanket.

A dining pavilion seems to float on a constructed pond.

On one side, native grass sod touches the face of a restored creamery that was moved from eastern Montana and forms the main wing of the house. The house has two wings arranged in a L-shape. The creamery has the kitchen, living/dining room, and upstairs rec rooms; the other wing (all new) has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms. Verdone tapped groundwater to create a spring-fed pool nestled in the L-shape of the house. Restored wetlands create an entry experience and flow under the guest house porch. Large conifers were transplanted to bring the forest up to and around the sides of the master bedroom.

The landscape is pulled up to the house on all sides, erasing any sense of the degraded pasture that was once there.

Everything is exceedingly natural, deliberately inspired by the design of National Parks (Teton is just down the road). The house seems set carefully within an existing (and stunning) landscape, which of course it wasn’t – it was set on a degraded pasture with nice views. This aesthetic is a major departure, Verdone told me, from a lot of what gets done in Teton, but he’s seeing more of this more modest style with the economic downturn. Two Rivers also stands in stark contrast to this year’s other award winners, which are far more modern (including the Speckman House in Saint Paul, which was covered earlier in L.Architecture). Amazingly, this landscape still cost more than $250,000. Does that suggest that good design ain’t cheap – no matter the style?

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