North End Refuge
A creative, colorful, and comfortable design maximizes alternative energy sources in this enticing second home
photography by David J Swift
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Jennifer and Chris Tissot, like others attracted to the Tetons, are convinced they were destined to build here. Before their decision to buy property, all kinds of coincidences pointed them in this direction, including meeting people in the Adirondacks with a variety of links to the area. There was, Jen says, “a kindred feeling, a connectedness,” that led them here.
More importantly, they’re sure their unique second home north of Felt, in the upper reaches of Teton County, Idaho, will eventually be just the right spot for them in the West. The three-story sage-stucco house has a multi-windowed facade that modestly hides many clever design touches and architectural details inside. An oversized solar panel and a wind-turbine reflect two of the three alternative-energy systems powering the place; geothermal completes the trio.
The Tissots (pronounced tea-so) now live in Saranac Lake, New York, in the Adirondacks, where Chris, a contractor, builds rustic-style upper-end vacation homes, and Jen is a school social worker. They honeymooned in the Tetons in 1987, and returned five years ago to find a piece of property. Driving in from Ashton, heading toward a subdivision they’d researched back East, they saw a fifth-wheel trailer parked on a knoll off the north entrance to the Jackpine-Pinochle Loop.
“Chris pointed to it and said to me, ‘That’s all we need right there,” Jen recalls. “I said, ‘You’re right.’ Then we drove on to look at the lots in the development down the road.” After looking at land and enjoying the serendipitiously timed Targhee Fest, they were directed by their realtor to talk to the owners of the fifth-wheel at the property they’d admired from the road.
“We introduced ourselves and they invited us in,” Jen says. “We talked for two hours about Mary’s childhood in the valley and what it was like to go to the one-room schoolhouse where her mother taught, mostly her brothers and sisters, in Judkins. Clyde told us about his years as a smokejumper and a falconer. We talked about our hopes for a spot out West and how we had just said that this spot was a dream.”
Before the Tissots left that day (“in a state of joy and a little bit of shock,” Jen says), the foursome had come to an agreement about a price for the ground, which had not even been put officially on the market.
In 2007, the couple began building their home in phases, using cash when it was available rather than borrowing for the project. They saved money in a variety of ways, bringing a framing crew from Chris’ company Tissot Construction, Inc. to help out, and choosing a décor that combines tasteful pre-built items with those that were custom-made.
Alan Gadberry of Gadberry Woodworks of Teton Valley served as the general contractor locally and made a number of pieces of furniture for the Tissot home. “What was great about this project was the back and forth, the collaboration with them,” he says.
“Alan takes a lot of pride in what he does,” Chris notes, while Jen says he “poured his heart and soul into that house,” something for which they “are glad and grateful.” Gadberry continues to look after the house.
At the entryway, a one-car garage sits opposite a cubby-holed mud room with a chalk board door. The lower level features three cozy bedrooms; the first is the master suite. It faces the mountains, with a full tub and walk-in shower in its slate-trimmed bathroom. Daughter Lillee’s bedroom has a view of the peaks, although her parents joke she needs more than a beautiful room to entice her here after she recently finished studying abroad for a semester.
Her brother, Braxton, however, has often come to the Rockies. An outdoorsy snowboarding enthusiast, he may attend the University of Montana next year, Jen says, so the family may be coming out West more often. Braxton’s domain is a maze of bunk beds that seem to interlink at a corner.
The home’s second story has an entirely open floor plan, with floor-to-ceiling windows claiming an amazing percentage of what could have been walls. Mahogany decks extend to the north and south. A custom-crafted bookcase wraps around the top of the stairway from below, roughly cutting the space into two. On the east side, three seating areas—two large leather sectionals and a quartet of cozy chairs—segment the living room; a telescope is handy to zoom in on whatever comes into view, and the Tetons loom in the distance.