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October 25, 2014
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Contour Construction

Fitting a home to the landscape and community

Before Jackson architect Brad Hoyt was hired to design a home for Maria and Worthy Johnson, he strapped on snowshoes to explore the rolling aspen forest encompassing their proposed homesite in Indian Springs Ranch. Once he had the job, he continued his reconnaissance, on foot, becoming acquainted with the contours of the place.

Paying attention to the curves and undulations of the terrain. Hoyt came up with a design that adapts itself to the topography instead of the other way around.
“When you see the property, it’s a natural amphitheater,” Maria Johnson says. “We wanted as little disturbance as possible.”

Designing the home to curve with the shape of the slope allowed the Johnsons to build a shorter driveway and avoid bulldozing the hillside. The reward is an inviting backyard with a natural slope and landscaping, instead of the more common, less attractive, and ecologically unfriendly option of a hillside scar, retaining wall, and asphalt turnaround.

To make the concept work and situate the home nicely into the hillside, the Johnsons had to embrace the unconventional approach of an entry on the lowest level.

One side of that first level backs into the slope, and lacks windows. But guests, including the Johnsons’ four adult daughters, who frequently visit, find that the first level feels like anything but a basement. Hoyt arranged all the guest bedrooms on the side where the landscape slopes down, allowing for floor-to-ceiling windows.


Getting to the second floor of the house requires taking the stairs or a lift to the main entrance, designed to mimic a Forest Service fire-lookout tower. The tower, a nod to Western history, features a wraparound deck and views that stop guests in their tracks.

“The problem with this is that people end up staying here and not going into the house,” Maria says with a smile.

From the tower, a curved hallway funnels guests to the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Along the way, panoramic views unfurl as the subtly shifting angles of the home highlight different peaks, ranging from Mount Glory to the Grand Teton.

“You don’t really sense that they’re arranged in a curve when you’re walking through [the rooms],” Hoyt says. “It’s very subtle.” The regional operations manager for Hoyt/CTA Architects Engineers, he has been an architect in Jackson for more than two decades.

Barrel-vaulted ceilings accentuate the arc of the home and echo the landscape. Other touches include rounded out wooden bar tops, a built-in kitchen table, and even a curved decorative soffit over the bar in the living room.

A bright orange wall, colorful artwork, an orange subway tile in the kitchen, and a variety of fine-wood finishes all give the 8,500-square-foot home a surprisingly warm ambiance. Adding to the cozy appeal, Maria had many rooms, including the living room and master bedroom, designed to a smaller scale, reminiscent of an earlier era and intended to avoid the super-sized, impersonal lobby feel found in many modern homes.

Worthy, an investment counselor and “numbers guy,” worked closely with Hoyt and the project’s mechanical engineer to find cost-effective ways to make the home more efficient. They beefed up insulation and installed energy-saving boilers, Energy Star appliances, and a recirculating hot water system.

The Johnsons also wired the home for future solar panels. Worthy is watching the markets closely to see when the price of solar drops enough to make it cost-effective to install the panels at the residence. One deterrent, he says, is Wyoming’s incredibly cheap electricity. In Connecticut, the couple paid more than eighteen cents per kilowatt-hour; in Jackson, the cost is a bargain, at just a little more than five cents, making it tough to justify installing solar in the Cowboy State.

But Worthy, who can discuss the thickness of silicon and the price of semi-conductors in China with the glee of a football fan rattling off stats about a favorite team, sees a bright future for solar, even in Wyoming. “We will have solar here within ten years,” he says.

The Johnsons’ home, finished in the fall of 2010, also features stonework throughout, including a star cleverly inlaid into the living room fireplace. The stone came from an Idaho quarry.

The Johnsons asked their contractors to acquire as many building materials as close to home as possible. They also made a point of hiring locally when feasible.

“We wanted to make a commitment to Jackson,” Worthy says.

Once they settled into their new home, the Johnsons invited the local tradespeople—everyone who had played a part in designing and building their home—to come over and celebrate with them. The couple knows that the work of these individuals will always be as much a part of their home here as the beautiful landscape it so artfully occupies.

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