Three metal-clad structures connected by an open-air courtyard offer simple sanctuary and an escape from city living.
There’s nothing like the simple pleasures of rural life—which is why a busy family approached Salt Lake City–based Imbue Design to create an idyllic retreat in the countryside. "The owner came to us with a 50-plus-acre parcel of land in the rolling hills of southern Idaho, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and far away from anything," says Hunter Gundersen, principal and co-founder of Imbue Design. "It was where he had spent some of his most memorable summers as a youth, and it’s a place that conjures feelings of simpler times, utter freedom, and family."
Everything about the home, from layout to materiality, was driven by the client’s desire to create a place to connect with family and nature. The result is a group of three small, separate structures—a main house, guest quarters, and recreational locker—that spill out into a central, communal courtyard. A canopy covers the three buildings, formally connecting the spaces and visually unifying them.
The main entrance to the retreat leads directly to the common space, which is framed by a floating steel fireplace on the living room side and freestanding cabinetry on the kitchen side. These two defining elements help to maintain openness and connection while providing privacy for the two bedrooms and eliminating the need for hallways. Large, floor-to-ceiling windows invite the surrounding landscape into the interior, and a sliding glass wall opens out to the central courtyard.
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The guesthouse is adjacent to the main house and features a master bedroom, a bunk room, and a separate living space that looks out to the river. As in the main house, this living space opens to the courtyard. Between the guesthouse and the main house is a path with views toward the aspen grove that leads to a nestled garden for cozy gathering.
"The home is made up of a low-lying cluster of masses arranged to create a play of solids and voids, unified together through connective horizontal planes," says Gundersen. "It’s a simple modern structure whose function is expressed in its form."
The courtyard at the center of the home provides a strong connection to nature. To avoid the covered space feeling too much like a conventional "room", the canopy is pierced with a large oculus that remains open to the sky, sun, rain, and snow.
"The oculus is another tool that really expresses time’s continual movement," says Gundersen. "As the sun changes position in the sky, the light passes through it and travels across floors and walls, making you primally aware of the passage of time, hourly and seasonally."
Due to the remote location, it quickly became apparent that the holiday retreat would also have to operate completely off-grid. The roof has a large photovoltaic array to supply the building with most of its power needs, and a backup propane generator can switch on in emergencies. A buried propane tank supplies fuel for the fireplace, the fire pit, the cooktop, and the generator.
Another major challenge was the short building season, as winter comes early and snow often piles up to several feet, making snowmobiles the only way to access the site. "Planning was critical to keep the process moving along," says Gundersen.
"With such an incredible site and such a thoughtful, intelligent client, it’s hard to go wrong," says Gundersen. "The client says it’s one of his favorite places on the planet, where he can spend time connecting with those who mean the most to him. Personally, I love the outdoor living area. It’s the perfect place to enjoy views of the gentle rolling hills on every side, surrounded by the sounds of nature, a cool breeze on your cheek, and a warm drink in your hand."