This Off-Grid Retreat in Idaho Floats in a Sea of Rolling Hills

This Off-Grid Retreat in Idaho Floats in a Sea of Rolling Hills

By Mandi Keighran
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."

"The owner was looking for a place to unplug from the everyday frenzy and spend time reconnecting with what mattered to him most—family, close friends, good food, and nature," says architect Hunter Gundersen. "He requested that the retreat be simple in order to not detract from its landscape nor its purpose. To that end, he also requested that the dwelling be as low maintenance as possible."

The dwelling is located on the hill’s brow, so it nestles into the slope just below a prominent cluster of quaking aspens where a resident bull moose lives. "The lot is located in a sea of grass-covered hills," says architect Hunter Gundersen. "Unlike much of the Rocky Mountains it isn’t a craggy landscape full of cliffs, ravines, and broken rock faces. Instead, it’s soft and rolling, like grassy ocean swells with an occasional rock-outcropping ship or tree-stand island. Like the outcroppings, the structure is low lying, dark, and embedded into the grass and sage—at home on the soft surface, but not apologetic nor blending in."

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 three buildings are strategically organized around a central courtyard, creating an outdoor room that is protected from sun, precipitation, and wind. The openings between the buildings frame the predominant views.  

The home is known as "Boar Shoat"—a reference to a young hog who is full of energy and life. "The term was used by the owner’s family when he was growing up to describe youthful vivacity," says architect Hunter Gundersen.

The entry to the home leads directly to the main living space. A 25-foot-wide, 11-foot-tall sliding glass wall opens to the central courtyard, allowing the living area to extend outside. Through this glazed door, the guesthouse and garage frame Paris Peak in the distance. 

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.

The family is very creative—the artwork throughout the home was created by the client’s children, and his wife is a designer who selected and placed all the interior furnishings. The interior walls were left white to act as a gallery for the owners’ extensive art collection. In order to give the spaces warmth and coziness, the ceiling was clad in Atlantic white cedar from reSAWN Timber Co.

The freestanding hearth serves multiple functions—it’s a fireplace, a privacy screen to the master bedroom, an entry closet, and an art piece. "The cantilevered structure is meticulously clad in raw industrial, hot-rolled steel sheets," says architect Hunter Gundersen. "There is no glass, so the fire is open on all three sides. Like ballet, it looks easy and effortless, but in reality it’s a labor of painstaking love." The gas burner and steel substructure was fabricated and installed by yNot construction, and the metal cladding artwork was crafted by Parker Cook Design. 

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The cabinetry in the kitchen is rift-sawn, dark-stained white oak that complements the ceilings and contrasts with the white walls. The dark-pigmented concrete floors were intentionally left untreated in order to convey a sense of time. "As the home ages, the floor ‘records’ the construction process, foot traffic, wine spilled at birthday parties, drips of olive oil from anniversary dinners, watermarks from relaxing showers, and so on," says architect Hunter Gundersen. "Every action will be subtly set in stone before it’s quickly cleaned up or swept away. Over the years, a patina of life will build up, adding depth and beauty to the interior."

Each space in the home—including the master bedroom—features strategically placed operable windows to take advantage of cross ventilation produced from diurnal mountain winds and induce natural convection cooling.

"The owner wanted the master bathroom to be spartan but elegant," says architect Hunter Gundersen. "He came across a recessed tub and loved the idea. There’s something special about descending down into the architecture rather than sitting in an additive object on the architecture."

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 guesthouse bedroom features a large window. With the exception of the large sliding glass wall, all windows are standard sizes. "We kept to standard sizes of sheet goods and materials for the cabinetry and fireplace metal panels to help to dial in the cost without sacrificing the essence of the project," reveals architect Hunter Gundersen.

The guesthouse features a small lounge area in front of a bunk room and master bedroom. Paris Peak is visible in the distance through the side window.

"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 elevated canopy above the three volumes not only protects the courtyard from the elements, but hierarchically demarcates this outdoor living area as the most important space in the structure. 

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."

The oversized sliding glass wall that leads to the courtyard is one of the defining features of the retreat. "We love how when it’s open, the line between interior and exterior disappears and the house goes from 2,100 square feet to 2,100 acres," says architect Hunter Gundersen. 

Initially, the idea was to seed the planter below the oculus with native grasses and shrubs, adding to the dwelling’s connection to the landscape. "Instead, the owners came up with a brilliant idea of placing a stone cairn there that will grow over time by inviting visitors to add a stone with each visit," explains architect Hunter Gundersen. "Again, the owner wanted this special place to be all about time and connection."

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.

The home is designed to respond directly to the site and its climate. The overhangs block out unwanted summer solar heat gain and welcome in warming winter sunlight. The architects decided to allow more winter light in as an assurance that the home will remain above freezing in the long months when the owner might not be there.

"For the owner, it was important that the exterior require as minimal maintenance as possible," says architect Hunter Gundersen. "We clad the exterior in metal accordion-panel siding, as it will require little maintenance over many decades. The shadows cast by the panels’ W shape change dramatically with the position of the sun, indicating the time and season by the play of shadow and light." 

"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."

Grasses, shrubs, and flowers surround the building, making it appear as if it grew out of the landscape, rather than being placed in it. Pavers in the grasses weave between the recreation locker building and the main residence to the central courtyard, which is situated under a canopy.   

Elevations of Boar Shoat by Imbue Design

Elevations of Boar Shoat by Imbue Design

Floor plan of Boar Shoat by Imbue Design

Sections of Boar Shoat by Imbue Design

Related Reading:

9 Stellar Homes That Venture Off-Grid

14 Totally Off-the-Grid Cabins

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Imbue Design

Builder: yNot Construction

Structural Engineer: CTS Engineering

Landscape Design: Imbue Design

Lighting Design: Imbue Design

Cabinetry Installation: Jensen’s

Concrete Sink (Master Bathroom): Modern Craftsman

Steel Fireplace: Parker Cook Design

Photography: Imbue Design

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