“In the past year, we’ve seen more and more clients asking a very specific question,” says Rush Jenkins, co-founder of Jackson-based interior design studio, WRJ Design. “ ‘What can I do with my log home?’ ”
Traditional log homes, from small retreats to family estates, are everywhere in the valley; from downtown Jackson to exclusive subdivisions like John Dodge and Solitude. “I think the log home evokes a very romantic notion of the West, one that harkens back to times gone by, and it’s true that the original homesteads of Jackson usually had a log cabin on the property,” Jenkins says, and then continues, “But people find them challenging to live in today, because we now like light-filled homes with big, open spaces.” When Jenkins talks about log homes that are “challenging to live in,” for the most part, he is referring to those that were built between the 1980’s and the early 2000’s. “They’re typically quite dark and feel heavy,” Jenkins says.
But in Jackson Hole’s tight real estate market, it is precisely these homes that are most available. “The current desire for Mountain Modern has left many log homes languishing, sitting on the market,” Jenkins says. But, “We completely believe that older log homes can be beautifully updated and remodeled to accommodate today’s modern way of living. If the layout and the bones of the house are great, which many log homes are, it’s satisfying and fun to transform an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Log homes are a great way to begin with the traditional, and from there, make design decisions that incorporate a more current aesthetic. In doing so, you can get the best of what you might love about both.”
About updating older log homes, Jenkins says, “We start by changing the color palette to lighter hues, then replace windows with steel and double-paned glass to bring in more light, and then, typically, we move to update bathrooms and kitchens with contemporary finishes, using interesting tile and stone. We’ll bring in furniture with clean lines, lighter drapes, and we’ll make sure there’s spectacular lighting, very current fabric, and amazing art. And behind these design decisions, we always keep in mind the right aesthetic choices to create a serene and harmonious environment. Those elements can completely transform heavy and traditional to an environment of harmony and Zen.”
It’s not as though wood is out of style, even in new construction. Wood remains a key element of the Jackson Hole aesthetic. Jim Fifles, the founder of Ridgeline Log & Timber, which has been building log and timber homes in the valley since 1997, says many of his clients “get their share of contemporary in the city. They want their homes here to look old—the romantic vision of a property in the mountains is a cabin or lodge-type structure—but with modern conveniences and technologies.” What has changed is the type of wood used. Over the last decade, Fifles has noticed new homes with wood elements often include timber, particularly reclaimed timbers, rather than log. “Timber is rustic, but it can still be modern and bright,” he says. To source reclaimed timber, some of which was hand-hewn by homesteaders more than a century ago, Fifles works directly with demolition teams across the country who carefully dismantle old barns and WWII-era warehouses.
Jenkins’ take on the desire for a rustic aesthetic is similar: “Clients might say they want the feel and Western story of a log home, but not the log home. Ultimately, I believe [wood] mixed with stone, plaster, barn wood, and steel windows can create a stunning, rustic retreat. It retains that log-y look and still has that authentic Western feel, but it’s also a comfortable and luxurious way of living, out West.”