Marc Appleton knows that a design pro can be his own worst enemy when it comes to creating his own home. That probably explains why the architect, in practice since 1976, built his first house for himself and his wife, the actor and director Joanna Kerns, just 15 years ago. More recently, after finding a stunning plot in northern Idaho, overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene and nestled between the homes of friends, he was up for another go, though the mantra was to keep things simple. “I wanted it to be a family vacation house–not overly specific to my taste or my wife’s, but something that would wear well with others.”
Teaming with designer Peggy Platner and general contractor Bill Strange, Appleton conceived a rustic structure that suggests vernacular forms–and maximizes views of the lake through pine and fir trees. Getting to that point, though, drew on the architect’s formidable talents (he was assisted by senior draftsman Brian Speyerer). The spot chosen was somewhat tricky: It required “grading to prepare the site for the house while saving the existing trees,” he reports. Experience also proved valuable when it came to devising ideal vantage points. Instead of having the house overlook the lake on just one side, Appleton twisted its angle to “jog” the corners–pulling them in to create more sides, and then filling those sides with windows. “I did three jogs that allow you to be in those parts of the house and see in any direction,” he says. The resulting plan yielded the living, dining and kitchen area in the center, a bedroom wing on one side, and a two-story garage and studio space. Of the plan, Strange notes: “It follows the contour of the land. As you’re moving through the home, there are two steps here, three steps there.” Each bedroom fits in the grade it’s naturally sitting in, while the patio is level with the great room, so you step out to expansive views of the lake.
Appleton describes the home’s aesthetic as “a little bit ranchy, but not nostalgically ranchy. It’s rustic, but with a more modern sensibility.” For example, the barn wood on the interior walls was treated with a wash “to soften it a bit, so it’s not so weathered-looking,” he says. French oak flooring throughout was slightly distressed but not dramatically so. And the architect, whose firm has been designing landscapes as part of its practice for the last 15 years, restored the forest meadow so that it comes back up to the house. “I wanted it to look as though the house was plunked down in the natural setting,” he says.
For the interiors, Appleton handed the reins to his wife and Platner. “She’s well-versed in design,” Platner says of Kerns, noting that her taste runs “casual but elegant.” Colors from nature–soft gray and blue, pale yellow and terra cotta–were chosen to complement the outdoor views. “We knew we had those rustic red window frames, and I like to create a palette that flows from room to room,” says Platner. They began with rugs Kerns had already found (those now reside in the great room and master bedroom) and then turned their attention toward fabrics and furnishings.
When buying new furniture, Platner kept an eye on textures: dining chairs with rush seats and backs; armchairs covered in a tactile, geometric pattern; woven outdoor furniture “in a nice neutral,” she says, with pillows made of carpets she had shipped from Turkey. In the master bedroom, where midcentury pieces bring a pleasing warmth and sleekness, offsetting the rough-hewn wood on the walls, Platner lined the back of a lightweight Turkish rug to work as a throw on the bed she designed. When the team couldn’t find a chandelier that suited the living room, Appleton stepped in and conjured one of forgediron tiers and Mason jars enclosing LEDs. A sheet of rusted metal from the work site was even commandeered to serve as the top of the coffee table.
Not all of their finds were new. Mixed in and creating a lived-in look, as if the house had been theirs for years, are family treasures. A stained wooden sideboard from Appleton’s mother gets a new life in a sunny spot of the dining room, while a massive Japanese tansu stores supplies in the architect’s studio. Meaningful art collected over the years includes figurative works, contemporary photography, abstract artwork, a beaded African piece and a stuffed trout caught by Appleton when he was 13 and fishing with his grandfather.
Reflecting on it all now, Appleton is amazed that the project was completed within a year. But then again, simplicity was always the goal. “I like the modesty of the house sitting out over the lake,” he says. “The architecture didn’t have to shout because the scenery is so spectacular. All I had to do was frame it.”