Living a life immersed in design, in the arts and in travel, people amass things along the way that reflect the richness of their experiences. This often results in a collection of personally curated objects that, space allowing, they wouldn’t dream of parting with. For architect Stan Boles and his artist wife, Wendy Kahle, in relocating from Oregon to Southern California, the idea was to create a residence expressly around the pieces they cherish—and make the house a symbol of their aesthetic.
And their shared design experience made them well-suited to the task: Boles is a founder and former senior design principal of Portland-based Bora Architecture & Interiors, and Wendy had previously remodeled a pair of midcentury William Krisel homes in Palm Springs. For several years after their retirement (Boles from his firm and Wendy from a career in advertising), the couple split their time between Oregon and California before deciding to go full-bore California. The one drawback was the desert’s summer heat, which ultimately led them to an undeveloped property in the small alpine community of Idyllwild, an hour’s drive from Palm Springs and, at a mile-high altitude, some 25 degrees cooler. A second residence with a distinctly different environmental profile held enormous appeal—and would accommodate what Boles describes as “this core group of things we love, essentially the history of our lives.”
Packing up in Portland, they assiduously measured their major pieces of art, noted the lineal feet needed for their book and vinyl collections, and even counted how many drawers they’d need for their dishes and cookware. “Our big thing is functionality and making it all work,” says Wendy of the programming part of the design process, for which their comprehensive inventory provided a critical data set.
“We were collaborators on the basic layout and all the major decisions,” she notes. “We see eye to eye on design. But this is Stan’s house. He did the heavy lifting.” Indeed, Boles drew everything by hand, old-school style, removed as he was from the tech amenities of his former firm, where he had master-planned institutional projects that could take as many as 15 years to complete. This was a far more immediate, intimate exercise—he built scale models of three designs, each with the same program—but still a challenging one.
The rugged half-acre parcel was on a steep slope laden with trees and boulders, the latter often buried. Fire and drought conditions persist. Correspondingly, strict building codes dictated the use of exterior materials. So, Boles complied with cedar siding over non-combustible sheathing, metal roofing and a concrete-block foundation wall. “Understanding the constraints going in—structural, topographical—simplified the form,” he says of the 20-by-60-foot rectangle he sited on an east-west axis to minimize heat gain and maximize views (achieved, remarkably, by taking out just one tree).
Panoramic views from every room—north to the San Jacinto Mountains and south, east and west through the forest—are a defining feature of the geometric 1,900-square-foot residence. At the main level, a pedestrian bridge leads to the great room, a single volume that includes dining and an open kitchen; at the opposite end, the den transforms into an en suite guest bedroom. On the lower level, the primary suite on the west end connects via a gallery to a multiuse studio and utilities and to the carport at the east.
Wood is the dominant interior material, the discrete varieties (cedar, red alder, Douglas fir) choreographed in a way that avoids monotony and heaviness—a decided leap from mountain cabin vernacular. The taut interplay of wood surfaces with white-painted sheetrock gives a warm contrast, while the infusion of black steel in major elements, like the fireplace wall, and in smaller moments, like the track lighting, acts as a sleekly graphic through line.
Boles credits general contractor Rob Gray and associate architect and structural engineer Jim Marsh and the trades they brought to the project, with the degree of refinement attained. “We committed to working with very skilled and talented local subcontractors knowing they’d become invested in what was for them a first in terms of a modernist vocabulary,” he says. And, perhaps, a first in terms of client thoroughness: It may end up achieving lore status among the building community here that Boles and Wendy supplied their cabinetmaker with the exact dimensions of their books.
Which leads to the question: How did everything—the artworks, the furniture, the pottery, the textiles, the vintage vinyl, even—ultimately fit into the meticulously crafted spaces? “Beautifully,” says Boles. “Like they were designed to be there,” Wendy confirms.