In Natural Elegance, their new book out this fall, Rush Jenkins and Klaus Baer of WRJ Design describe one particular structure as "intimacy in nature." For this 1,000-square-foot cottage, nestled into the landscape of WRJ's native Jackson Hole, Wyoming, there is no better description: The guest house is a true nature lover's dream—and an apt representation of WRJ's ability to integrate its design into its surroundings.
The guesthouse's small size is by necessity—legal necessity. The city of Jackson caps guest residences at 1,000 square feet, so Jenkins and Baer worked with architect Shawn Ankeny (also a Jackson resident) to devise something that felt functional, open, and connected to its surroundings—while also exuding a rustic coziness.
"It's a super simple plan," says Ankeny of the layout. "It's really a traditional cabin." The simplicity here was key, because both designers and architect were adamant that the structure look at home in its surroundings, and also that anyone inside it would feel connected to them. "It's almost like a painting, like you just within this vast expanse," the architect continues. We wanted to open up to that."
So, nearly one entire wall of the house's living room is made of glass, with both windows and sliding doors that overlook a patio area and the fields and mountainscape beyond. "They wanted the cabin to really feel like it was part of the place, part of historic Jackson," says Baer, whose childhood memories of the mountains of Georgia led him to settle in the area. "It's kind of out in the field, this field filled with cows and it has a little stream that goes through it; that to me was the perfect place for it."
Location secured, the designers wanted to ensure that the structure's connection with nature continued on the interiors of the home. "We wanted to make sure every aspect of the aesthetic worked in harmony with the architecture and the surroundings," explains Jenkins. So, they covered virtually every surface in the home with reclaimed barn wood, and chose window treatments in a natural linen that adds warmth and texture.
Additional furniture pieces, like leather armchairs and an antique wooden carved chest, also bring patina. Meanwhile, the designers incorporated another element of American history with the wheat-motif dining chairs, rare models Rush and Klaus found while antiquing in the southeast.
"With the texture and the finishes we wanted to create that intimacy," says Baer. "All the furnishings, the fabrics, the art—all those other elements come together layer upon layer upon layer and create an ultimate coziness."
Somewhat paradoxically, though, the consistent finish throughout the home also makes it feel larger than its 1,000 square feet.
"Having all the materials the same makes it seamless," Baer says, a visual element that, when paired with the designers' and architect's strategic floor plan, makes for a house that packs a lot in a small footprint.
"We had to really make the bathrooms and closets efficient," recalls Ankeny. The wood paneling hides several storage spaces, including one for a washer-dryer and one specially built to hold skis. "I think we did a really good job of maximizing what space we had," says the architect. Ultimately, though, that doesn't stand in the way of the home's intimacy, which its creators see as its best asset. "It sounds cliche, but it kind of wraps its arms around you, and you wouldn't get that in a big house," says Jenkins.
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