Ketchum house generates controversy
The house "is a lot more noticeable than we imagined. We
didnt think it would skyline like it does."
Peter Ripsom, Ketchum Planning and Zoning chairman
By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer
A uniquely designed Knob Hill housewhich in its
early phase of construction looks more like a tram terminal than a homehas provoked
numerous complaints by citizens to the Ketchum planning department.
Located at 760 Walnut Ave. North, the house has a 59-foot-high facade and
will measure 5,261-square feet over four floors. Its skeleton is formed of poured concrete
and steel beams.
The property is owned by Mickey and Peggy Drexler, residents of San
Francisco. Mickey Drexler is president and CEO of GAP, Inc.
In an interview, Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Peter
Ripsom called the house a "quality building," but acknowledged that
"its very offensive to a lot of people. Weve had several suggestions by
neighbors that it be looked into."
In fact, the houses design has already been
looked into. As is required of all proposed construction in Ketchums Mountain
Overlay Zoning District, the building went before the citys planning and zoning
commission for design review. The proposed design was approved unanimously in January
The buildings most prominent feature when viewed from the front is
its height. At 59 feet, the house would appear to violate the 35-foot-high limit set by
the Ketchum ordinance. However, that limit is measured from "original grade."
In an interview, Ketchum planning administrator Lisa Horowitz pointed out
that the top of the Drexler house is 35 feet above the original gradethe
remaining height, she said, was obtained by excavating.
Horowitz said thats legal, but questioned whether that was the
"Its something in the ordinance that we need to look at,"
According to plans, the sides of the building will be filled in, reducing
its apparent height.
Though the house meets the legal height limit, it may have some difficulty
meeting another restriction.
One criterion for design review in the Mountain Overlay zone is that
"building on hillsides which would have a material visual impact visible from a
public vantage point entering the city or within the city shall be minimized."
The deeply overhanging roof of the Drexler house creates a prominent
profile on the side of Knob Hill when viewed from state Highway 75 at the northern
entrance to Ketchum. Ripsom admitted that the house "is a lot more noticeable than we
imagined. We didnt think it would skyline like it does."
A third visual impact are the buildings massive concrete walls.
However, according to plans, the concrete will not be visible once the house is done.
"I would ask anyone who has reservations to please reserve
judgment," said the buildings designer, New York architect Thierry Despont, in
a telephone interview.
Despont said the exterior walls will be covered by "truly magnificent
stonework" of Montana moss rock, a dark, gray-brown stone highlighted by lichens. He
contended that with the addition of stone covering, wood timbers and boulders placed
around its base, the house will appear to have "grown with the land."
Despont said the buildings roof will be of "lead-colored
copper," which will reflect the sky on bright days and be gray on cloudy days.
The Idaho Mountain Express contacted several people living near the
construction site. Most declined to be interviewed. However, two who offered opinions,
Paula Caputo and Lara Babelis, shared Desponts optimism for the completed product.
"I dont understand why theres so much attention about
this when there are so many more ugly things going in," Babelis said. "Look at
certain art galleries."
Caputo said she appreciated the fact that the homes builders had
taken care to save trees surrounding the construction site and that the Drexlers had
bought three adjacent lots to maintain as open space.
Ripsom said that as an architect, he believes the Drexler house design
"Its a clean, honest style of a house," he said. "Not
French country, not Swiss, not New Mexico. It trades on the vernacular of the basic
architecture of Idaho."