STYLE SINCE 1992: WILLIAMS PARTNERS ARCHITECTS

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Williams Partners Architects (WPA) is currently in its 27th year of operation in the Ketchum/Sun Valley market. It has been at the forefront of defining the “Sun Valley Style” since winning a design award for its first project that was completed in 1994.

Jeff Williams, founder and architect at WPA, says, “When our first home was completed, we heard visitors say, ‘I hate modern homes but I love this house.’ This was a comment that was heard about a number of our homes over the years. Key features visitors responded to were elements of warmth, comfortable scale, and appropriate detailing.”

“Functional, innovative contemporary design continues to be our primary emphasis here at WPA. It’s tough but enjoyable work and our young, experienced staff members bring energy and excitement to the process, pushing to make our projects relevant, efficient, and comfortable,” adds Jeff.

WPA has won 12 design awards from the Idaho Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and several other awards from national residential magazines. Many of WPA’s projects, including some award winners, have been modest homes. Some have been built with the owner acting as the general contractor.

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“When our first home was completed, we heard visitors say,‘I hate modern homes but I love this house.’”
–Jeff Williams, Founder, Williams Partners Architects

Until recently, few of WPA’s houses have been on the market. Their work is somewhat of a best-kept secret, as their homes remain occupied by the original client or have stayed in the family. Some that have sold never reached the market. Instead, they were bought by long-time admirers in a direct sale. This meant a number of WPA’s homes were not known to the wider community.

STYLE DEVELOPS ORGANICALLY WITH THE CLIENT AND SITE

Over the years, changes in the Sun Valley community’s residential aesthetic style preferences have been slow but steady. Jeff attributes the evolution in part due to a generational change in the Sun Valley resident population, natural trend lifecycles, and also due to the influence of digital architectural-lifestyle media in all its forms.

Jeff explains, “Twenty years ago, high-end custom homes were almost entirely based on expressions of historical styles. Rustic log styles, European country house styles, and Southwest-inspired designs were popular. Styles morphed over the years, through various country ranch house styles, barn derivatives, and even variations of European manor houses.”

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“Today, while many of these styles and influences exist, we try to let the style of our work develop as a response to the specific site. We translate what we understand to be the clients’ needs and the conditions, such as context and budget, rather than with any preconceived notion of style,” he adds.

WPA serves as an interpreter for the client. That role comes with a lot of tasks, starting with managing budget versus expectations, as well as developing the idea of the home a client wants versus what the best structure is for the lot they purchased.

“In our era of expensive property in desirable areas, clients often buy a lot in the area they want to live, but with challenges like steep slopes or with difficult orientation without thinking about the impact to budget or home layout,” says Jeff.

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“Today…we try to let the style of our work develop as a response to the specific site.”
–Jeff Williams, Founder, Williams Partners Architects

Another common issue WPA contends with is solving the “Baldy View” issue, meaning that most properties that face Baldy are northeast to east of the mountain in the upper valley. “The intensity of the sun in this orientation requires mitigating factors for afternoon sun that many clients may not have taken into account.” He adds, “And finally, with married couples, we often need to find a balance between opposing requests and points of view.”

HOMES THAT ENHANCE THE SUN VALLEY LIFESTYLE

Jeff says that most clients come to WPA to solve a problem. Whether it is a new house or a remodel, most want the issue fixed or the home designed so that they can go on with their Sun Valley lifestyle. WPA’s goal is to give them more than just a home, something that becomes an important part of their lives here in Idaho, a tool for enjoying this place, and a home that is more than they knew it could be.

“Our style, if there is one, is hard to define precisely because our homes are a response to different clients and the property they choose. We don’t try and reuse successful ideas without adapting them to the situation. We aren’t locked into ‘perfect’ solutions; we feel that there are many ways to interpret the situation,” says Jeff.

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Often, WPA’s final design does not resemble its first concept. “Design is a process where we feel that the best projects are when our clients are most deeply engaged in the process with us. We enjoy it when we start off with an idea of where we are heading and then become surprised with where we end up. It’s a journey,” explains Jeff.

WPA reaches for the best design solutions they can within the given situation, which keeps the process open-ended. Their influences as architects have typically been those architects who have created classic buildings that stand the test of time. Jeff, a self-professed “old-school guy,” has been taught the history and principles of successful and time-honored examples. Translating that into residential architecture is difficult due to all the balls one needs to juggle in the process. The art and science of that process is the challenge he loves rising to with his team.

With respect to trends, Jeff notes, “We are sensitive to the issue of responding too directly to current trends. We have been around long enough to see styles come and go, and as such, we strive to create homes that look fresh after 20 years, which is not always an easy thing to do.”

Jeff holds himself and the WPA team to an extremely high standard. He mulls over the archetypal challenge of being a creative person to explain that, “Your best project is either your last one or your next one.”

WPA’s work stands the test of time in a constantly evolving field. The firm is proud of its homes and is very happy that it doesn’t have to keep doing knock-offs of them. “We can keep moving forward, we hope,” says Jeff.

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“Design is a process where we feel that the best projects are when our clients are most deeply engaged in the process with us. We
enjoy it when we start off with an idea of where we are heading and then become surprised with where we end up. It’s a journey.”
–Jeff Williams, Founder, Williams Partners Architects

REMODELS AND ALTERATIONS

In addition to new builds, renovations, remodels, and alterations are a big part of WPA’s business. According to Jeff, a renovation should not be where people try to fix fundamental problems with the original design. Instead, a remodel or alteration is an opportunity to lengthen the life of an older home and continue the enjoyment.

Jeff explains, “If the layout is wrong and scale and function are lousy, it is not worth fixing; it will cost too much to reinvent the basic parts of the house. You can, however, reinvent how it works within the constraints of the primary spaces.”

Reinvention is part of what makes WPA’s renovation work so powerful. The firm has completely transformed many homes in very satisfying ways. WPA has also designed additions that incorporate missing elements in an original house. Jeff adds that new finishes also give a fresh perspective.

Jeff reflects, “If we are doing our job right, our final product of the home and the environment the clients move into will surprise them and enrich their lives. If all we deliver is exactly what they envisioned, we feel like we haven’t done our job right.”

For more info, visit williams-partners.com or call 208.726.0020