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This Hailey home’s checklist of luxury features and qualities matches any of the finest and largest homes on the market, but its size is appropriate to a family neighborhood and the carbon footprint is nil. By Ann Zimmerman

Great ideas will subtly seed and slowly germinate, and then they take hold so fiercely we ask the question, why haven’t we always done things this way? Craig Johnson’s European styled cottage on one of Hailey’s friendly, tree-lined streets offers the lifestyle, amenities, and features of the most luxurious high-end homes. Craig Johnson, owner of LMJ Builders and Craig Johnson Construction, found the answer to his own question: Can we live smaller without sacrificing the lifestyle we enjoy?

As with most stories, Craig Johnson’s is one that moves through a logical series of events to a clear and happy ending, but it started out as an experiment and a series of “what if ” questions. Craig Johnson is a well-known local builder with a reputation for fine luxury homes. With a portfolio of high-end custom homes, he is very familiar with the upscale features and touches as well as the construction quality that people at the upper end of the market expect and are willing to pay for. In keeping, he built a 5,000 square-foot home in an upscale rural neighborhood for his own preferred lifestyle of entertaining and gourmet home cooking.

In a series of unanticipated events, Johnson bought a small Hailey home to fix up and to resell. Concurrently, someone really wanted his own home and bought it. Because of structural problems with the existing Hailey house, Johnson had stripped it down to the footprint and floorboards. He became intrigued with the idea of rebuilding the home for himself and wife, Laura, and he started to play with the idea of whether they could design and build everything they loved about their larger home into a 1,900 square-foot footprint. “I began a process of thinking through all the spaces and deciding what is important versus how I may have done it in the past,” Craig recounts. “It was the most challenging home I have ever designed and built. I went to the heart of getting the essential space for the lifestyle I like and not forfeiting anything as I eliminated square footage.”

Walking through the casually elegant two-bedroom home, nothing seems sacrificed. The kitchen is spacious enough for two cooks to turn out a holiday meal for an extended family. Looking closely, there are some smart swaps, like trading a warming drawer for a second oven. Similarly, there is a bar for snacking or informal meals, and a spacious dining area in the open floor plan. “In reviewing what works and doesn’t work about the larger homes I have built and lived in, I decided that an open floor plan works for today’s lifestyle. With an open plan, I could trim space away for hallways, and size the living areas for how we actually use them. For example, a formal living area is always under-used, especially if there is also a family room. We have one living area with a fireplace and seating, and a separate media room with built-in computer desks.

Some spaces, like the master bath and closet, feature the size and appointments one expects in homes five to six times the size. “There is no reason that just because it is small, it can’t have the feel and comforts of a larger home,” explains Johnson. “The design-build process like we went through gets to the heart of getting the space and design a homeowner will value. It takes understanding design, costs, and the other options and features available for the same costs in order to negotiate trade-offs.”

For his own home, Craig chose to focus his resources on building healthy and energy-efficiently. “It’s definitely healthy because of our use of natural materials, water-based, and wax finishes. We invested heavily in an agri-based foam insulation and an energy-efficient forced air system with heat pump. We also zoned the house for different temperature zones. For additional conservation, there is solar hot water heating and photovoltaic electrical generation. The best indication of how well we have lowered our carbon footprint is by our utility bill. We pay less than $125 a month for both electricity and gas.”

The Hailey location is a big plus for Johnson. “We love being in this neighborhood, and we can walk to restaurants and theaters. It’s great to enjoy wine with dinner and not worry about driving.” Johnson studied the 9,000-square-foot lot with the same intent that he examined the home—to maximize the benefits of the space. His design captures maximum area for outdoor living, features for privacy, and space for a cottage encompassing private guest quarters with the bathroom and wine cellar in the level beneath. In addition to the connected single-car garage by the street, Johnson built another single-car garage connected to the guest cottage with an exercise studio above it. The outdoor living patios connect to the home’s entertainment spaces for ease of hosting a crowd.

The home is complete, and Johnson loves living in it so much that he wants to share his new concept of luxury living in a smaller space with anyone considering building or remodeling. “I am comfortable working with clients in a variety of ways: one-on-one, with their architect, or with an interior designer. We are a construction company with design capabilities, but that does not constrain us from collaborating. This concept can be adjusted in so many ways. The intent is to make a home or remodeled space meet the client’s lifestyle and not waste space,” notes Johnson.

It does make sense. There is everything we love in much less than half the space, and there is less space to maintain, clean, heat, and cool. Also, it allows for in-town living among friends, restaurants, entertainment, and services. Like so many great ideas, why haven’t we always lived like this?

For more information on LMJ Builders call 208.788.0996 or visit

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