Nestled into the base of the Selkirk Mountains and perched on the northwest shore of Lake Pend Oreille, the little town of Sandpoint, Idaho, truly boasts the best of both worlds. With world-class skiing out the back door and a massive inland lake in the front yard, a downtown replete with old brick buildings, fine dining, breweries and a vibrant arts scene, it’s a town that has it all.
But it wasn’t just the breathtaking scenery or the local amenities that made Jim and Leslie Finn fall in love with the place: “It’s the people that make this town special,” says Leslie. After living in San Diego for many years, the Finns were committed to finding the perfect spot to build a retirement cabin — and they were willing to be patient until the right town came along.
“We found Sandpoint while we were traveling the country in our Airstream. We were looking for a lake property, but we wanted to live in a ‘real’ town with activities and opportunities for getting involved in a community. We came up to visit many times looking at properties and checking things out over a four- or five-year period.” At some point during their visits it became clear that they’d found what they’d been searching for. “We realized that Sandpoint wasn’t just the most beautiful place, but also the most friendly and generous place either of us had ever been to.”
Leslie already had some ideas about what they wanted and needed in a house. “We built our home with the goal of luring our grown children up to visit us. Most of the time it’s just the two of us and our dog, Wally. Our architect helped us to design the house so that the downstairs is comfortable for the two of us, but the upstairs is guest friendly.”
Being guest friendly entails not just an extra bedroom, sitting room and bath, but a fun bunkroom with sliding barn doors for the grandkids and a kitchenette as well. “Leslie did some sketches on her own, and even found a 3-D program to use, so she came to me with a floor plan when we first met,” says architect John Hendricks, who designed the house along with fellow architect Tom Russell. “Sometimes it’s hard when people come to you with a floor plan and say ‘make it work,’ but this one was good. We had to alter it a little because it’s a tight lot, but it ended up working well.
The low-slung home blends nicely into the landscape, tucked between the lakeshore and the hill behind. With two decks, a stone patio and plenty of big windows, the Finns and their architects did everything possible to capitalize on the amazing views and to bring the outdoors into the home.
While many mountain retreats often trend toward the dark and heavy log home look, this house is anything but. Bright, airy, with vaulted ceilings accentuated by exquisite, strutted-king-post timber trusses and outfitted with casual furnishings, it feels a little like a mix between a ski chalet and a coastal cottage. And, while those two styles may seem at odds with one another, the combination works seamlessly. “It’s eclectic,” says John, “but in a good way.”
The kitchen is where this combination really shines: The clean, classic lines of the white cabinets and marble countertops pair seamlessly with more rustic elements, such as the bar, island, and floors crafted out of reclaimed wood, plus the large farmhouse-style sink. The star of the kitchen is the antique gas stove, which looks like it was plucked new and gleaming straight from the pages of a vintage Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.
Another standout feature is the two-sided stone fireplace that separates the kitchen and the great room. With two sitting areas and a bank of lake-facing windows, the great room is an open, light-filled space, that, like the kitchen, combines rustic and modern elements: Craftsman-style windows and off-white walls are balanced by massive ceiling beams, inspired by the Southwest. “There are these cool timbers going on in the great room, that the Finns saw when they were in Arizona,” explains John. “They said, ‘We want to have beams that look just like this,’ so we made that work with the design.”
Throughout the house, it’s these creative choices that make the home unique, refreshing and inviting, from the architecture down to the interior decoration. Because of the level of personal attention and care that the Finns provided, their house is a beautiful, multifunctional, relaxed oasis — much like Sandpoint itself.
The Finns chose to do all of the interior design and decoration themselves, which not only saves money, it ensures that a home feels truly personalized. One element of which they are particularly proud is the stove in the kitchen, which they found for sale online. “It’s a vintage 1953 O’Keefe & Merrit stove that we bought, and then Jim refurbished it for us. Now it’s like brand-new, and it works like a dream.”
While an interior designer can dress up any house and make it look elegant, cozy or rustic, there’s something truly special about the design elements that a family adds to make a house a home.
The Finns’ lot is long and narrow, tucked in between the lakeshore and the cliff behind them. It’s so narrow, in fact, that it impacted the overall design of the home: “It’s a beautiful spot,” says architect John Hendricks, “but it’s a pretty tight lot, right up against the setback. Which is why the master bath is so long and skinny.” And it’s true – the master bath does have a unique footprint and is much longer than it is wide. With two sinks, counter space, storage and a shower all on one wall – with only towel bars on the other – at first glance it looks akin to a hallway. However, on closer inspection, one discovers the toilet and tub tucked off to the side, neatly nestled into their own alcoves.
It may seem an odd arrangement, but in truth, it makes perfect sense given the constraints of the lot and the needs of the owners – and it begs the question: Why we don’t think “outside the box” more often when it comes to bathroom design? “While the kitchen is my favorite room in the house,” says owner Leslie Finn, “the master bath is a close second. I just love the space.”
Square footage: 3,100
Design: Hendricks Architecture