Gordon Walker always wanted a house in the mountains with a view of the water. A well-traveled businessman originally from Minnesota, the former president of firearms producer Colt’s Manufacturing Co. had called cities such as Chicago, New York and Geneva home during his lifetime. He had also enjoyed a vacation villa in Spain. But Gordon knew he had found the perfect place to build his dream retirement home when family friends introduced him to Sun Valley, Idaho, because of his love for hunting, fishing and entertaining, “Dad loved the outdoors, being in the mountains, the sun and the water. I remember one summer spending six weeks driving to Alaska and back with him, camping and fishing along the way,” recalls his son, Gordon Walker Jr.
The 9,844-square-foot home in Sun Valley’s Golden Eagle subdivision, a mile from the town of Ketchum, Idaho, began construction in 2003 and took 16 months to complete. “Dad was really hands on. He put his heart and soul into the place. It was part and parcel of who he was,” explains Gordon Jr.
Designed by Idaho architect Jeff Williams, the four-bedroom, five-and-two-half-bathroom house embodied Gordon’s hospitable personality with lots of space to gather friends, tell stories and display his extensive art collection. “The bar was the heart of the house,” recalls his son.
“When Gordon came to us, he was 73 years old. He had a nine-and-a-half-acre lot that fronted an enormous man-made pond,” the architect explains. “On the hillside of the lot was another small pond and a man-made waterfall. Gordon wanted the house to focus on the waterfall. He laid out the basic plan where a guest would arrive at the porte-cochere, step up to the front door and look straight through the house to the waterfall.”
“Gordon would stand behind the bar and hold court while his guests would sit facing him and the waterfall beyond,” he adds. “It was a bit of theater and of prime importance to him. Many memorable evenings were spent in conversation at this place.”
Influenced by his time in Spain, Gordon loved delicate, light Mediterranean architecture, but the architect convinced him the Idaho landscape suited a design with an earthier toughness. Dark timbers, stucco and rock were chosen for the exterior. The architect designed the backside of the house to face the waterfall and added outdoor terraces, an outside fireplace, a built-in barbecue and gas heaters in the terrace ceilings, allowing Gordon to prolong his al fresco parties when the nights got chillier.
“It was a fun project,” recalls builder Jim Bishop, whose Ketchum, Idaho-based company specializes in custom homes. The biggest challenge for him was meeting his client’s deadline. “Gordon told us, ‘I don’t buy green bananas.’ He didn’t want to have to wait. We did it in 16 months. It could have taken 24, but with the organization and information provided by the architect, Gordon and the interior designer, Charles Stuhlberg, we were able to be really efficient with our time. Most custom jobs drag out because nobody can decide what they want. That didn’t happen.”
Gordon and his wife, Janice, were only able to enjoy a year and a half in the house before he passed away. Gordon Jr., who inherited the home, recalls thinking, “It’s a long way from Chicago [his permanent residence]. But my wife, Amy, is from Sun Valley. We met at the house of the same family friend who introduced my dad to the area. My father-in-law, who designed the home’s interior, still lives there. The area is definitely special for us.” Now the family spends at least 10 weeks a year at the house and takes advantage of all the outdoor activities in the area. A 20-mile trail system runs right by the house for hiking and biking, streams offer fishing opportunities, and the ski hill is a 10-minute drive away. “My 6-year-old son skied 25 days last winter. When we had to go back to Chicago, he had tears in his eyes and asked if he could move there for the whole winter.”
Happy to be able to enjoy his father’s legacy, Gordon Jr. notes, “They were able to accomplish neat things with the house. It’s bigger than my dad originally planned, but it’s remarkable how comfortable it is. We love going there. It’s a relaxing and inviting place to be.”
Gordon Walker Sr. may be gone, but thanks to his family, his dream lives on.
Square footage: 9,844
Architect: Williams Partners Architects