We asked an award-winning architect to design the ideal Western house

Sunset has been reporting on the Western home–from innovative cabins to sophisticated ranch houses–for decades. As the magazine neared its 100th birthday, in 1998, it seemed a good time to do something more dramatic, and commission our own design for the Western Dream House.

We hired an accomplished architect–Denver-based Peter Dominick, of Urban Design Group–and asked him to design a house that would set the standard for living well in the West. We wanted the moon: a house that readers across the West would aspire to own or build (you can purchase the plans), a house that would celebrate indoor-outdoor living, that would be practical and flexible, with an unmistakable dash of Western romance, and that would fit on a 1/3-acre lot.

The result is what you see unfolding before you. We think it’s a winner and hope you do, too, whether you plan to build from scratch or remodel your current residence into the home of your dreams.

A house you can tailor to your taste
We asked architect Peter Dominick for a Western house, and that’s what he gave us. In his words: “The key to a home is the hearth, and what makes this house Western is that the hearth is indoors and out. If the house is sited properly, then even on a cool evening you’ll be comfortable entertaining outside around the hearth.” The bifold doors opening to the patio from the great room make the flow between inside and outside especially easy.

The house is designed for varying uses and to accommodate a family’s growth and change. There are gathering places, such as the front porch, the great room, the family room, and the patio, and there are places for getting away from a group, such as the master suite, the flex room/nursery/home office, and the upstairs bedrooms. The master suite functions as a separate retreat but remains close to the stairs to the children’s bedrooms. 

When children are young, the flex room next to the master bath can be a nursery, while part of the family room can double as a home office. As the children get older, they can move into the upstairs bedrooms, and the home office can take over the flex room, becoming an extension of the master suite. Using the flex room as a home office allows one spouse to work without disturbing the other, which is helpful when so many two-career couples are working long hours. In a pinch, the family room can function as a guest room: the adjacent bathroom contains a shower.

The house is both formal and informal. The formality is apparent in the axial organization–the way the front courtyard, great room, and rear patio connect along a single line of sight, for example–and in the definition of each room in the house as a distinct volume. The informality appears in such details as the bifold doors, which allow you to throw open an entire wall between the great room and the patio, and the bay-windowed breakfast nook in the family room.

“In many ways, the garage is the American museum,” Dominick says. “Everything goes there: cars, gardening equipment, ski equipment; it’s a place to work, gather. That’s not denied in this plan. But here the garage doesn’t dominate the front of the house; it doesn’t create a ‘gaping maw’ from the street.” It turns away from the street and helps shape the front entry court. 

To ensure that the Sunset Western Dream House is compatible with existing neighborhood contexts, we asked Dominick to provide a choice of exterior architectural treatments based on regional Western building traditions. He and the project architect for the Dream House, Christian Barlock, designed three distinctive façade treatments: Contemporary Craftsman, with stucco-covered walls and metal roof; Mediterranean, with stucco-covered walls and terra-cotta tile roof; and Shingle Style, with shingle-covered walls and composition shingle roof.

Estimating the cost
Construction costs vary widely across the West and depend on many factors, including the particular site improvements and fees required, and the quality of materials, finishes, and appliances specified. The price of a refrigerator, for example, can range from about $400 to more than $2,500, depending on the brand.

The R. S. Means Company, which is the country’s leading provider of construction cost information, estimates the construction cost for the Mediterranean version of the Western Dream House–including above-average-quality materials and finishes but not including the cost of land, site improvements, or landscaping features–to be as follows, per square foot: $120 in Phoenix, $123 in Denver, $135 in Seattle, $139 in Las Vegas, $153 in Los Angeles, and $167 in San Francisco. The San Francisco Bay Area consistently ranks among the most expensive places to build in the country.

You will need to hire an architect to adapt this house to your site, and an engineer to ensure that it meets seismic and other local building codes.