This story originally ran in Treasure Magazine in 2008. We are reviving it to accompany the 2017 story about the home’s new home theater.
The Williams family home in the East Boise Foothills reveals the elegance of simplicity: vast white stucco walls embellished with forged iron, outlined against Boise’s blue sky with red clay tiles.
It was also a three-year labor of love. To cross the threshold is to step into another world.
Cris Williams designed and built the home for his wife and two children. A photo of actor William H. Macy’s home near Hancock Park in Los Angeles inspired the design. Williams’ dedication to authenticity - finding red roof tiles that could withstand a frost, for example - brought the house into being.
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“Nothing in this house is faux, “ Williams said. “If it looks like old wood, it’s old wood. If it looks like iron, it’s iron. If it looks hand-painted, that’s because it is.”
Williams has been building homes in the Treasure Valley since 1995. This is his first one in Spanish Colonial Revival style, which dominated the American Southwest and Southern California from 1915 to 1930.
The style synthesizes elements more commonly found in Mediterranean climates, but the result is a uniquely American invention.
What Williams hadn’t planned was building the 3,900-square-foot house himself.
“Everyone was so busy during the building boom, and it was too custom, “ he said. “No one had time.”
He made two trips to California and one to Florida to make sure the house he would build would be historically accurate.
It took him a month to create the house plan. Then his computer crashed, and it took two more weeks to get it back.
“The drawing of the house was so plain it was hard not to add eye candy, “ Williams said.
If it looks like the Boise Depot, that’s because the depot is one of the few examples of Spanish Colonial Revival style in Boise. Williams used the west wing of the depot as a model for one side of the house.
Neighbor Rob Gundlach watched the house go up and, about a year later, he got involved with the project.
“It is an impressive structure, totally unique, “ Gundlach said. “It’s the way they used to do things. Farmers would make every part of the house themselves.”
The home’s arched front door is glass, adorned and protected by a delicate ironwork pattern. It is set in a plain tower and framed by hand-painted tiles. The ensemble creates a dramatic entrance.
Everything in the house Williams either made himself or had made by artisans in Mexico. And each piece has a story.
“The thing I like, “ Gundlach said, “is that (Cris) had the wherewithal not just to build a cool house and move into it, but to furnish it top to bottom with things that are appropriate to it.”
The house is designed with a daylight basement that accommodates the slope of the Foothills away from the street. The kids’ bedrooms and Williams’ office are on street level.
From the foyer, a balcony overlooks the spacious, formal great room below. And from the balcony, a grand view of the Foothills rises beyond a two-story wall of windows that virtually eliminates the boundary between inside and outside.
The exposed elements of the interior are consistent throughout the home. Dark ceiling beams juxtapose white walls. Hand-painted Talavera baseboard tiles splash color where the walls meet the terra-cotta floor tiles. Persian rugs cover the floors.
“It reminds me of Italy more than an American home, “ said Cris’ wife, Maria, who is Italian.
From the radiant heating in the floor of the great room to the bathroom showers and fireplace mantels, the interior pays homage to the versatility of tile. Cris laid most of it with help from his son Conrad, Gundlach and neighbor Niles Gooding.
“I had some vacation time, and I like the way (Cris) builds things, “ said Gooding, who offered to help and got a crash course in tiling. “He is a really patient teacher. It was easy to learn from him.”
Williams took many trips to Mexico to purchase materials and decor for the house. He designed much of the ironwork and had it made in Mexico.
Gundlach became part of the heavy lifting that followed those trips.
“Every time he went to Mexico and bought things, you’d get this phone call, ‘Hey, what are you doing right now?’ “ Gundlach said.
Down a curvaceous flight of stairs at street level are the great room, family room and a room destined to become a movie theater.
The great room is divided into a formal dining area and a reclining area with a fireplace and a bar. Williams designed a large stone mantel for the fireplace, which was hand-carved in Mexico. Surprisingly, it was delivered in 12 pieces, with no way to support the center. He and Maria did all the masonry necessary to put it together and install it.
The glass doors of the great room swing open onto a courtyard deck and one of the home’s more unique features - a pool with an infinity edge that appears to end in mid-air.
“First he teaches himself to build a pool, “ Gooding said. “And then in the dead of winter, he’s out there hand-tiling it.”
The kitchen, informal dining table and TV area make up the family room, which also has a fireplace embellished with a hand-carved wood mantel. Williams burned up three grinders on the rough-hewn ceiling beams, which he salvaged from Producer’s sawmill. A whimsical wall of cherubs, each one hand-carved by a Mexican artisan, imbues the room with uncanny charm.
The handmade leather and wood furniture throughout the home adds a distinctly masculine touch to the decor. Its weight gives the interior an atmosphere of permanence.
“The furniture is the completion of my vision for the house, “ Williams said. “If we just moved our furniture from the other house, it would have bugged me.”
Williams made the master bed and quilted its leather headboard. He also carved the fireplace mantel in the master bedroom, putting an image of his daughter Francesca in the center.
The artwork throughout the home complements Spanish Colonial Revival style. For example, a 4-foot by 4-foot painting of Mexican Revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata hangs in the master bedroom. In a corner of the great room, near a painting of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus, a large metal Pegasus that Maria affectionately refers to as “lawn art” holds court.
“I did not pick the horse, “ Maria insisted. “But it looks great here.”
The tower’s interior room was one of the last features in the home to be completed. Accessible only by a ladder in the foyer, the room was originally conceived as a playroom for kids.
Spray-paint artist Matthew Sorensen of Blackfoot turned a horizontal cubbyhole in one of the walls into a painting of an elevator with a cable snapped by lightning, surrounded by the night sky and planets.
“The elevator was Cris’ idea, “ he said. “I was happy with it. It was cool.”
The family finally moved in over the summer. Williams joked that it took so long for him to build the house that his kids, Conrad, 16, and Francesca, 11, grew up while he was working on it.
“It was a lot of work, but we learned a lot. It was worth the wait, “ Maria said. “We took the time and did it right.”
The Williams family plans to be there for a long time.
“I’ll never sell it, “ Cris said. “I’m too tired to do it again.”
Who helped with the Williamses’ new home?
▪ Artisans from Mexico, who made the ironwork, the furniture, the stonework, the art and the tiles.
▪ Richard Rodriquez of Picasso Painting, who did the finish on the woodwork.
▪ Rob Gundlach of Table Rock Construction, who loaned Cris his tools, helped with the tile work and acted as a consultant when Cris got stuck on something.
▪ Custom Pools (”They were dealing with a guy who had never designed a pool before, “ Cris said.)
▪ The Dallas and Alta Harris family, who donated the beams and old wood that were salvaged from Producer’s sawmill on Warm Springs Avenue.
▪ The stucco “guys” at Buena Vista, who hand-finished the home’s exterior.
▪ Sandstone Roofing, who made the roof tiles.
▪ Damon Lopez of D Siders, who helped with the custom framing.
▪ Katie Anger of Katie’s Creations (now Fabri-Kate), who made all the curtains and pillows.
▪ Graffiti artist Matthew Sorensen, who painted the night sky and crashing elevator scene in the tower’s play room.
▪ Conrad Williams, who grouted the floors in the whole house and helped tile the pool.
▪ Niles Gooding, a neighbor who volunteered to help because he wanted to learn how to tile.
▪ Bryan Smith, who helped get the stone for the back deck.
▪ Ivy Design, who helped with ideas for the back deck.
▪ Searole Landscaping
▪ Pella Windows
▪ M & G Plumbing
▪ Boise Basin Electric
More about Cris Williams and Retro Homes
A sixth-generation Idahoan, Cris Williams graduated in 1984 from Meridian High School and from Pepperdine University in 1988. In college, he wanted to convert warehouses into loft apartments, but he didn’t have the money, and there wasn’t a market for them.
He met his wife, Maria, in Italy, where he worked as an accountant for Arthur Andersen for three years.
Cris left accounting to become a developer in Idaho. Eventually, he settled on building.
“I build houses because I see a vision of something, and I want to see it built, “ he said.Cris applies the same attention to detail that he used as a numbers cruncher to the research, design and construction of the homes he builds.
His company, Retro Homes, specializes in historically based homes.
“It’s a step back — taking something that was really good and trying to reproduce it as best as possible, “ he said.
Spanish Colonial Revival style
During World War I, architecture students who would have typically toured Europe bypassed the fighting and traveled through Spain instead. The buildings of the Andalusia region, with its temperate Mediterranean climate and past history of Muslim rule, inspired these future architects to create Spanish Colonial Revival style in the United States.
The principal elements of the style — stucco, clay tile, wrought iron and wood — were easy to come by and inexpensive. From about 1915 to 1930, it was the dominant architectural style in Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Florida.
Idaho was not to be left out. In 1925, the Boise Depot was built in Spanish Colonial Revival style.
Source: “Red Tile Style: America’s Spanish Revival Architecture, “ by Arrol Gellner