What do an aspiring Idaho governor, Quasimodo and “perhaps the most offbeat choreographer in American ballet” have in common?
All three have been welcomed into Teri Stein and Ed Miller’s grand yet intimate home in a gated subdivision called The Island at River Run.
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With its 18-foot ceilings, spiral staircase and vast, mirror-lined dining room, the graceful modern house is a natural venue for entertaining. And keen interests in politics and the arts have made Stein and Miller active hosts.
Last fall, they invited supporters to a kickoff reception for Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s 2018 gubernatorial run. They opened their guest room for actor Corey Mach, who played Victor Hugo’s soulful hunchback in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame;” Mach lived with them for part of the summer.
And that offbeat choreographer lauded in the New York Times? That’s Trey McIntyre, whose Trey McIntyre Project dance company stunned the international dance world by moving to Boise in 2008. Stein served on TMP’s resource council; its fundraiser, she says, was the couple’s most elaborate event.
“We’re lucky enough that we live in a society where we can devote time and attention and money to the arts,” Miller, says, lunching on fast food in the roomy gray-and-white kitchen where he’s mixed cocktails for arts lovers at many a fundraising fete.
“When I was a kid growing up on the Pahsimeroi, on the ranch and working in mines, people didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the arts,” the real estate lawyer continued, “because they needed to devote their attention to making a living and feeding families and doing things like that.”
It is a late summer weekend, and grandson Oliver ambles into the kitchen with his mother, Quinne Miller. The little blonde boy keeps a fleet of plastic trucks in the family room here and a miniature electric BMW in the garage alongside his grandfather’s Porsche.
“Good government is critical to us,” Miller says after hugging the 3-year-old. “Look around the world where they don’t have good government. They have chaos and unsafe circumstances and not great living environments. And to me, good government and good people in government is critical.”
He pauses. Smiles at Quinne and Oliver. “There’s hamburgers for everybody.”
But the Stein-Miller home is more than a tool for civic engagement. Surrounded by mature trees, three doors down from Boise’s lush Greenbelt, it is first and foremost the “house we have for us,” Miller says. It is peaceful and pastoral, “something we enjoy every day.”
The angular, white structure on Bluestem Lane was built to be a showplace. Architects Ernest J. Lombard of Boise’s LCA Architects and James Ruscitto of RLB Architects of Ketchum collaborated on the design in the late 1980s for their clients, Boise doctor Floyd Johnson and his wife Beth.
In 1988, Lombard and Ruschitto won the Idaho chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ Merit Award, and that organization’s national Merit Award for their work.
After Beth died, Johnson put the 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home up for sale.
It sat vacant for three years.
“We have dear friends in the neighborhood, and we’d come visit them all the time,” Stein says. “We’d pass this house all the time. For sale, for sale, for sale. It’s just our favorite house. One Christmas, we’re like, ‘Let’s just go inside and look at it.’ We walked in and went, ‘Oh, my God, we have to have this house.’”
So they made an offer, with one contingency: If their teenagers, Quinne, Bart and Austen, didn’t like it, the deal was off.
Decision Day came. When Miller and Stein picked Quinne up from school, they didn’t tell her or her brothers where they were headed.
“We knew something was up,” Quinne recounted. “It was late, it was dark, and it was in the winter....They had the lights on. It was almost magical, really. The entrance is very cool anyway. You don’t know what’s going on, and then you walk in. We loved it.”
The family bought the house two weeks later and Stein pulled off a Christmas miracle. She got the family moved into the house in one day. That was 14 years ago.
“Magical” is a word interior designer Joan Whitacre also uses when she describes the house, along with “timeless” and “amazing.” Whitacre first saw it in 1990 when it was just completed. In 2015, she guided Stein and Miller through an extensive update, bringing in a more contemporary palette and installing a sleek new master bathroom.
The house was clearly ahead of its time at the time it was built.
Designer Joan Whitacre
“The architecture has really been so timeless. The mathematics of the architecture are so perfect.”
Beyond the stark white exterior, with its peaked rooflines and abundant windows, the house had been “very personalized for Mrs. Johnson’s taste,” Whitacre said. “It was very pink. It’s what nourished her spirit. ... But it had served its purpose and run its course, and it was time to go on.”
Today, the pink is gone, replaced with a cool grays and whites.
The first thing guests see on entering through the massive ribbed double doors is a dramatic mirror-lined dining room. Two outsized, tiered chandeliers, shaped like upside-down wedding cakes, glow above a marble dining table that seats 12.
The table, too heavy to move, came with the house. But the original mauve and turquoise carpet beneath it was traded in for an elegant rust-colored number. The rust and adobe tones used as accents in the dining and formal living rooms were inspired by the artwork that hangs above the marble table.
“We got that in Santa Fe,” Stein says, as she describes the repeating images on the wall-sized rug. “It’s Tibetan prayer stones. It has a beautiful message of peace and prayer. When you get everybody in here, it gets pretty loud. It helps soften things a bit.”
The master suite is dramatic in a different way. Where the dining room is all bright natural light and an invitation to mingle, Stein and Miller’s personal living quarters define tranquility.
Miller’s office off the couple’s bedroom is the perfect lawyer’s hideaway, dressed in chocolate brown leathers and dark woods. Bookshelves and a media center line one wall, complete with library ladder. The ceiling is covered in wallpaper that resembles aged leather.
In contrast, the extravagant master bathroom with its wide windows overlooking the garden reminds Whitacre of a classic conservatory. A freestanding soaking tub sits in front of a mirrored wall, surrounded glass on two sides. At its head, wallpaper with a gray, black and white modified fleur-de-lis pattern balances out the room.
But it is the hand-painted bedroom wallpaper — by Vahallan Papers out of Nebraska — that Stein loves best, all silver and gold sparkles.
She stops, peers out the bedroom window and gestures toward the garden with its lush greenery, red geraniums, trickling pond and waterfall and old-growth trees.
“See the deer out there?” she asks. “A mama and two babies.”
OK, so maybe there are two things she loves best about her peaceful home.
“We just love the openness of it,” Stein says. “It has great light. There’s so much green.”