Highlands addition: Homeowners, architect update and expand a midcentury classic

They wanted a simple dining room. Wait until you see what they got.

When Todd and Laura Nelson bought their midcentury modern house at the base of the Boise Foothills 10 years ago, they knew it would be a project.

Built in 1955, it had the good bones of a classic midcentury, but it also had limitations — such as lots of walls and dividers that chopped the house into small spaces. The two bedrooms shared a common wall, and initially their two children shared a room. And there was no dining room.

It had one bath upstairs and one on the lower level.

The large lot was a mix of rocks, juniper and tangled woods. The 2,000-square-foot split-level house was partially hidden from the street behind a thick mass of trees. The backyard was home to a population of wildlife, such as bull snakes, racoons and skunks.

“It was like a jungle,” Laura says. “The first week here I spent on my own and our dog was attacked by two raccoons. It kind of freaked me out.”

Oh, how things have changed.

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This is the south exterior of the Nelson’s home before the extensive addition and remodel. These are the original widows that architect Robyn Salathe replicated on the north side of the entry. Provided by Laura and Todd Nelson

Architect Robyn Salathe worked with Laura and Todd Nelson on the elegant addition to their Highlands home. Katherine Jones

Today, the Nelson’s home is a 4,400-square-foot “neo-modern” showplace of intriguing geometric lines that draw your eye, and walls of windows that reveal wide-open vistas. The home boasts sleek lines and open, functional spaces that work with the Nelsons’ minimalist tastes. They both like things clean and uncluttered, something that also is reflected in the landscape.

Taking on this property has been a journey.

“We took this house on as a project,” Todd says. “We could see the potential but we didn’t know what it was going to be.”

The first salvo to improve the property was the kitchen remodel they did on their own in 2015. Like a lot of new owners of midcentury homes, the Nelsons took the style but not the ethos of using synthetic materials — processed woods, laminates, petroleum-based flooring, etc. Instead they used natural wood, including ipe, a Brazilian hardwood, and stone, such as Oakley from southern Idaho.

Then in 2017, the couple collaborated with architect Robyn Salathe to create a 2,000-square-foot addition that took the midcentury classic and the yard to the next level.

“Working with Robyn was amazing. It was fun to get to dream, and then see it on paper,” Laura says.

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Before: This photo of the kitchen reflect the remodel that Laura and Todd Nelson did on their own in 2015. The backdoor marks where the dining room is today. Provided by Laura and Todd Nelson

Kitchen upgrade

The kitchen remodel took about three months and updated everything from countertops to cabinetry, replacing the laminate and Formica surfaces with stone counters and larger dark-wood cabinets.

They upgraded the appliances initially in 2015 but then did it again with the addition. That’s when they installed professional-grade a Thermador refrigerator and stove with a gas cooktop, convection oven, and two electric ovens. They also kept the existing wall oven and built-in microwave, and now that they host all the major family events, four ovens and a microwave come in handy, Laura says.

The long white expanse of counter, lightly veined with silver and gray, is made of quartzite — a treated form of sandstone that makes for a hard surface.

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There are several interesting gadgets and features at the Nelson’s home. Laura Nelson’s favorite is the built in Bosch coffee maker. It grinds the beans for each cup and can brew a variety of coffee beverages from espresso to cappuccinos on demand. Katherine Jones

And there are some fun gadgets that add cool elements that came along in 2017, too.

Why lug a pot of water from the sink when you can plumb a pot filler faucet over the cooktop? The two-spigot devise expands and folds out of the way above the stove’s surface.

The built-in Bosch programmable coffee maker does everything you need to make a variety of coffee drinks, including grinding the beans. They had planned on getting an espresso machine before they found it.

It was about the same cost “and it doesn’t take up any counterspace,” Laura says.

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One of the main goals of the addition was to create a dining room where the couple host family gatherings and everyday dinners. Katherine Jones

Adding on, and on ...

The Nelsons’ addition kept expanding.

The original goal was to create a dining room and master bedroom and bath with a modest walk-in closet. All that went as planned, and then the project grew.

Salathe suggested building large garage spaces to store the family’s vehicles, including a RV, and keep them out of sight. The couple — and their children, ages 10 and 7 — love camping and exploring the region. Todd is an a avid hunter, mountain biker and motorcyclist.

“Then, somewhere along the road, we decided to put a guest suite and family room above it,” Salathe says.

The suite is there for the many family members who visit often from Twin Falls.

Then came the exterior retaining walls for what would become the pool area, including outdoor plumbed gas grill, refrigerators and large stainless steel counters.

The property was a bit wild and not as kid-friendly as they wanted, so they excavated the land to create a large lawn for the kids to play on and to expand the view all the way to Downtown.

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One of the cool elements the Nelsons installed is two metal strips in hall outside their children’s bedrooms. That’s were the kids stick their artwork, rather than the refrigerator. Katherine Jones

The tech, the tinkerer

A mechanical engineer, Todd Nelson has been quietly tinkering and tweaking the house, finishing up a few projects himself, like refinishing some of the drywall and managing the solar-powered heating ventilation and air conditioning system. HVAC is a specialty of Nelson’s. It’s what he designs for commercial projects for Musgrove Engineering.

“I wanted to implement some of the things I design at work,” Nelson says.

Four solar panels on top of tallest part of the garage heat all the domestic water — including the pool — and furnaces. He tweaks it all from a mechanical room in the basement. When possible, “I like to automate everything I can,” he says.

There still are things that they hope to do, such as build a permanent pergola on a patio near the pool. They also might redo the fireplace, which didn’t come out as they had hoped.

The house is like a hobby, Todd says. And there are still plenty of projects to keep him busy in what he calls their “forever home.”

“We love it,” he says. “I love all the light. And our kids love it. They don’t want to leave half the time.”

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