Treasure

Peek inside Boise’s storybook home that was built by a photographer-artist for his family in the 1930s

You cannot see this house from the street. It’s not very far from the rushing traffic on Overland Road, but it might as well be hidden in the middle of a forest. As you walk down the curved driveway past the tangle of trees near the road, you begin to feel a bit like Hansel and Gretel. A warm, picturesque cottage slowly opens up in front of you, like a storybook page come to life.

“It is, without question, the most carefully orchestrated of all the storybook houses in Idaho,” said Dan Everhart, architectural historian and an important member of Preservation Idaho. “It has been made intentionally whimsical.”

As the walls taper upward, with bigger boulders at the base of the foundation, they reveal themselves through the stucco “almost as if the stone is sticking out of the wall,” Everhart said. The bowed curve of the roof looks as though it has fallen over the weight of time and centuries. The home bears a less extreme resemblance to the famous Spadena House, or Witch’s House, in Hollywood, often called “the quintessential Hansel and Gretel house.”

The home was designed and built in 1932 or 1933 by Harrison R. Crandall, a well-known painter and photographer of the time. He and his family lived in the Tetons during the summer months — he had a studio there — but he wanted a home for his two daughters during the school year, and Boise was his choice. His concept drawings of the home looked like sketches for a Disney movie.

The home looks very similar to the way it looked back in its heyday. It still has two front entrances, though today, the second entrance is little used and opens into a small office area. Back in the day, it was essentially the party entrance. There was a curved bar inside the door where guests would grab a drink before spilling out into the house and grounds.

Some modern skylights have been added to bring light into the upper rooms, but the raw, red jasper fireplace still dominates the main room, although the surface of the rock has likely dulled somewhat over the decades. Population growth increased dramatically in the years following the home’s construction, when it was more like a mini-estate setting. There was also a large studio building that burned down in the 1950s and was never rebuilt. The Crandalls had moved in 1948 after their second daughter graduated.

Today, doctors Lisa and Nicholas Hunt and their teenage daughter and 5-year-old son live in the home.

“Older homes have a charm to them that you can’t find in a newly constructed house,” Lisa said.

“You can tell it was made with a lot of care,” Nicholas said.

How the Hunts wound up in this house has a bit of storybook charm of its own.

The couple moved to Boise in 2001. In 2006, they wanted more space. They spent six months searching for the right house. They finally found the one they wanted in the North End. But this was during the real estate bubble. Their offer was one of several, but it was not to be. They were devastated.

“I was in tears,” Lisa said.

But then, the very next day … “Nick found a really cool house.”

It was the Crandall home.

“Literally, it was like love at first sight. ‘I don’t care how much it costs or how much it needs, but I MUST have this house,’ ” Lisa said.

Nicholas said they bought it practically sight unseen.

“This house was on the market for three hours,” Nicholas said. “And that was that.”

“Nobody else even got to see it,” Lisa said.

Not that the home didn’t need some attention. It did.

For one thing, there was no air conditioning. That alone was an expensive proposition. “Because there was no duct system,” Lisa said. “It was a huge process, but it was worth every penny.”

At about 3,000 square feet, the home needed a complete remodel, and it was a major chore.

“The remodel probably took three years,” Lisa said.

Although it was an extensive project, Lisa says some of that long time period could be attributed to her decision-making process of getting things just right.

“It took me a month to pick out a toilet for one of the bathrooms,” she said.

Even so, it was a time-consuming project.

“I spent a year stripping wallpaper from everywhere,” she said.

The kitchen was redone, all three bathrooms, the upstairs was re-imagined, new drywall was put up, a new water heater was needed, heated floors were added. There was painting, of course, and so on.

“Even the staircase is new,” she said. “Every room in that house has been redone. Every light fixture, doorknob … it all had to be redone.”

The floor was a major project in itself. There was carpet everywhere. And it had to go. That’s when they discovered that the original wood flooring had been covered with vinyl flooring — glued to the original floor. It turned out that the condition of the original flooring was “abysmal.” It had been done in fir, a softer wood that had not held up well. Fir is not a durable choice for a floor.

The original dark woodwork and interior of the home called for something compatible. Light-colored flooring would be out.

“I love modern houses, but I didn’t think it would match well,” Lisa said. “It just wouldn’t look right.”

That left them to search for a darker wood. They felt it was a duty to improve the home and preserve it the way it was intended.

“I like the idea of a dark floor, but I didn’t like the idea of having to stain it,” she said. “I wanted something that would be its own color.”

A hard-to-find fumed oak would fit the bill perfectly. It would never need re-staining, just simple re-sealing.

“It matches the rest of the house,” she said.

The kitchen was updated, too, “But it’s not incongruous,” she said. “It doesn’t look out of place.”

The north end of the upstairs, however, looks like somewhere else entirely.

There’s an extra family room/library, an extra bedroom, a loft, lots of storage space and a skylight to brighten the area, which is all done in a lighter wood that would not fit anywhere else in the house. Used as a guest room, or a getaway spot for their daughter and her friends, the space truly looks and feels like a mountain cabin tucked into the farthest part of the house. After all the enhanced character of the rest of the home, this alluring spot at the end of the upstairs hallway comes as a delightful surprise.

The yard is just as cozy. At just under an acre, there is plenty of shade, trees and backyard. Especially for 5-year-old Eli. Not only is there a mini-forest in the front yard, but the back has plenty of space for a boy and a dog under the trees. A couple of comfortable chairs and a back patio make for a relaxing day under the large horse chestnut tree.

“You can sit out here when it’s raining and not even get wet,” Lisa said. “Eli and I like to sit out here and watch the hummingbirds.”

And there are plenty of trees. One of the biggest ash trees in Boise can be found here. There is also a large tulip poplar, and even a banana tree, which goes back into the greenhouse when the weather turns. The previous occupants were Boise State botanists, she says, and they used to do some of their research on the property. Some of the small willows still have identification tags on them. They were also the ones who installed the greenhouse in the backyard.

The next big project will be to rip out the back deck and turn it into a nice stone patio with vines and to add a small swimming pool. But for now, it is enough to sit in an outdoor easy chair and relax.

The house has a way of getting inside you. Lisa says she has had a couple of visitors who have walked up to the home because they had been a cousin or friend of previous owners and had fond memories of the place. In fact, Lisa still corresponds with one of the women she met that way.

“People never forget this place,” she said. “It has a very welcoming, warm, enveloping feel. All the families who have owned this place seem to be happy people.”

Kind of like a storybook.

“I don’t think there’s any other place like this in Boise,” she said. “That’s what I love about it.”

Dusty Parnell is a freelance print, radio and print journalist who has been working in the Treasure Valley for about 25 years.

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