On a sprawling ranch in Mount Pleasant, Sam and Diane Stewart weave together family history, Western art and contemporary design to build their dream home on the range.
Photos by Scot Zimmerman and Trevor Muhler
Those who know Diane Stewart, the founder of Modern West Fine Art in Salt Lake City, describe her as an arbiter of good taste and an advocate for the local arts community. Stewart opened the doors to Modern West—the gallery she started nearly seven years ago—but she’s been a patron of the arts and a collector for many years.
“Many of the artists whose works I’ve collected and have good relationships with had no representation in Utah,” she explains. At their urging, she started Modern West to support both established and emerging contemporary western artists.
It’s no surprise then, that art was at the forefront of her mind when the time came for her and her husband, Sam, to build a new ranch house on their sprawling, pastoral property in Mount Pleasant, Utah. “I design from the inside out because the art is such an integral part of any home I live in,” she explains. “It’s always a balance between the design of the home and the art.”
And this particular home was especially close to the couple’s hearts: Sam’s family has owned the 1,000-acre ranch—complete with 200 head of cattle, a gaggle of guest cabins and a barn—since his birth, and he spent much of his childhood there. So when a flood destroyed the property’s original ranch house, a 130-year-old adobe structure, it was a major blow. “My husband was in mourning,” Stewart says.
With time, they decided to rebuild, but it was important that the new home paid homage to the property’s rich history.
“We wanted the home to be contemporary, but we didn’t want it to look like a spaceship had landed,” Stewart explains. They also wanted the home to have both public and private spaces, so they could host family gatherings and invite groups to enjoy the on-site art, but still have a quiet space where the couple could retreat. And, of course, the home needed to showcase their impressive art collection.
To help bridge the past with the present and bring the couple’s vision to life, Stewart called upon her trusted collaborators at WOW Atelier, a boutique architecture firm and creative studio based in downtown SLC, whom she previously teamed up with to design her Modern West gallery spaces (Stewart recently moved the gallery from its initial SLC digs on 200 South and 200 East to a hip, new location at 412 South and 700 West).
“Diane’s style is impeccable,” says Gregory Walker, one third of the trio behind WOW Atelier, along with Chimso Onwuegbu and Benjamin Wiemeyer. “She knows what she likes, but she’s also a great collaborator—maybe it’s because she works with artists, so she’s used to more fluid conversations. We talked a lot about ideas.”
Walker and the team at WOW Atelier approach each of their projects with a bespoke ethos, treating architecture and design like couture, and the ranch house was no exception. “We were obsessed with the idea of the home being perfect for them,” he says. “It can’t just be a beautiful thing—it has to work.”
They designed a contemporary structure with a unique split roofline and a clear division between public and private spaces: one section of the home includes the great room, kitchen and dining area, while the bedrooms and an office/sitting room are in a separate section. An outdoor living area and pool create a fluid layout from the inside to the outside. “The home is not large, but it’s meaningfully designed and perfectly accommodates how we want to use it,” says Stewart.
To juxtapose the new with the old and as a nod to the property’s past, Walker and his team built the home using the same materials as featured on the existing cabins.
“We put corten steel on the roof so it rusted out, and we did log walls with chinking exactly the way the original cabin was built that Sam lived in when he was little,” Walker explains. “We didn’t want this to feel like some foreign thing. The materiality was really important.”
Inside, art abounds throughout the home. An entryway gallery greets you when you walk through the front door and sets the tone for the collection to come. In the master bedroom, an extra-wide fireplace mantel provides the perfect perch for a large piece by Modern West artist Sheldon Harvey, while in the great room a custom bar area was designed to accommodate a commissioned piece by Modern West artist Dolan Geiman displayed above the bar. Outside, two thoughtfully placed large ceramic statues by Jun Kaneko face eachother below the home’s split roof.
For the interiors, Stewart and Walker teamed with designer J. Scott Anderson. “I wanted the design to recede a little bit and the art to be front and center,” says Stewart. “I also wanted it to be textural. We used a lot of Native American textiles, and all of the fabrics have a nice hand to them. We kept it simple and sleek so the art could shine.”
Despite owning additional homes in Salt Lake, Palm Springs, Paris and New York, the Stewarts spend a lot of time at the ranch house—including weekends and summer holidays— and they always look forward to it. “This house is about family and we’re very rooted to this part of the state; that is part of the draw,” Stewart explains. “Our grandchildren say it’s their favorite of all of our homes. The art in the house is precious, but the rest of the property is kid heaven; it’s different than city life.”
The Stewarts’ grandkids and guests alike can truly roam free on the ranch. It’s the same wide-open, awe-inducing Western landscape that has inspired artists for years, and, with the Stewarts’ influence, it will continue to inspire for years to come.
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