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HOMEOWNERS — Robert and Alice Ripley

LOCATION — Farmington, Missouri

BUILT — 1991-94

ACQUIRED — 2002

RESIDENCES — 8,000 square-foot single-story main house and 1,000-square-foot caretaker's cottage

PROPERTY — acres in the Ozark foothills 75 miles south of St. Louis

CONSTRUCTION — Steel framework and sub-flooring, red granite quarried from the property, stucco, and cedar shake

HIGHLIGHT — "The granite, and the way it comes inside. It's like the house just settled here."

FAVORITE AREAS — The windows and domed hexagonal skylight at the center of the house for watching thunderstorms, the window-walled master suite for observing and listening to wildlife

HER FAVORITE PASTIME — Gardening and entertaining

HIS FAVORITE PASTIME — Baking and entertaining (Bob comes from three generations of professional bakers)

WHY FRONTGATE? — "We love Frontgate because it has great ideas for decorating and problem-solving, and we know anything we order is going to be of good quality."
—Alice Ripley

"We finally have a house that's big enough for Frontgate wreaths and Christmas trees."
—Alice Ripley

Kitchen

Living Room

Architect
David Mason and Associates
St. Louis, MO
314-534-1030

Farmington, Missouri — When Bob and Alice Ripley first got wind of the hundred-acre estate located 75 miles south of St. Louis in the Ozark foothills, they immediately thought of Alice's sister. "She'd always wanted to live in the middle of one hundred acres, away from other people's dogs and music," explains Alice, "so we convinced her to drive down with us and see it. She took one look at the house with all its different angles" — even the ceilings vary in slope and height from room to room — "and realized how much she liked conventional ninety-degree angles!"

Instead, it was Alice who fell in love with the house. But she and Bob were living and working in St. Louis at the time, and they thought the place was "too far away from our jobs, too pricey, and too big for two people." As for Bob, he'd developed a real fondness for the area decades earlier. "I grew up on the Illinois side of St. Louis, and I'd done a lot of camping around here and come down for some canoe trips while I was in college. But live this far away? Forget it!"

Putting the Ozark foothills out of their minds, they continued house hunting in St. Louis. "We were living in the house we'd bought when we got married," explains Alice, "but we didn't really like it; we were just biding our time there. Every house we looked at, we kept comparing to this. A year later, when I was shopping at a garden store, I found something ornamental and thought, 'That would look great at the edge of the pond.' But it occurred to me we didn't have a pond. That's when I realized this house had been stalking me. We were planning to put in a pond the size of a bathtub, but I realized I was thinking of our one-acre pond here with the stream."


The master suite's tranquil glass-walled sitting area overlooks a hosta garden, lichen-covered granite, and pond-fed recirculating stream.
Shop Bed & Bath.

She and Bob made up their minds to drive down and take another look. (There's only one way to get to Farmington, and that's a two-lane road.) They still loved the place — and they still had reservations. "Though there had been only one looker the entire year and the price had dropped somewhat, it was still too high," says Bob. "And while I work at home and get paid for my time when I drive, Alice would have that long commute to handle."

Overcoming their concerns, they finally laid claim to the land that had already laid claim to them. "It was the setting that sold us on the house," they say: one hundred acres of exposed granite and elephant-size boulders, of oak and cedar and pine, home to wood ducks and whippoorwills, to wild turkeys and the occasional gray fox. And all of it visible from every glass-paneled room of the red-granite house, from the patios and balcony and multi-tiered deck.

"THIS HOUSE ISN'T MOVING"

Rustic red-granite rock quarried on the property gives the house an air of permanence and a sense of belonging. "The granite is the compelling feature of the house," says Alice. "There's granite on the fireplace, on the pillars, and on numerous walls, both inside and out.

It's like the house just settled here, and the granite came indoors." (Cobblestones used to pave the streets of St. Louis a century ago were made of red granite taken from this same valley.)

"The granite is the compelling feature of the house..."

Some of the granite came from elsewhere, from India, Brazil, and Finland, each with its own distinctive character. Marble can also be found in abundance - in the master bath, on the hearth and floors — five kinds of marble from four different countries. Even the island bed in the master suite has a two-foot thick fossilized marble headwall.

Since the original homeowner was the founder of a steel fabricating company, it's no surprise that the house was built with steel support beams, steel sub-flooring, and ninety-four steel columns. Foot-thick foundation walls provide structural support. "This house isn't moving," says Bob, adding, "but it is a little difficult to use cordless and mobile phones."

MAKING THEMSELVES AT HOME

"Moving into this house was like moving into a resort," says Alice. "The movers admired our first house, but when they saw this one, they said, 'Can we do the ooh-and-ah tour before we unload?' Everything we needed was already here — the house came fully furnished. It's incredibly comfortable, except we have all these white-leather couches and black cats." With 195 windows and ceilings soaring as high as 30 feet, "the house is wonderfully light and airy. In winter, we slipcover the couches in chocolate and bronze and forest green so it doesn't seem so stark."

She and Bob set about making the house their own. One of the bedrooms was converted into an office and sewing room for Alice. Bob's office was outfitted with a custom-made work center and bookcases made by his dad. What little furniture they brought with them was mostly used to furnish the caretaker's cottage, a cozy little place they envision setting aside as guest quarters.

The home's 8,000-square-foot interior gives them plenty of room to roam. In addition to the two offices, there's a kitchen, breakfast room, master suite with outdoor access, guest room, mud room, workshop where Bob takes care of any household repairs, den with see-through fireplace, and loft area where they cuddle up on Sunday mornings with their coffee and newspaper. The large expanse comprising the living room and dining room is enhanced by a domed, hexagonal skylight and the soothing sound of water trickling down the faux-marble columnar fountain separating the two rooms.


A wrap-around deck, multi-level deck at the back of the house functions as an
outdoor recreation center. Shop Outdoor Living.

Like the rest of the house, the master bath combines the classic appeal of stone with the bold openness of glass — here, Madeira and silver-travertine Italian marble along with six-glass blocks used as shower walls. Alice finds the bath a never-ending source of delight. "It's bigger than our old bedroom!" she says. "It has two sinks, heated floors, and a large, deep whirlpool tub that's wonderful for soaking. It comes all the way up to your shoulders so you don't have to curl up in a little ball. The shower is actually two separate showers. The first time we stepped inside, we said, 'Wow! It's big enough to have a party in here!'"

Bob is especially enthusiastic about the four geothermal units that heat the house. "They're inexpensive to run and maintenance-free," he explains. "And they impress my engineer friends! The guys also love the furnace and the garage, which has a phone line and a half bath, so if you're working in the yard and need to stop and use either one, you don't have to clean up before coming inside."

A total of 199 recessed fixtures were required to provide all the necessary general, task, and accent lighting. Well lights embedded in the stone patio floor bathe the outdoor spa and nearby granite wall with a soft, welcoming glow.

A wrap-around deck, multi-level deck at the back of the house functions as an outdoor recreation center. Starting at the hot-tub surround just outside the master suite, the deck runs down the steps and widens into an entertainment area with wet bar and dining table, then moves along the kitchen to the grill, then down another set of stairs to the lower deck.

Bob and Alice say there's no real need for window treatments on their home's 195 windows (except in the baths, Bob's office where the morning sun gets pretty intense and, as a courtesy, the guest room). They have no interest in blocking the "gorgeous views," and besides, says Alice, "No-one can get near us. As far as we can see, we own the property!"

THEIR OWN PRIVATE NATURE PRESERVE

For all the home's magnificence, it's the beauty surrounding it that Alice and Bob find most captivating.

"We love going outside first thing in the morning," says Alice. "We have duck houses on the pond, and we like to watch our ducks taking off. We listen to the whippoorwills and other songbirds, and we can always hear the frogs croaking. We never completely clear the pond — the frogs prefer it that way. On occasion, we get a gray fox walking by." Nighttime brings out an entirely different cast of characters, from stars whose twinkle is undiminished by city lights to possums crawling across the ledge of the bedroom window.

"We like entertaining, everything from dinner with another couple to parties for a hundred"

The deer, however, stay away from the house, preferring the woods for the most part — and with good reason. Alice, an avid gardener, had the presence of mind to plant her vegetable garden in what was once a dog run! Since moving here, she has discovered sitting on the deck sipping wine for an hour or so to be excellent preparation for mulching and other gardening tasks. She's also developed a fondness for swimming in the pond — among the catfish, bluegill, and bass. "The catfish are so tame, they come when you call," she says.

Since routine maintenance had been neglected while the house sat vacant, Bob and Alice have spent many an hour domesticating the landscape. "The woods had never been raked," says Bob, "and the hiking trails on the property were so overgrown, we had to figure out where they went and then recreate them. It's a little more yardwork than we anticipated, but it's well worth it."

He's created a firepit and encircled it with benches crafted from fallen trees. And earlier this year, he burned away the overgrowth, leaves, and non-native plants, in the process exposing sun-deprived irises, daffodils, rhododendrons, and azaleas that had never flowered. "We thought they were dead," says Alice, "that their roots were tangled among the rocks and couldn't get enough soil. But now they're blooming!"

The clean-up also unearthed a half-acre plot at the center of the circular driveway that was originally intended for use as a sculpture park. "We're just starting to put the path in now," says Bob. "We discovered sculpture lighting we didn't even know was there. We're hoping to pick up things on our travels to display there once the land is cleared. All in all, we figure it will take about five years to find and fix everything in the yard. After that, we'll be pretty much ready."

Bob and Alice take their meals outdoors whenever and wherever the weather permits. The back deck, the gazebo, the loft balcony, the picnic table, the woods: "anyplace is fair game." Having already hosted a progressive dinner inside the house (the dessert course was served on the center island in their 12'x14' closet), they're making plans to move the next venue outdoors, perhaps starting in the gazebo, then moving to the large patio for the main course, and finishing on the tennis court with a candlelit dessert.

Inviting friends to share their good fortune is part of the fun. "We like entertaining," says Alice. "Everything from dinner with another couple to parties for a hundred. We threw a New Year's Eve party, and everyone spent the night. We set up an area by the firepit where everyone could camp."

HERE TO STAY

Is their new home everything Bob and Alice expected? "There are days we couldn't have imagined how wonderful it is," says Bob, while Alice claims she has no intention of leaving. "I am never moving again!"

And how's the commute? "At first, I was a little nervous about the drive," says Alice, "but it's turned out to be a really nice part of my day. As soon as I'm a half hour out of town, the traffic peels away and I'm looking at trees and farmland. How many people get two hours to themselves?"

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