It started out as a simple fishing cabin along the Provo River, Utah’s legendary blue-ribbon trout fishery, where anglers have been casting for German brown trout, rainbow, and cutthroats for more than a century. “We were struck by the natural beauty, serenity, and open space,” says one of the owners, recalling the moment he discovered the Victory Ranch property on the Upper Provo. “It was like a wildlife conservancy.”
With headwaters high in the Uinta Mountains, the river forges a historic trail from the Uinta Basin, through the Woodland Valley, and down Provo Canyon to Utah Lake. Homesteaded in the 1870s for the timber-hungry mines in Park City, Victory Ranch & Conservancy lies at the end of the valley across the river from Rock Cliff, where caves and rock formations are home to deer and golden eagles. A sheep operation turned cattle ranch, the property was owned for decades by famed Utah retail family the Auerbachs.
Today, the 6,700-acre Victory Ranch community is developed around a private four-mile stretch of the Provo River winding through groves of tall cottonwoods and past the historic barn where local dances were once held. Home sites surround the highly rated Rees Jones golf course with stunning vistas of the river as well as the Uinta Mountains, Jordanelle Reservoir, and eastern slopes of Deer Valley Resort beyond. And what began as a fishing cabin became what the owners now call “a family cabin,” a ranch-house retreat that respects the legacy of this unique place, filled with the romantic charm of the Old West.
Settled into a gentle slope above the river to capture the views, the house is at one with its setting, solid and weathered. Firewood is stacked shoulder high on both sides of the porch, and the handcrafted door is sheltered by rusted, corrugated steel on timbers with arched braces and peg joinery. Blocks of deeply colored Oklahoma stone and square-cut, reclaimed timber stacked with chinking and beautifully hand-cut dovetail corners cover the exterior. By the time you’ve set foot inside the entry, with its hanging lanterns, sliding barn door, and bronze statue of Massasoit, it’s difficult not to feel like you’re walking onto the set of Legends of the Fall.
The team assembled to capture the elements of a quintessential ranch house—architect Glenn Taucher, builder Matt Russell, and interior designer Aubrey Conner—went to extraordinary lengths and relied on the skills of dozens of local craftsmen to achieve the iconic look. “Each one is very talented, professional, often passionate, sometimes stubborn, but always committed to the plan and construction quality,” explains one of the owners. “Seldom did everyone agree, but strong opinions and open debate only refined the result.”
“The concept I was given by the owners was to create an old ranch house that went through remodels and additions over the years,” says architect Taucher, who was with the renowned Montana firm Locati during the project and is now principal with Line 8 Design in Salt Lake City. He achieved that unique authenticity in subtle ways. The exterior walls are timber on one side of the house and stone on the other, and the rooflines are different heights and pitches. Exterior elements were brought inside, as if made part of the interior through the process of an addition. Ceiling treatments, from coffered with timbers to paneled with bead board, change from room to room. Doors are mismatched, and every doorway has a threshold, deepening the impression that rooms have been added over time. The dining room appears to be a closed-in screened porch. The home’s public rooms have wide openings between them, transom windows, and abundant built-ins. And the house has an intimate human scale, giving it great warmth. “Both the owners and I wanted the house to appear as if it had been there for 100 years,” Taucher recounts. But local builder Russell adds, “Building a home like this, that has so much detail on every wall, ceiling, and floor, is not easy.”
Reclaimed timbers used throughout the house, most of which were harvested and hand-hewn before 1900, came from an Oregon shipyard dry dock, a Montana warehouse, an Ohio barrel factory, a Montana railroad roundhouse, a Quebec pickle factory, and a cattle-cutting arena in Grace, Idaho. “There is a look and a feel that comes with reclaimed material that you can’t mimic or fake with any other material,” says Russell. “They had an old smell to them,” remembers Conner.
Small, four-paned painted windows, sometimes in sets of three, appear in unusual places and at varying heights on both exterior and interior walls. Like framed paintings, they capture focused portraits of the surrounding views. “They are unexpected little surprises,” says the owner. Window screens are custom-made from copper; exterior doors are fitted with wood-framed screens that close with the satisfying “thump” of a screen door from yesteryear.
Plaster interior walls have deliberately uneven color and an irregular, handcrafted surface. Conner’s palette was “warm, earthy, naturalistic, and organic.” Floors are wide, oil-finished planks, painted pine, or French limestone. Woodwork, like the quarter-sawn oak paneling in the den and the raised panel fireplace in the living room, has been finished to look aged. Conner says he was going for “patinas that glow.” Glass penny tile, antique cabinets, steam showers, urinals, and period fixtures make each bathroom unique. Nearly every room has access to the outdoors onto terraces surrounding the house.
The inviting country kitchen, with views toward the river, is painted soft apricot, accenting the musty sage cabinets and honed caramel limestone counters. “Soothing and appetizing,” smiles Conner. The distinctive black Aga stove has a tile-clad hood and backsplash. Overhead, vintage schoolhouse light fixtures hang from a painted, embossed tin ceiling. Window seating offers a corner for conversation, and a built-in cabinet is actually a pass-through to the living room. “I like little discovery areas that are unusual and unexpected,” remarks Conner.
Behind the scenes, service rooms are designed to be just as important and delightful as the living areas. The laundry room features a big, old-fashioned sink on legs; a working pantry is outfitted with a wall of open wooden shelves; and an equipment room for fishing and sports gear has oak lockers for each family member. And, of course, all three utilitarian rooms feature a window that openly welcomes in the site’s breathtaking natural setting.
Unique new and antique light fixtures add character to every space. A vintage street lamp is turned upside down in the stairwell, and the dining room chandelier is made from huge glass jars rigged with filament bulbs. Taucher says the lighting was designed in three layers “to give a glow rather than brilliantly lit space.”
In regard to the home’s appealing furnishings and accessories, Conner worked his magic in the most precise and detailed ways. Antique furniture pieces are mixed with recent finds, assorted curios, and family heirlooms—a father’s reupholstered chair, an inherited ship’s lantern turned into a lamp, and the first chair the owners bought as a couple. “I like to develop a collection and incorporate what the client already has,” says Conner.
Hand-loomed wool and antique rugs carpet the floors, traditional cotton chenille covers the beds, and the owners’ clan plaid drapes the windows. “Everything has a story to tell,” notes Conner. The effect is charming, comfortable, and lived in.
Upstairs, much to the children’s delight, a vintage-inspired rumpus room is filled with amusements and tiny doors leading to secret passageways that connect the bedrooms. In the bunkroom, blue chambray–colored molding sets off reclaimed wood wall coverings sourced from the Idaho cattle-cutting arena where an owner rode as a child. The snug bunks are cozy hideaways, complete with drawn curtains and individual reading lights.
Every room is punctuated by stunning, eclectic artwork from the owners’ personal collection, acquired over 40 years. American, European, modern pieces, and local Utah works intermingle with western paintings and bronzes by such notables as Maynard Dixon, E. I. Couse, J. G. Brown, and Cyrus Dallin. “Each has its story, and each has its place,” one of the owners reflects.
When asked how he feels about the house he built, Russell says he loves “the comfort you feel when you enter the house. It is so inviting, you never want to leave. It’s a home that will make lasting family memories for years come.” The owners call it a sanctuary, “or, in the language of the ancient Scots, it is our Dalwhinnie, or gathering place.”