In the past two years, the urban exodus has sparked a real estate boom in the United States, with homebuyers purchasing properties with more space in environments close to nature and away from city life. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is one such boom region, a scenic valley clinging to the east side of the Tetons, considered one of the most spectacular and beautiful mountain ranges in the Rocky Mountains.
âConnecting with nature does something for you spiritually,â says Rush Jenkins, CEO and co-founder of WRJ Design, an interior design firm in Jackson, the main town in the Jackson Hole Valley. âYou connect with this essence of who you are, and that’s hard to find today. This is why it is such a huge draw for a lot of people.
Raised a two-hour drive in Idaho, Mr. Jenkins shares his residence and business with his partner, Klaus Baer, ââCOO and co-founder of WRJ Design, who has his roots in the Blue Ridge. Mountains of Georgia. The couple lived and worked in New York City before heading west over a decade ago.
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With most of their projects in the Rockies, the company has gained widespread acclaim for creating luxurious yet comfortable spaces that reflect the scenic region and its laid-back, albeit active lifestyle. Involved in all phases of the project, they often collaborate with a team of architects, delving into the smallest details, from space planning to landscape and lighting design. Although before Covid most of the company’s activity came from new construction, that mix is ââchanging. In times of a pandemic, up to 30% has been renovations, as people buy existing homes and renovate them.
We have met MM. Jenkins and Baer to talk about how the Rocky Mountain market has changed, how attractive it is to live there, and what new design trends they are seeing.
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Beyond wanting to leave the cities, why are people flocking to this part of the country?
Klaus Baer: Only 3% of the land can be developed thanks to national parks. There is Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and then there are different land reserves, which takes up thousands of acres all over the valley. We are in a part of the country that does not exist anywhere else. That’s why people are moving here.
Rush Jenkins: Wyoming does not have state income tax, so it is very favorable for estate and business taxes. It is an important reason to live here. People are looking to escape high tax states, and they are running away to have their businesses here and live here full time. This, in addition to the beauty.
With a new wave of residents in the Rockies, how have customers and homes changed?
Mr. Jenkins: In the last 10 years since we’ve been in Jackson Hole, 70% or 80% of the homes we’ve built are second, third, or fourth houses, and the rest are primary houses. Jackson Hole sometimes becomes the primary residence, but during Covid that percentage increased.
They invest in the house and in everything that is important to them. They really want to love him. They could have their main art collection here. They will probably spend more on furniture, and they will have their wine collections and their cars with them. They will need more garage space. Where there used to be two cars, there are now five.
People want more space to work from home. In the past, we may have designed a desk, but customers request a desk in every room. We also see complexes: a client has a huge lodge and then cabins for people to stay.
In terms of amenities, do you receive requests for different benefits than before Covid?
Mr. Baer: People are here to have a good time, so the activity rooms are quite large; pool tables, ping-pong tables, etc. And great changing rooms – they are known in the East, but they are needed here – because we have a lot of ski jackets, boots and backpacks.
We saw a separate weight room or gym, treatment room for massages, yoga studio, bar with detached sink next to the pool, and plunge pools – almost like a jacuzzi – which are good for your joints.
Mr. Jenkins: We see extravagant kitchens. From Gaggenau to Miele, customers want excellent, high-quality and luxury appliances. We’re seeing more pizza ovens indoors or outdoors, as well as bars, vending machines, and media rooms. Bars have always been common, but you can have two or three.
We are seeing larger recreation rooms to house skis and gear as more and more friends come from cities to stay with them for longer periods of time. People stay for two, three, or six months and their children stay for more than two weeks.
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What new design trends have you noticed?
Mr. Baer: Technology, because some people spend more time here. With all the Zoom meetings and streaming involved, they must have the bandwidth to do this. We have just completed a contemporary house overlooking the valley, and the clients have brought their technicians with them. The technology that goes into homes has been improved.
Mr. Jenkins: People have moved out of California and moved here, so they bring their ideas and are looking for sustainability, fibers and natural materials, so there is more emphasis on that. People want their homes to reflect the natural environment, and they don’t want leather products or anything from animals. There is a trend towards antiques, unique pieces and heirlooms, more than before Covid. So not just contemporary, but a mix.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.