A Sword in Moonstone: Touring Boise's Castle

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- The buff-colored building looks like it would be more at home on a bluff in Tuscany, but it's been a fixture on Warm Springs Avenue for nearly two years. And owner Tim Barber says it was designed with permanence in mind.

"I wanted it to be fantastical, but still architecturally interesting," he says, "and worthy of favorable comment, and not a negative impact on the neighborhood."

Barber says when the opportunity came up to build a new home, he grabbed it. He says he was tired of always having to remodel.

But building a house made of stone presented all sorts of issues that weren't immediately apparent, like the placement of windows that had to line up exactly with the stairs in the main tower. | Photos of the House

"You can see these windows interlock like Lego blocks into the exterior," he says, pointing to the openings shaped like a pope's miter. "So those window positions have to be very carefully set in conjunction with the stairs."

In other words, they have to make design sense both inside and out.

Barber's grand vision was so grand, it led to a contretemps with the original contractor whom he fired halfway into the first year of construction.

Tim Barber might be soft-spoken in person, but you get the immediate impression he is not a man to be trifled with, especially when it comes to designing a home unlike any other.

He spent the better part of six months sketching out his dream, and basing the overall design on castles he'd visited around the world, like the famed Tower of London.

But he is very clear on one point: there is no dungeon.

"I've had parents who were worried about that," he says, grinning. "Like my kids' friends' parents. So I just invite them in and ask them to check it out."

And we did the same on a warm autumn afternoon.

The first thing you notice is Barber's newest acquisition, a stone gargoyle set on a pedestal to the left of the front door.

The door itself is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, all dark wood and heavy, as you might expect of a portal that practically transports you into the sort of fantasy world you only read about.

"I wanted it to be fantastical, but still architecturally interesting and worthy of favorable comment, and not a negative impact on the neighborhood."

Inside the foyer is a large suit of armor, a decorative piece Barber bought from an antiques dealer in New Hampshire. It is not an actual piece of battle memorabilia, since it's absent the dents and scratches you'd find in something that had seen the horrors of war.

But displayed in a recessed wall, it heightens the mood of heraldry and medieval history. Think sword in the moonstone.

The living room boasts a decently-sized hearth, but Barber was smart to plan ahead and made sure that the stone floors are heated throughout. It means the house is anything but cold and drafty like, say, the grand manse of public television's "Downton Abbey."

The dining room is defined by the tower in which it sits, so the room is round.

"I really like the idea of making round rooms," he explains, "although they're not terribly practical usually. But certainly if you have a home designed as a castle, you've got to have a round dining room with a round table in it."

A hand-carved chair sits opposite the main door. Barber, ever self-effacing, says he always offers the special seat to guests. And he's quick to point out it is not an antique, but a contemporary knock-off that complements the setting he's worked so hard to create.

Outfitting a castle presents a unique set of problems that only someone like Barber can appreciate.

The chandelier over the dining table is a great deal smaller than the one originally sent by a decorator. It was close to eight feet in diameter and overwhelmed the space. So Barber quickly made it disappear.

The kitchen is almost a showroom for the Viking company, with stainless steel appliances you might find only in a restaurant. And the backsplash behind the range is a work of art, with tiles set like the argyle leggings of a Renaissance jester.

Barber says the kitchen is where most guests congregate, so it had to be warm and welcoming.

There are two ways of reaching the roof of the main tower: you can climb the stairs or take a small elevator. Whichever way you choose to go, the destination is worth the effort.

Standing on the flat roof, you have a nearly 360-degree sweep of the neighborhood, and at a height of 35 feet--the maximum allowed under local building codes. Here, too, Barber has spared no expense to make the space inviting.

He added a gas barbecue and enough seating to host a small party. The stainless steel hot tub nearby doubles as a fountain. When you're not soaking in a Camelot-like splendor, a dragon sculpture shoots water from its mouth.

But what really impresses is the construction of the building. The merlons, or what looks like dragon's teeth along the tower's upper edge, hint at the sturdiness of the design. They are nearly a foot thick.

"It's a real stone tower," he says proudly. "If all the wood in the interior were to vanish, it would stand up. It's rooted to the ground."

Adding to the authenticity of the castle theme is a small opening in a west-facing wall. It was the stone mason's idea.

"It's an archer's window; it looks like a keyhole."

However long he remains here, Barber says he is happy to have created something that will endure. But he's quick to reject the notion that it might be a celebration of ego or hubris.

"I prefer to look at it as a landmark, rather than a monument to any particular thing," he says with characteristic modesty.

But there is one thing that bugs him. People seriously ask if he's built himself a safe haven from a zombie horde.

"I can't tell you how often that comes up," he says. "They keep asking me. Zombies must be the thing for this year. It comes up a lot."
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