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Channeling Hemingway

For designer Tim Campbell, creating an overnight retreat for artists and creatives in Sun Valley’s restored Hemingway House afforded an unexpected opportunity to reflect on his own personal and professional journey.

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A PROJECT BY TIM CAMPBELL

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KARYN MILLET

Though the ghost of Ernest Hemingway looms large in Ketchum, Idaho, there’s nothing remotely haunted or haunting about the midcentury homestead where he spent his final years after leaving Cuba. Recently restored and invigorated with purpose after decades of near dormancy, the estate—known as Hemingway House—is filled with fresh insights into Hemingway’s life and legacy in the American West. 

It’s also the site of The Hemingway Initiative, an innovative artist-in-residence program that hosts a rotating band of visiting artists, educators, writers and thinkers from a range of disciplines in a newly minted apartment designed by Tim Campbell. It’s a fitting transformation. For Papa, as Hemingway was affectionately known, life was one big adventure, and his zealous commitment to pursuing his craft was outpaced only by the demons chasing him. How better to pay tribute to the iconic and complicated life of this 20th-century giant than to channel the creative drive that fueled him as a force for good—a sentiment Tim tapped into for inspiration throughout his involvement in the project. “Ultimately, that’s what creativity is in many ways,” he says, “taking the things that are unseen and then making them known.” 

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A native of West Virginia who decamped to New York to launch his interior design career, Tim found his calling early and never looked back. “Some of us just end up with this thing we’re put here to do, and we discover it quickly,” he says. “I needed to create a sense of home and comfort that was missing in my life. On paper, sketching, I could escape into a world that was different than the one I lived in, a place of intended beauty.” 

Today, he splits time between the East and West Coasts, where he also maintains a Los Angeles studio. But, he says, he’s always open to the kind of detour of destiny that led him to Hemingway. 

“I was at a signing for my book, Intentional Beauty, and Mariel Hemingway came,” he says. “She had seen a short documentary I made about the book, and the approach that I take, and she came to ask if I’d be a part of the work they were doing in Ketchum.” After spending time with Mariel and learning more about what she wanted to achieve, he knew that being a part of the project and designing the apartment was something he was uniquely qualified to do. “In so many ways, the house is a testament to the power of transforming beauty and pain into healing and creativity—and to what happens when you don’t do that since, obviously, this is the place where he died. So it really dovetailed perfectly with my philosophy of beauty and nature as a framework for design.” 

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The house itself was built in 1953 by tin-plate heir Bob Topping to resemble the nearby Sun Valley Lodge (which, legend has it, he loved but had partied in one too many times to be asked back). It’s a sprawling, two-story structure, bigger than it initially appears, and a stunning example of midcentury architecture. But the real genius of the design is the way it connects the indoors with the outdoor landscape beyond—from nearly every angle, the peaks of the Pioneer and Smoky Mountains feel close enough to touch. Hemingway bought it from Topping in 1959 and spent his final years there with his fourth wife, Mary, hunting and fishing and, ultimately, becoming a significant presence in the local community. When he took his life there on July 2, 1961, the long line of mourners from the area was a testament to his impact. 

Mary passed away in 1986 and bequeathed the estate to the Nature Conservancy to be used as a nature library and reference facility. Over the ensuing three decades, the house served many purposes for the organization, even functioning as its offices for a time. By 2014, however, Hemingway House was sitting empty for months on end and in desperate need of repairs that the Conservancy was ill-equipped to undertake. Three years later, with the blessing of the Hemingway family, the Nature Conservancy transferred ownership to the Community Library, a privately-funded local institution that had been founded in 1955 by a group of seventeen women, including Clara Spiegel and Anita Gray, two of Ernest’s closest friends in Idaho. Restoration soon commenced on the property and the Hemingway Legacy Initiative began taking shape. 

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“As part of the program,” Tim explains, “the Library and the family decided to open up a portion of the house, this apartment, to artists from a lot of different backgrounds to come and make work that speaks to this place and the healing, cathartic energy of its landscape. And that’s why I’m here.” 

To create a space that is universally inspiring for artistic-minded visitors requires a strong commitment to neutrality. “Color and materials become important, as does putting those into historical context,” Tim says. He relied on a soft palette of earth tones, along with materials that maximize comfort, such as cotton and linen textiles and cork floors that could be easily heated when temperatures drop. The apartment was originally part of a garage, so he preserved the exposed concrete walls and finishes—paint splatters and all. He replicated the pine cabinets found throughout the rest of the house for continuity, and added a beautiful yet subtle hunting-inspired wallpaper by Timorous Beasties, an English company, in two spots for atmosphere. “Someone once told me that ‘background is foreground’ and that’s how I approached this project,” he says, “so as not to distract from the creative energy that the inhabitants need." 

Of course, that approach to preservation extended to keeping the connection between the indoor and outdoor spaces fluid, as well—something Tim intuited from his own experience growing up among the ridges of West Virginia. “To me, mountains are a metaphor for strength and history,” he says. “Through the process of their formation, the superfluous stuff all falls away and what you’re left with is exposed and enduring.” 

As recent residents such as the contemporary artist Matthew Barney would no doubt agree, there is something inherently powerful and refreshing about entering this kind of creative world, shaping and being shaped by the landscape and legacy of the location. Here in Ketchum, surrounded by Idaho’s celebrated natural beauty and rich history, tomorrow is another day, another source of inspiration and another moment for another artist, upon whom the sun will also rise, to make his or her mark on the world. 

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