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Escapes: Modern Organic in Colorado

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An environmentally friendly house fits a Colorado couple’s lifestyle, as well as their land

Story by Linda Hayes

Photos by David O. Marlow

“I can’t believe we live here.”

It’s been 10 years since my husband, Kelly, and I moved into the environmentally friendly house we built in Old Snowmass, Colorado, and one or the other of us still utters those words on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s about the locale, a sage and scrub oak-covered knoll with 360-degree views of snow-capped peaks, rolling meadows and red-rock ridges. Other times, the house itself is the subject of our awe.

At 2,400-square feet, it’s a peanut of a house, at least in the Roaring Fork Valley, where 10,000-plus square foot trophy homes are as common as the private jets their owners fly in on. But it’s big on heart and proof of what’s possible with a combination of vision, research, legwork and tenacity. The right architect is an important ingredient, too.

For our project, we turned to Tim Hagman, principle of Hagman Architects in Basalt, whose creative use of materials and award-winning contemporary style meshed with what we had in mind.

“When I first met with Linda and Kelly, they were living in Los Angeles and Old Snowmass was to be a part-time vacation home,” Tim recalls. “They brought images of cutting-edge design projects and had ideas for a big, L.A. type of house. The first house we designed was over 5,000 square feet and consisted of three separate buildings.”

Soon after, Kelly and I moved to Aspen full-time and our idea of what a mountain home should be evolved. We became intrigued by the growing trend toward environmentally sensitive construction.

“The more we learned, the more it made sense for us to build an environmentally sustainable house that fit into the land,” Kelly reflects. “We decided to scale down the size and looked at ways to incorporate energy efficient techniques and materials, such as straw bales, without sacrificing the design.”

Tim’s reaction to the new direction was “Awesome, let’s go for it.” And so the next set of plans was for a modern, tri-level home that tiered into the land, featured straw bale walls and called for poured concrete and renewable bamboo flooring, corrugated steel and standing seam roofs, and a combination of custom sheet metal, concrete Hardi-panel (durable, fire-resistant fiber-cement siding made of natural materials like premium cement, sand, natural fibers and water) and hand-trowled stucco siding. Willmar windows were a worthwhile splurge.

“The design was much smaller, simple and straightforward, with a curved roof reflecting the shape of the land and a peaked roof reminiscent of locally historic Victorian barns,” says Tim. “We oriented it to the South to capture sunlight and solar potential, and set living and master bedroom levels high to take advantage of the Snowmass and Mt. Sopris views.”

While construction was a collaborative process (our general contractor, Jeffry Mann, helped us get the project out of the ground), we did most of the source work ourselves — a process that Kelly, who works in TV production, likened to producing a show. “You start with a solid script, or design in this case,” he explains. “Then you assemble a cast of contractors, framers, plumbers, electricians, painters. Pre-production is dealing with permits and engineering; post production is the detail work.”

Kelly was on-site daily, which helped keep us on schedule and reasonably within budget. Potential glitches like the wrong color stain for the concrete floors were avoided, problems like the too-big kitchen sink I had ordered were quickly solved (we jockeyed the cabinets slightly away from the wall) and creative details, like mahogany and horse fence stair rails designed and built on-the-spot, were made possible.

Each level of the house has its purpose. Along with the entry, the lower level houses our office and a guest bedroom. Up a flight of bamboo stairs, the main living/dining/kitchen level opens dramatically, and it’s hard to gauge whether the in-your-face views of Snowmass or the softly rounded straw bale walls elicit a bigger ‘wow.’ “We went with straw bale because of the great insulation it provides, but they ended up being beautiful, too,” Kelly says. “Truth windows” flanking the custom, steel-fronted fireplace reveal the straw.

Other elements of the living room include a curved, 19-foot birch-ply ceiling and poured concrete floors. At the opposite end, our much-used kitchen is both modern and organic, with poured concrete counters atop birch cabinets (hand-hewn and finished by Kelly) offset with stainless steel Viking appliances and anchored by a large butcher-block island.

The top level is our sanctuary, with sun-colored walls and wood-trimmed windows and doors placed to frame the views. “It’s like a private look-out tower,” Kelly says. “We’ve watched elk rise from snowfields in the morning and the moon shines in at night.”

Disbelief suspended, we’re truly at home in this house. That it co-exists with the environment so well makes it an even better fit.

Visit photographer David O. Marlow’s website

_Linda_Hayes_Headshot   Linda Hayes is an Aspen-based freelancer who writes about culinary travel, architecture/design and the luxury lifestyle. She has been a long-time contributor to Luxe Interiors & Design, SKI, Association News, Aspen Magazine, Mountain Living, Stratos, genconnect.com and gardenstotables.com, and has written for Western Interiors, Elle Deco, Hemispheres, Hawaiian Style, Robb Report and others. When she’s not on the road, Linda makes her home in an architect-designed, modern straw bale house with elk and deer for neighbors. She lives with her husband, Kelly J. Hayes (a wine writer and spotter for NBC’s Sunday Night Football), a black Labrador named Vino and a sourdough starter named Rosemary.

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