When it was in the planning stage, this weekend retreat had some people a little nervous. Its owners commissioned the design for a lot they had bought, 20 acres in a high-end development that weaves a small number of residential sites into the fabric of a working cattle ranch. The developers “wanted an investment of a certain level on these sites,” says architect Eric Haesloop, and they had envisioned sprawling log or timber lodges of the kind popular in this part of the Rockies. At only 2,600 square feet, Haesloop explains, this house was “almost too small for the regulations.”
Nobody is troubled now, though. Haesloop and partner Mary Griffin convinced the developers that they would produce a building worthy of its site, and they delivered in spades. Employing traditional regional forms and materials, ordered and detailed with a contemporary sensibility, this house serves both owners and site with an authority that belies its relatively modest dimensions.
The immediate site, an aspen grove that borders a field of scrub brush, lies on a high plateau with long mountain views. “It's a huge landscape,” says Haesloop. But the owners, a Denver couple with grown children and young grandchildren, were firm in their resistance to huge spaces inside the house. “Nothing had to get big just for the sake of being big,” Griffin says. With a cottage and a detached shop/garage also in the master plan, the architects were free to configure the main house as a gathering place at the first floor while devoting the entire second floor to a master suite.
The lesser requirement for private space allowed the architects to tuck the second-floor spaces within a broad, fir-framed roof. A simple form clad in green standing-seam metal, the roof makes a powerful gesture, dropping low at its deeply overhanging eaves and opening dramatically over porches at its east- and west-facing gables. This archetypal image of shelter, which reads from a distance and resonates throughout the building itself, is more than symbolic. “It's in a spot that gets very severe weather, a lot of wind loading,” Haesloop says, a fact that led also to the choice of a nearly paint-free exterior.
Snowy winters and the house's exposed location influenced its interior as well. Rather than oversized spaces, the owners opted for cozy, easily heated, single-story rooms. The nearly square first-floor plan is largely open, with interior partitions limited to two box-like volumes, one containing pantry storage and the other a powder room and the stair to the second floor. Painted white, in contrast to the exposed fir framing and cabinetry, these “cubes” organize the plan into a series of functional areas without creating closed rooms. “The way the cubes sit, you kind of flow around them,” Griffin says. “You're in one room, but you're not in a one-room cabin.” The cubes rise to railing height at the second floor, surrounded by open space “to get more bounced light inside the house” from skylights above. Reinforcing the presence of the great roof, second-floor rooms are open to the structural framing overhead.
A screened balcony cantilevers out from the second floor, sheltered by the 10-foot overhang at the entry porch. An even deeper porch, anchored by a massive stone fireplace, fills the opposite gable. Four sets of French doors open the living room to this two-story space, whose outer edge is marked by three soaring timber-framed openings. A long, narrow skylight climbs the roof just outboard of the master bedroom's gable wall, piercing the shade of the porch's long overhang.
“Look at how light it is in that house,” said one of our judges, who were uniformly impressed with the architects' management of daylight in a house so enveloped by its roof. They admired the latter feature too, of course, noting, “The power is in the simplicity of the shape.” In this setting, the imagery of ranch buildings is inescapable, and our panel judged this a worthy extension of that heritage. “It sits beautifully in the landscape,” said one. “It has a nice feeling for the local vernacular.” While offering its owners an elegant and comfortable retreat—so comfortable, in fact, that they have made it their year-round home—from a distance, “it could be a hay barn.”>
Entrant/Architect: Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects, San Francisco
Builder: Byron Miller Construction, Arvada, Colo.
Living space: 2,600 square feet
Site: 20 acres
Construction cost: Withheld
Photographer: David Wakeley
Bathroom plumbing fittings/fixtures: American Standard, Kohler; Countertops: Corian; Dishwasher: Bosch; Exterior lighting fixtures: Louis Poulsen; Hardware: Schlage; Insulation: Owens Corning, Thermax; Kitchen plumbing fittings/fixtures: Kohler; Oven: Thermador; Patio doors/windows: Loewen; Refrigerator: Amana; Roofing: Berridge; Tile flooring: Dal-Tile.