Before any large, ambitious custom home can reach its full potential, an awful lot of things have to go right. Any misalignment between the visions of client and designer, any failure of communication among architect, builder, and craftsperson can compromise the outcome. And small compromises add up. Vacation home projects pose additional challenges, because the principals involved often must bridge divides in both geography and cultural sensibilities. That makes Colorado Mountain Home all the more remarkable. The work of a local builder and an East Coast–based client and design team, the project joins their far-flung voices in a single statement with native fluency.
Designed as a year-round family retreat, the house stands on a wooded slope above Aspen, Colo., with views over the town below to the ski trails of Aspen Mountain. “It’s a ski house,” says architect John Gassett, “but Aspen has great programs in the summer, too. It’s a great place to hike and bike and be outdoors.” A stream flows along the property’s eastern boundary, feeding a clear pond that supplies both foreground views and—for those willing to work for it—a little something for the frying pan. “It’s a trout-stocked pond,” Gassett says. “There are some big ones in there.”
Gassett and his partners at Shope Reno Wharton are best known for their Shingle-style homes, to which this house bears a family resemblance in its scale, massing, and symmetry. But in shaping the house’s personality, Gassett drew on another turn-of-the-century model: the archetypal Western architecture of the great national park lodges. “The owners very much wanted it to be in the character of the Rocky Mountains,” says Gassett, who rusticated the house’s somewhat formal layout with stone masonry and massive log walls. “The plans reflect a logic of the lifestyle that transcends regionality,” he says. “The materials express the region.”
The building’s stacked-log walls rest on a stone masonry plinth, which sprouts upward into tapering column bases and chimneys and the buttressed stair tower that flanks the entry. Giving equal heft to the wood elements, Gassett specified Engelmann spruce logs up to 18 inches in diameter. Log trusses grace the open gables of the porches that wrap three sides of the house. “There are a number of different kinds of outdoor spaces,” Gassett says. A stone deck bookended by two roofed pavilions spans the building’s south-facing elevation. Stone stairs descend along the building’s north-south axis to a hot tub patio, then to a boat dock that projects into the pond. A more private porch, with an outdoor fireplace, extends the kitchen wing toward the stream.
Further grounding the building in its mountain milieu, Gassett wrapped the exterior materials into the interior. The central living room’s stone chimney rises to a high log-trussed roof, which caps walls that combine round and flat-hewn logs. Rather than lay up a conventional log structure, builder Steve Hansen framed the building conventionally and his log-crafting subcontractor lag-bolted halved logs to the studs from behind. The hybrid system yielded the best of both worlds, Hansen explains. In addition to the traditional look, “we got better insulation value and chases for the wiring.” Moving outward from the living room, the interior becomes somewhat more refined, with hewn logs giving way to milled paneling and paint. But in both architecture and interior design, the regional flavor remains strong enough for one to locate this house without even a glance out the window.
That kind of authenticity can be elusive, Hansen says. And while pinning it down largely was the work of his crew and a highly skilled corps of subcontractors, he credits this project’s success also to its transcontinental creative team. “We had a strong architect, a great interior designer, and a great owner,” he says. “It was a rigorous and disciplined process. The architects were here on a regular basis, and the owners were responsive. I’ve been [building custom homes] for 33 years, and this is one of the best. This one will stand the test of time.”