In front of the Johnson’s home is a pond that’s crossed by a 30-foot bridge.

The Tribute

IT'S A SPECIAL THING when a homeowner’s passion inspires the architectural design of their home. For the Johnson family, Native American history and Pueblo architecture became a primary inspiration for their residence in southwest Colorado. 

Designed by architect Jon Pomeroy and built by Aaron Taylor Construction, the home of Tom and Diane Johnson is a contemporary interpretation of the classic, historic forms found in ancient ruins across the Southwest. 

Located on 47 acres, the home was orientated to take in the view of the Dolores River Valley, which is dotted with sandstone formations and spruce trees. Bound on the east and west by the San Juan National Forest, there’s plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation. It’s also a short drive to Mesa Verde National Park and to several regional Native American museums. 

“Needless to say, all of our boxes were checked for an ideal retirement haven this side of heaven,” Diane says.

Pomeroy’s design philosophy recognizes that every site has at least one extraordinary or uncustomary characteristic. The architect will study the topography, vegetation, rock formations and other distinguishing traits of the landscape and then explore ways to incorporate these unique attributes in the architectural design.

Located on the Dolores River, a short drive from the communities of Cortez and Telluride, the home was “meticulously incorporated into the existing site,” Pomeroy says. The home’s sandstone walls blend with the massive stone blocks along the river’s edge. Sandstone and log — the same materials utilized by the ancient builders of pueblos hundreds of years earlier — became architectural centerpieces. Both are indigenous materials and therefore a logical choice for connecting the natural to the manmade, Pomeroy explains.

“The Johnsons desired having the home as close to the Dolores River as possible,” says builder Aaron Taylor, explaining that this put the home in the Army Corps of Engineers flood-plain designation. “Landscape designer Charles Seha came up with the idea of using three large culverts, masked by stonework, to carry floodwaters under the garage. That feature became a focal point of the front entry and allowed us to place the home exactly where the Johnsons wanted it.”

Also located near the front entry is a sandstone tower that references the towers discovered at ancient pueblos scattered throughout the Southwest. Additionally, there’s a stacked log wall, extending 60 feet in length, that reaches from the home’s interior to its exterior, connecting those spaces. Vigas, or long, weight-bearing beams that supported the roofs of cliff dwellings and ancient homes, were also incorporated in the home’s design and protrude from the home’s exterior.

Additionally, at the home’s entry, Pomeroy introduced a variation on the kiva, a circular room used by the Pueblo for religious ceremonies. These curved sandstone walls of the front entry reach past one another to create a pathway into the home. Built-in niches and platforms are used in this area to exhibit four of nearly 20 Dave McGary bronzes, which realistically depict Native American life.

Pomeroy, with input from the Johnsons and Seha, designed areas of the home to highlight their extensive collection of Native American sculptures, paintings, pottery and textiles, both prehistoric and contemporary. Seha stacked sandstone blocks at strategic locations throughout the home for space modulation and as a place to display artifacts. 

“The Johnson home left no detail overlooked,” Taylor says, noting that museum-quality, fiber optic lighting was used to highlight artwork. 

From the kiva-like foyer, with a lowered latilla ceiling, the home’s floorplan moves into the great room. Here, a fireplace made with Chaco Canyon-style stacked stone, a raw sandstone hearth and hand-chiseled chimney stretches through the elevated ceiling. Adjacent to this fireplace is a 28-by-28-foot wall of windows, providing views of Gatorhead Cliff and the Dolores River.

Nearby, the dining room is crowned with a resin and glass chandelier; a staircase extends from this region to the private rooms of the house. The kitchen is open to the dining room and includes a breakfast nook that’s plated with expansive windows to overlook the spruce-filled meadow and river.

The 5,763-square-foot home took four years to complete, and while it was under construction, the Johnsons lived nearby in a “glorious cabin” that Tom — a petroleum engineer by trade — designed and built, says Pomeroy. “Their cabin became the home to our thoughts, problem solving for extreme ideas to simple solutions, and always concluded with a hot bowl of Diane’s delicious gumbo or elk stew. In this particular story, the kitchen was indeed the heart of the home,” Pomeroy says.

After living in the home for some time, the new kitchen is again one of Diane’s favorite spaces, while Tom enjoys researching archaeology in his office. 

“The kitchen is my domain for creating love and food,” Diane says, adding that since her husband retired in 2003, “his world is occupied with his first love, archaeology and Native American culture.”

“It is amazing how much natural light and beautiful views add to our quality of life in this special natural setting,” she says. “An unexpected benefit is the effect that natural light has on all of the wood, granite, marble and sandstone as a result of light changing throughout the day.” 

The Johnson residence was designed to honor the fundamental elements of art, history and culture, and the final result is a home that appears as an artistic monument not unlike the glory of nature.

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