15 Jan A Celebration of Place
FOR AN INTERNATIONAL COUPLE LIVING LONDON, their new Rocky Mountain home would be as much about art as it was about architecture. Despite the distances separating the participants, the thoroughly collaborative effort resulted in all of the components working together to create a harmonious whole in a stunning celebration of place.
The couple knew what they liked in mountain architecture. They had fallen for a nearby home designed by Vail, Colorado, architect Tom Cole, and he was their first phone call after closing on a ski-in, ski-out house in Beaver Creek. Cole has been practicing his craft in the area for almost 30 years and was familiar with the type of house his clients had purchased. Built in the late 1990s, the 8,500-square-foot house (plus 3-car garage) sported a traditional mountain-architecture aesthetic with heavy, gray-painted wood, lots of exposed rafters, gray-hued stone, symmetrical steep pitched roofs, and voluminous vaulted interior spaces.
This final feature, an idea of the homeowners, makes the most of its slopeside location. Sited behind the home, detached from the building, and settled into the grade, it’s designed for relaxing, whether for lunch or hot chocolate between ski runs, a refreshing drink after a summer hike, or as a destination experience for cocktail hour. Comfortable seating by the fireplace, a full kitchen and bath, a dining table, and extra sleeping accommodations for overflow guests offer a multipurpose program. Just outside the Nanawall doors, which open to create a 16-foot expanse, lies a hot tub. From the flat roof planted with wildflowers to the life-sized sculpture of a sitting bear within its immediate view, the experience is nature-intensive and immersive.
Local contractor Patrick Barrett oversaw every detail of the renovation, while Studio 80 Interior Architecture & Design was brought on board to conceptualize the interiors and help procure furniture. The owners were intentional about the process of selecting art for the house; they retained art consultant Larissa Wild, who introduced them to the Western art world and discussed each suggested artist’s process and intention.
“To a lot of people, when presented with art, everything looks new and interesting; it takes a while to navigate,” says Wild. “There were a lot of design and architecture elements already in place. We wanted to work with that canvas and find art that worked with the house. They also wanted a nod to place in a contemporary way. As the clients became interested in the artists, they became very involved in the process: They became collectors.”
The collection ranges from older works that reference the history of the West (Edward S. Curtis and Ansel Adams photographs) to mid-century pieces addressing popular culture treatment of cowboys and American Indians (Andy Warhol’s Cowboys & Indians series) to contemporary pieces that speak to today’s West. These range from the sophisticated modernist paintings of Montana artist Theodore Waddell to life-sized wildlife sculptures, tying the home into its location on the edge of the wilderness.
“It’s an eclectic mix,” explains Wild, “but what all the artists have in common is a sense of place and a narrative about this area. The vision was to make the architecture the protagonist in this story, with the artwork not talking over it.”
For both architect and art consultant, it was the collaboration with the homeowners that made the project special and rewarding. “They were great about asking ‘what-if’ questions, and really considering the big picture,” says Cole. They were well into the project, he adds, when he received a phone call from the husband. “He had gotten up at four in the morning, put on snow boots, walked down to the ski hill way below, and looked up at the master bedroom. He asked: ‘Can we take the fireplace out?’ It had big structural implications — it was holding the roof up — but he asked the question.”
And in this mountain home experience, it was the asking of questions that made the journey as meaningful as the destination.