The Art of Blending In
Architect Freddie Valdez designed the lower-level stairway to appear as if the stairs were outside, in between two buildings. A glass vestibule contains the staircase and joins the two buildings.
Architect Freddie Valdez designed the lower-level stairway to appear as if the stairs were outside, in between two buildings. A glass vestibule contains the staircase and joins the two buildings. Both walls use the same knotty cedar for the home’s exterior.
The unassuming front elevation of the home disguises an expansive 8,000-square-foot house burrowed into a rocky slope. The exterior of the house uses cedar wood siding and galvanized metal, a material architect Freddie Valdez says few owners are bold enough to use. In this case, it offers a contemporary twist to the traditional barn form.It’s easy to fall in love with a place like this: A rocky knoll overlooks a bend in the Colorado River, which flows past jagged red rocks, eagles’ nests and wide-open horse pastures. The beauty of this secluded spot near Bond, a tiny railroad town 45 minutes northwest of Vail, inspired Mike Flower to build a private retreat that would celebrate the distinct scenery—not compete with it.
So he turned to architect Freddie Valdez, who envisioned a home nestled into the hillside that incorporates the natural landscape into the design. The result is a contemporary twist on the traditional agrarian farm buildings of Colorado.
“It’s easy to move away from the old and embrace the new,” says Valdez, owner of Valdez Architects of Frisco. “That’s when you get into a situation where in 10 years it’s outdated. We pulled from timeless structures that never go out of style.”
Valdez’s vision is evident upon entering the home, with its knotty wood cedar exterior, galvanized metal silo and glass entryway topped with a modern aluminum crossbuck, reminiscent of old-style barns. Floor-to-ceiling windows on the main floor allow natural light into the rooms and offer broad views of the river, wilderness and pastures. “I wanted to be able to stand in the entryway and look through the house,” Valdez says. The home suits Flower, a busy California businessman seeking a quiet respite and place where his teenaged daughters could ride their horses. The property includes a horse pasture, riding arena and barn.
Not surprisingly, Valdez studied barn structures that used timber post-and-beam construction, and then incorporated that look into a modern open floor plan. Valdez designed the home to look as if it were a barn in its first life and later reworked to become a home. “To some degree we let the structure fall where it wanted to,” he says. For instance, instead of building the kitchen around the beams, Valdez allowed a column to run through part of the kitchen’s countertop, a design that gives the home an organic, relaxed feel. To that end, the kitchen opens up to the living room and is defined not by walls but by countertops and a small row of glass-and-wood cabinets suspended by a steel tube. Valdez says he wanted to mimic the traditional stone foundation of old farmhouses, although his walls use traditional insulation and wood framing wrapped in rock for a natural look.
While the post-and-beam look appears decorative, the beams are a structural necessity. Because of the home’s spot on an exposed crag, builders installed glass windows strong enough to withstand 90 mile-per-hour winds. And the home’s beams support a roof that could withstand 50 pounds per square foot of snow accumulation in the winter.
The rest of the home blends old farmhouse charm with sleek modern sophistication. The clean lines of the kitchen and the suspended stainless steel hood provide aesthetic complements to a rounded silo eating area with rusted tin ceiling. Varnished cherry doors in bedrooms, bathrooms and closets slide to the side as barn doors do. A worn tree stump found on the property has been repurposed as a countertop in the powder room, contrasting with the room’s funky textured silver walls. Old-style lanterns hang next to small contemporary lights strung from wires throughout the house. Faux painting by artist Erica Tieszen of Breckenridge gives the look of old leather on kitchen walls, of denim in the girls’ bedroom and of rusted metal on office cabinet doors.
The home also draws upon the local landscape, incorporating the huge slabs of rock discovered underneath the hillside while building the foundation. The rock was quarried on site and reused throughout the home—in the living room fireplace, the outside patios and the stone veneer of the lower level of the home. “It matches the earth really well,” Valdez says. “I think it’s very appropriate to the landscape and the surrounding area.”
“There is something familiar when people come to the house that makes them feel comfortable,” he adds. The home’s connection to the landscape allows visitors to forge their own personal connections to the natural surroundings. Flower says he relishes the rugged tranquility that defines his Colorado getaway: “The whole house is about nature,” he says. “You feel like you’re a part of it.”