At 10,000-Feet Elevation, a Family Embraces Backcountry Living
For one couple, seclusion is what high-country living is all about
Living in a remote location at 10,000 feet where howling is an accurate descriptor for the wind and snow depths routinely reach house-size heights isn’t for everyone. But for a couple with two grown children who split their time between Maine and Colorado, a small family compound set amid hundreds of acres outside of Telluride was their version of heaven. “My husband and I have been 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle and are very comfortable being in the backcountry,” the homeowner says. “Beautiful land in the San Juan Mountains was what we were looking for. We were very fortunate to find this property.”
Staunch conservationists, the couple purchased two adjacent parcels, kept 11 acres for their personal building envelope, and donated approximately 500 acres to a local land trust. Their piece of the wilderness secured, the search for an architect led to Bozeman, Montana-based Paul Bertelli of JLF Architects. “We saw one of his houses here and liked how it fit into the surroundings, and we loved his design sensibilities,” says the homeowner.
Bertelli spent months studying snow and wind patterns before settling on the optimal site for the main residence, bunkhouse and garage. “It’s a very harsh environment, and there were only a few spots where we could place the buildings,” he explains. “We tucked them into the edge of a forest where they would be protected and still have great views.”
Fashioned from reclaimed timber and siding, stone and steel, the elements were selected to withstand the extreme weather. “The walls look like stacked log, but behind the scenes they are heavily insulated,” says Bertelli. “It’s a very tight building envelope that can handle being buried under 10 feet of snow.”
High-performance windows further control heat loss while introducing a contemporary material into the classic cabin. “The juxtaposition of historic elements with all that gray steel is very powerful,” says Bertelli, noting that throughout the process the homeowner was very hands-on. “The texture, tonality and materials—she picked everything.”
The homeowners also came to the project with a treasure trove of items for outfitting the interiors of the main residence and bunkhouse. “We have an old farmhouse in Maine, and I either had the furniture or found it there,” the homeowner says. “I’ve been collecting Navajo rugs forever, and my mom collected antiques.”
A second set of design skills was added when Stephanie Malsed of Designs West joined the team. With a stated goal of “creating an authentic-looking turn-of-the-century hunting cabin,” Malsed started in the living room with a 1940s hooked rug before adding a twig rocker and vintage chairs with reupholstered cushions. Past and present collide in the kitchen, where a refurbished wood-burning stove and a state-of-the-art Lacanche range face off across an expanse of windows framing views of the Wilson Range. Elsewhere, an old dresser retrofitted with a zinc basin for the powder/guest bathroom and a restored cherrywood four-poster bed in the primary bedroom contribute to the additive decorating concept.
In the bunkhouse, which gets heavy use during hunting season, a combination of traditional and bunk beds reside in a welcoming Americana setting. “The use of red, white and blue is whimsical and understated,” says Malsed, who mixed quilts and vintage furnishings to continue the collected feel.
Looking at the big picture, there’s no question that location was an important consideration—“We can hike right out the front gate and into the wilderness,” enthuses the homeowner—but the architect surmises there is something else going on with the homeowner’s choice of place. “The best architects recognize the personalities of the people they are working for, and this residence is like a comfortable old coat she has had her whole life,” says Bertelli. “It suits her and her family perfectly.
LIVING ROOM CHAIRS by Hancock and Moore ROCKER by Antique Adirondack SOFA by Hancock and Moore RUG from Doris Leslie Blau Gallery CURTAINS by Morris & CO FIREPLACE SCREEN by Bennett Forgeworks MAIN BEDROOM CURTAINS by Pollack BED LINENS by Pierre Frey BATHROOM FAUCETS by Sonoma Forge BUNK ROOM CURTAINS by Clarence House SCONCES by Wild West Designs