Taking Root in Fraser
In a thoughtfully designed home, the architecture grew right from the ground—creating a new home that immediately belongs
As anything that grows outdoors does, the design for this Fraser home all started with the light. “The northern light is the most beautiful, so we oriented our house that way,” says the wife, a professional photographer, over a video call with her husband, an engineer who works in real estate development.
Their design strategy for the home was notably different than those employed in some second mountain homes, which can be large and dramatic and appear superimposed onto the landscape. This home, by contrast, is a modest 3,500-square-foot alpine modern home that harmonizes with its surroundings so much that it appears almost to have grown there all on its own.
Before they even began to draw up plans, the homeowners and the architect, Leila Schwyhart, formerly of Semple Brown Design in Denver, camped out on the property for days, tracking how the sun crosses the sky, what views draw the eye, and how the landscape slopes. “Getting to know the land doesn’t happen behind a computer,” Schwyhart says. They approached every aspect not through the lens of what the home will look like, but rather how the home will feel to live in.
This is what academics call critical regionalism, an architectural style that seeks to complement the land, honor the regional history, and emphasize the experiential value of place—all within a contemporary framework. Take the flow of the home, for example, which was carefully orchestrated. “At every turn and in every walkway, you have this different experience of the outdoors,” Schwyhart says.
They designed the heart of the home to be a small stone cabin, and then added on multiple structures with gabled roofs, all of which honor the vernacular of the region’s old mines and barns. The structure mimics the way settlers added onto cabins as the family grew, and the materials—Bonderized metal roofs, dark-gray wood siding and beige stone—look as though they were unearthed nearby.
Yet despite the nod to history, the overall character of the home has a very specific contemporary style that the couple, who are originally from the borderlands of West Texas and have lived in Denver for 22 years, were in lockstep about. “We have the same sensibilities,” says the wife.
The couple’s influences were varied yet share a clean-lined feel. Among their inspiration: the homes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Lake Flato architects; the exposed steel and glass of Marfa, Texas; the simplicity of Japanese minimalism; and the warmth and cleanliness of Scandinavian style. “We wanted the architecture itself to become part of the furnishings,” the husband explains.
To that end, much of the furniture is built-in and the color palette is neutral, while the wife’s collection of textiles and art provides bright splashes of personality. “We wanted it to be soothing and serene,” the wife admits, “but I just can’t stay away from color.” The bedrooms are efficient, and there are just enough for the couple’s two grown children to come visit. “That’s why we built the place,” she says.
While the building was a challenge due to the importance of every detail, the design process was incredibly smooth. “Everyone had the same vision early on,” says the husband. Schwyhart agrees, adding, “The reason we were so synchronous is that, if you study the site, the right answers were there all along.”