In the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado, every turn in the road holds the promise of a spectacular new vista—and the magnificent sights are not necessarily limited to snow-capped peaks and expansive valley views. The area around Aspen, for instance, has become home to many impressive examples of architecture, including a contemporary structure by architects Rich Pavcek and Charles Cunniffe designed to both embrace its site along the Roaring Fork River and stand out from a wild landscape of evergreen, aspen and cottonwood trees. “This is a pretty extraordinary environment,” says Cunniffe—and one that required an equally impressive response. The owners, a couple with a large art and sculpture collection, aimed to build a house that would honor that extraordinary environment.
To begin, the couple submitted an image of an oceanfront house in Montenegro to six architects and asked each of them to translate that idea into a design appropriate for an Aspen home along the river. “We liked the concept of the openness and the modern architecture,” the husband says of the picture. Ultimately, the angular and contemporary design by Cunniffe and senior project architect Pavcek, who led the project, grabbed the couple’s attention for its “clean lines and great elevations,” says the husband.
With the help of builder Briston Peterson, the architects’ design was realized as a linear structure highlighted by stone walls and accented with wood composite insulation boards. A cantilevered stucco frame wraps the entire building, creating a visual outline. “There are only three main materials and they interact pretty evenly together, so it’s a nice, balanced composition,” Cunniffe explains. “The stone gives the house substance and texture without being too overwhelming. It’s the anchoring element for both the inside and outside of the house.”
That stone also creates a striking first impression. For example, floor-to-ceiling glass panels mark the front façade and look into the entry, where a massive Colorado buff sandstone wall anchors a stairway and provides privacy from the street. Adjacent to the panels, a glass pivot door offers a view straight through to the river, and guest rooms on either side of the main level overlook the water, as well. Upstairs, all of the main spaces—living and dining areas, kitchen and master bedroom—were designed to face the water. “The house was located as close to the river as was allowed,” says Pavcek.
The sandstone reappears in the open second-level living area, and additional texture is offered through the fireplace’s stone tile surround and large-format porcelain tile flooring, which flows out to a spacious, partially covered outdoor living room. Glass doors pocket back into the wall to connect the spaces with a 24-foot-wide opening. “The home blurs the line between indoors and out,” explains Pavcek.
Building the house so close to the water, however, required careful planning. “All of the water from the surrounding mountains drains into the river,” explains Peterson, who installed an underground drainage system and waterproofed the crawl space under the house to protect against flooding. “When the river rises, the elevation of the water table rises, so we had to dewater the site so the foundation system could be constructed.”
Peterson then suggested bringing in landscape architect Nick Soho, who created low-maintenance grounds designed to ease the transition between the house and the surrounding wilderness. “We used plant material in a very structured and massed way to bring the architecture into the landscape and vice versa,” explains Soho, whose design was installed by landscape designer Chad Thomson. During the installation, Thomson worked with the owners to incorporate modifications including a garden with lavender and ornamental spruce trees to conceal the utilities. The landscape, like the rest of the project, thoughtfully showcases pieces from the owners’ art collection. “They showed us photographs of their artwork in the beginning, and we designed specific spaces for it,” Pavcek says. “It was important for the clients to be able to feature their art and have it visible from different locations.”
Emphasizing the art and natural setting was also a priority for Baton Rouge-based designer Carol LaCour. Taking her cues from the architecture, the designer created a neutral color palette that complements the living area’s taupe and gray tones in both the porcelain tile floor and the stone tile of the fireplace. “They travel quite a bit, and they wanted a calm place to come home to,” LaCour says. “We didn’t want the interior to compete in any way with the architecture, their artwork or the gorgeous natural setting.”
LaCour, who had previously worked with the owners, used a set of Mies van der Rohe dining chairs from their existing collection as her starting point and paired them with a long Saarinen dining table that could accommodate the couple’s many dinner parties. “It’s organic and curvilinear,” she says. “It lends a softness to the room.” Likewise, in the living area, a sheepskin rug and a pair of custom sofas covered with Belgian linen add comfort and texture. “The design has a warm contemporary feeling,” LaCour says.
The owners couldn’t agree more. “The house has exceeded all of our expectations,” says one of the owners, “and it’s especially comfortable to live in.” It also provides a tangible reminder of its connection to the land. “The river flows year-round, so you always have the sound of the water behind you,” adds the other owner. Through its thoughtful design, the house serves its occupants while still honoring its setting. “The linear nature of the house pays homage to the vertical nature of the trees and mountains and the horizontal plane of the Roaring Fork River,” says Cunniffe. “The glass wall opens to allow nature to filter into the home, both in sight and sound. It’s quite breathtaking to see it all work in a harmonious fashion.”