When a couple from Iowa were ready for a change, they made it a big one. After selling a business they had owned for more than 30 years, the pair set out on an adventure to look for a new home. “We decided to pursue a lifelong dream of living out West,” the wife says. That dream led them to the Roaring Fork Valley, where they landed on a 50-acre ranch overlooking Mount Sopris. “We traveled all over the West and wound up in this valley,” the husband says of the picturesque locale near Carbondale. “It feels like we’re in a very remote setting, yet we’re only 15 minutes from culture and dining. It’s the perfect balance.”
The couple occupied a barn-turned-woodshop on the expansive site while residential designer Dana Ellis worked to replace an existing structure on the property with their new house. “My clients wanted an intimate home that felt warm with a tinge of rustic,” says Ellis, who worked on the project with principal John Rowland, designer Brett Lohr and project manager Scott McHale. “They especially liked the idea of using natural materials.” The homeowners, who are amateur woodworkers, took that idea literally into their own hands, as they used the time during the yearlong project to construct vanities for the powder room and a reclaimed-oak coffee table. The husband also worked with the youngest of their three grown sons to handcraft a dining table using wood from an Iowa barn.
Working off the clients’ affinity for straightforward materials, Ellis designed a simple farmhouse-inspired house, which she clad with dark gray siding and topped with a traditional gabled roof. In siting the home, she positioned the new structure next to a magnificent old cottonwood tree and a hand-dug irrigation channel, which flows like a stream during the spring and summer months. Builder Scott Scherer took extra care not to damage the tree’s roots or the water channel while razing the existing house before construction began. “We were able to donate the contents and most of the construction materials to a local nonprofit,” he says. “We were also able to repurpose sections of the existing foundation.”
Landscape architect Gyles Thornely worked with project manager Katie Tabor to repair, restore and enhance the stream. To soften and ground the linear structure, they added volcanic rocks and local plants. “It’s a pastoral landscape experience with a mix of native perennials and ornamental grasses,” Thornely explains. Beyond the greenery, the duo also added concrete pavers around the north and west sides of the house and drew up a master plan for the rest of the site to include a chicken coop, a greenhouse and a large produce garden with fruit-bearing trees.
The running waters of the newly enhanced stream proved to be a major inspiration for the home’s layout, which meanders from space to space with no fixed corridors or hallways. “The circulation has more of a natural undulation,” Ellis explains. “It’s a livable progression, and there are nodes of activity that anchor the spaces.” While the kitchen and dining area act as two such nodes, she explains, they are not on axis with the fireplace in the living room or with the master suite. The trailing layout “creates more interesting exterior spaces as well,” the residential designer says. “The outdoor areas aren’t all the same size, because the interior volumes shift under the roof form.” To honor the imposing cottonwood tree, for instance, Ellis compressed the interior layout opposite it to create an inset that houses the dining area. “The roof form continues past the inset to create a covered outdoor space,” she says, pointing to one of two decks that overlook the bucolic setting.
Light-colored walls and simple wood flooring tie the interior spaces together and create a soothing backdrop for the casual yet stylish furnishings the owners selected themselves. Plush sofas and leather chairs in the living room, for example, create a cozy gathering spot around a stone fireplace surround flanked by custom white cabinetry. Black-painted pine window frames introduce contrast and highlight the views. “The dark color absorbs the light, so your eyes have an easier time looking out,” Ellis explains.
With the main residence now complete, the owners continue to make the most of their new life in the West, with intentions to implement Thornely’s master plan for the property as well as renovate the existing barn to add a covered outdoor bistro kitchen. “We thought it would be a great way to take advantage of such a beautiful setting,” the husband says. “This house creates a sense of calm. We can’t imagine it being any better.”