Beauty is an emotion,” architect Don Ruggles writes in his 2017 book, Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture: Timeless Patterns and their Impact on our Well-Being. With that in mind and given the setting of this Colorado house–a mountainside plot overlooking the Aspen Valley and the surrounding foothills–he and his partner, architect and designer Melissa Mabe-Sabanosh, were charged with creating a structure that would stir yet calm the soul.
Capturing the allure of the site while constructing a family vacation retreat worthy of it was a long-held dream of the clients, who had owned the land for many years. As the architects started contemplating how the house would take shape, it was a wish they kept in mind. “We wanted to make sure what you saw out the window had some resonance to what you were experiencing in the room,” Ruggles explains. “This is a critical component to creating comfort and pleasure.”
The resulting design harnesses the rustic textures of the surrounding Aspen trees, the soaring scale of the mountains and the crystalline sunlight from above without overwhelming. Sensory overload was something the architects and designer Emily Lindemann were careful to avoid. “Drama can be hard to live with over an extended period of time,” Ruggles says. Instead, the team sought to balance sweeping views with intimate and restful interior moments and even add bit of curiosity.
The concept is epitomized in the entry, where a stone walkway runs underneath a spine of glass toward a monumental double-sided fireplace. “There’s a moment of pause and mystery as to what lies beyond,” Mabe-Sabanosh says. Step around it, and the glass-ringed living room rises on huge curved beams. “That’s when the view reveals itself,” Mabe-Sabanosh says. This gorgeous scene of the Aspen Valley is a moment where beauty elicits emotion, or as Ruggles describes it, “it’s an ancient image that appeals to our subconscious. It triggers all kinds of stress-relieving responses.”
Lindemann and Mabe-Sabanosh further encouraged serenity with a neutral interior palette where colors are soft but have a lot of depth. “It’s a canvas that complements the architecture and is humble to the surroundings,” Mabe-Sabanosh says. On the first floor, Benjamin Moore’s Tapestry Beige covers the walls. More warm-tone colors with slightly darker hues adorn the sleeping quarters, such as Benjamin Moore’s Indian River in the master bedroom.
To add interest, glowing accents punctuate the quiet spaces throughout the home. “There are little pops of crystal flowing through the rooms–which, for us, means life and family,” the wife says. “It’s very special.” The impact is immediately visible with a series of quartz-encrusted light fixtures hanging from the skylight ridge leading to the living room. In the kitchen, a backsplash of backlit onyx seemingly shines brighter because it’s surrounded by European-oak cabinetry, whose rustic stain is appropriately named Barnwood. “They are feminine complements to the masculine timber in the house,” Mabe-Sabanosh says of the shimmering highlights.
The designers also exercised restraint with artwork and accessories, leaving space for a growing personalized collection. “The owners are able to continue to curate the home with things they find,” Mabe-Sabanosh says. “We like to leave room for our clients to discover.” The vivid Esther Ritz painting in the dining room–aptly named Dreams So Far–was an enchanting discovery for the wife. “When we chose the painting, we had no idea that was what she had named it,” she says. “It is truly a perfect fit.”
Her husband, meanwhile, found fascination in the building process itself. “He loved to be on the scene, asking questions and gaining deeper insight into how the project was being constructed,” general contractor Ants Cullwick says. Perhaps that’s because the design included so many unusual details from a hardworking team, such as the master bathroom’s glass shower, which appears to float in the center of the room. “The shower stands out as a beautiful minimalist detail,” Cullwick says. “And to achieve that clean and seamless look, you have a lot of people contributing.”
Outside, landscape architect Ariel Gelman worked to make the building blend with its surrounds. “Our approach was to make sure we carved the site so it would look like the house came down from the sky,” he says. “Once we were done, we wanted it to look so natural, it was like we were never there.” To achieve this, he planted more than 120 Aspen trees on the previously meadow-like property, along with thick evergreens, ornamental grasses and hearty native perennials.
It’s a setting Ruggles likens to the Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, California–a towering glass box that rests on a stone foundation overlooking the ocean. “The chapel is a rhythmic geometric solution that fits beautifully into nature, and we have the same components in this house,” he points out. The effect is not lost on the appreciative occupants. “It all comes together perfectly–the shapes, sizes, colors and lighting are breathtaking,” the husband says. “I come from pretty humble beginnings. When I walk into this house, I can’t believe it’s something I’m privileged enough to enjoy.”