Contemporary Vail Valley Residence with Mountain Style


"Watching the sunrise on the mountains from our living room window is so spectacular, it’s like being on another planet,” says Tammy Di Leo, who along with her husband, Max, purchased a classic alpine home so perfectly situated that they can stand on their terrace and watch the skiers come down the slopes at Beaver Creek. In addition to enviable vistas, the Florida couple, who routinely visits Vail Valley with their three children, also enjoy the generous proportions of the rambling house previously remodeled by architect Eric Johnson.

“We salvaged a lot of the original building’s structural materials, popped it up and out in every direction and nearly doubled the square footage,” says Johnson, who also added more than 2,000 square feet of outdoor living areas. And according to builder Robert Kehr, those commodious rooms and outdoor spaces made a dramatic difference. “The house has three large suites all with spa bathrooms, and the master has a personal deck with a privacy fence and hot tub,” he says.

Although the dry stack limestone and rustic Douglas fir exteriors mesh seamlessly with the mountain backdrop, when it came to the interior design, the Di Leos longed for a more contemporary statement. “The house had a lot of dark wood and we wanted something lighter, brighter and more in keeping with who we are,” says Tammy, who selected designer Eddy Doumas to help make the transition.

“They really wanted to push the envelope and go as contemporary as possible within the confines of the existing architecture,” says Doumas, who kick-started the process by introducing an array of new wall and ceiling finishes. “To get that edge, you have to break the rules and mix it up. That meant doing things like playing off the dark wood with everything from embroidered vinyl in the guest room to grass cloth with an unexpected silver metallic sheen in the living room.”

Also unexpected is the repeated use of cowhide that Doumas deftly employed with a modern twist. The living room is grounded with a patchwork cowhide rug, alder panels in the master suite’s sitting area were stained dark and fitted with brown cowhide inlays, and the bed is backed with white paneling filled with ivory cowhide. “When you go contemporary, you still have to be respectful of the location and the architecture,” Doumas says of his innovative use of the iconic western material. “It also helps to have clients who are brave enough to try layers of dark and light woods, plaster, grass cloth and cowhide.”

To recreate some of the interior finishes, including the living room’s soaring 26-foot-tall ceiling, Doumas worked with builder Bruce Fraser, who replaced the existing dark alder wood with a wire-brushed white oak prepared in an oil- and paint-rubbed finish that resembles driftwood. “The posts and beams were given depth by adding a glaze and then finished with a flat sheen lacquer,” explains Fraser.

For furniture and accessory choices, Doumas once again mixed, matched and remained mindful of the local vernacular. In the living room, the modern profile of a high-back daybed is tempered with a rich caramel-colored leather (another subtle nod to the West); a Danish
modern coffee table is paired with an English-style sofa marked by a traditional scalloped edge in the game room; and simple custom wrought-iron chandeliers quietly evoke wagon wheels. “It was my job to help the owners meet their goals for a contemporary look, while fashioning spaces appropriate to the setting,” says Doumas.

To further enhance the setting, landscape designer Rodger Hatfield removed existing junipers and replaced them with flowering shrubs to create a welcoming palette of pastel colors. He also moved 10 aspen trees, which were impeding the view from the back patio, and put in a low shrub bed. “Now when the Di Leos look out,” says Hatfield, “they see nothing but quiet blooms in the foreground and the majestic mountains beyond.”