The rising and setting sun casts an alpenglow of deep pastel shades over the high-desert landscape in Durango–an evocative draw for a Bay Area couple who built their vacation home near the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Colorado’s southwest corner.
The owners wanted to capture those saturated hues of pink, orange, turquoise, blue and lavender inside a home that also expressed the region’s Wild West mindset and Native American spirit. “It was very un-Aspen and un-Vail,” says the wife’s longtime designer, Julie Massucco Kleiner. “The wife was born and raised in the Midwest and wanted to find a less glamorous vacation home that would speak to her sensibilities.”
“It’s still very much undiscovered. It’s probably one of the last authentic cowboy towns,” the wife says of Durango, noting that she can watch herds of elk roam through her front yard morning and night. “It feels like a park,” the couple’s architect Adam Gardner says of the 40-acre property in the Animas River Valley, which sits on broad meadowland ringed in mature trees with mountains to the east and west. “The obvious inspiration was taking advantage of those views and the indoor-outdoor setting,” he says, so he drafted a lodge-like dwelling of timber, stone and glass with wings extending in four directions.
Inside, Kleiner filled it with a colorful medley that illustrates her client’s whimsical take on those painterly skies. “This house is a little bit mountain and a little bit modern, but very much her,” says the designer. Kleiner’s other directive was to give a nod to the Old West culture rather than a direct translation. “There’s plaid in the saloon (the playful name for the family room), but it’s turquoise and orange,” she says. And rather than hanging deer antlers on the wall, a turquoise entry bench rests on iron, antler-like legs. Her most striking gesture is a commissioned, 6-foot-tall collage of colored bottle caps that depicts Chipeta, a 19th-century Ute tribal leader. “We amped up her colors and added some jewelry, because
the black-and-white photos of her were very austere,” Kleiner says. Likewise, she hung a vintage tribal blanket–woven in shades of pink, orange, green and blue–on the breezy white walls of the wife’s office, transforming it into a crisp modern statement over an antique desk that came from the owner’s previous home in San Francisco.
The outdoors also played a strong role in the design–it’s ever present through 16 sets of glass doors and folding walls that open to porches, patios, balconies and covered living areas. “There are a lot of ways to get outside. This house really lends itself to an open flow,” Gardner says, adding that the dwelling’s outstretched wings establish a dialogue between indoor and outdoor space. “The wings pull you in and draw you out,” he explains. Landscape designer Lorain McGlothlin, in turn, built walkways that encircle the house through stacked-stone beds planted with deer- and elk-resistant perennials such as lavender and coneflower, mixed with shrubs and aspen trees. Boulders punctuate those gardens, she says: “It might sound weird, but I like to soften with boulders–it gives the house a different texture.” Builder Mark W. Galbraith brought stone into the structure via large pieces of Colorado sandstone and river rock found on the property. Even more monumental are the home’s massive Douglas-fir beams and trusses, installed by Alan Bernholtz of Wind River Timberframes. “I’ve done timber-frame houses, but this one was quite complicated, and on such a huge scale,” Galbraith says.
Kleiner evened out that scale by employing textured materials that keep one grounded when standing under ceilings that, in some places, soar to 27 feet tall. She wrapped the bar area in the saloon with steel mesh, for example, while boldly patterned drapery in the great room keeps things at eye level. “Every space is so tall and so large that by having different textures, your eye can read what it is,” Kleiner explains. When it came to defining the vaulted master bedroom, the designer and her client both fell for wallpaper that resembles a mural of mountains in a pink-and-lavender mist. “It also reminded me a lot of San Francisco, so it was a perfect blending of the two places,” the wife says. The treatment is emblematic of what the designer sought throughout the home: “We used color in each room to give it coziness and to infuse some of her personality,” she says of such pieces as the bed upholstered in raspberry linen with a fluffy white bench at its foot.
More importantly, the home’s interiors and architecture capture the owners perspective on the Southwest. “I wanted this place to be all about peace and tranquility and gentle spirit,” the wife says, adding that she invited a Native American medicine man to bless the house when it was complete. “It just speaks to me from the inside out.”