When architect Christopher Brandon walked the land where his clients dreamed of building a ski home–situated in the Gore Range of the Rockies, with Vail Valley views–the spectacular topography inspired him as he began sketching. Brandon had known his clients, Paige and Michael Hill, for many years so he knew that they appreciated modern architecture and indoor-outdoor mountain living.
Paige, who is the home’s designer as well as the owner, remembers, “Christopher told us ‘I have a sketch, and I’m calling it Levitating Cubes.’ ” The moniker could be offputting to some, but not to the designer. “He knows I’ll try anything different,” she laughs. The distinctive design is so named because it gently nestles cube-shaped forms into the hillside to capitalize on the views down into the Valley and up the mountains.
The desire to host friends was at the heart of the project for Paige and Michael. “We have many people in our lives who want to ski Vail Mountain,” Michael says. Thus, programmatically, Brandon organized the home in a way to meet the needs of both owners and guests. For the couple, he created a top-floor private retreat that includes a master suite, which cantilevers out from the building, with glass walls on three sides that create a sense of expansiveness. A kitchenette, roof deck, hot tub and fire pit on the same level gives the owners privacy even when the house is full of guests.
The main floor–comprising a great room, a large fireplace, the main kitchen and a dining room–is ideal for entertaining. “It spills outside to a spa and the outdoor entertaining areas,” Brandon says. Paige adds, “Even when we have many houseguests, everybody can escape, and people aren’t on top of each other.”
More guest suites are on the lower floor, along with areas for visitors to relax and play, including a game room. “We have a pool table, darts and Caribbean ring toss,” Michael says. For a touch of whimsy, the room looks out onto a vibrant graffiti mural. “We commissioned street artists Yok & Sheryo to spray-paint the retaining wall,” Paige explains. “I wanted a lot of color.”
The vistas outside the windows display a different kind of artistry. “The ceilings are 11 and 12 feet high, so no matter where you are, you have nice sight lines to the topography,” says Michael. The architect used 3D architecture modeling software to virtually walk the house before it was built, making sure the vistas could be enjoyed from nearly every room.
Landscape architect Ric Fields used plantings to extend the interior spaces to the outdoors. “The plant massing was intended to soften the corners of the building and also frame the view,” he says. “The plantings are mostly native to our area, like snowberry, aspen and spruce.”
The owners love the home’s mix of materials which, in addition to glass, includes structural steel and concrete. But to Paige, achieving balance is key. “You need to offset the hard materials with wood–here, we used wood on the ceilings and some walls,” she says. Paige believes lighting creates a similar effect. “Lighting is like jewelry for the house, and it warms it up,” she says. “If it’s discreet lighting, people don’t know why the space feels warm, just that it feels good.”
Paige also spiced up the home’s natural palette with dashes of color. “Everyone thought I was nuts putting in bright blue kitchen cabinets, but it turned out great,” she says. “Some of the bedroom furniture is done in a fuchsia color, and one of the guest bedrooms has a green upholstered platform bed.”
The home also showcases the Hills’ eclectic art collection. “Every year for our anniversary, we celebrate with a gift of paper, wood or whatever the year traditionally calls for,” Paige says. “It’s almost always sculpture from the designated material.” The couple also collects art by Adam Neate and Claudia Rodriguez, who created the determined rock climbers scaling a concrete wall adjacent to the home’s striking staircase.
But the homeowners appreciate the natural environment as much as the manmade. “Every day we are here we say, ‘This view is so amazing!’ ” Paige says. “In addition to the mountains, you see fox and deer.” Michael adds, “We are near Vail Village, one of the top ski destinations in the world, yet we have this private winter wonderland with no visible neighbors.”
On one of their first nights in the home, they awoke in their glass-enclosed master suite surrounded by a fresh blanket of snow. “Paige sent me panorama shots from bed, and that was pretty cool,” Brandon says. “It was the vision we had talked about from day one. I imagine it’s their favorite part of the house, which makes it my favorite, too.” Paige agrees. “I could live in the master suite. During winter the snow glitters as the sun rises over the mountain, and during the summer animals come down from the forest to drink from the streams.”