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Refresher Course

Dramatic Modernist details, warm materials and cool finishes transform a Colorado mountain home from rustic to retro chic



Gibeon Photography

How do you contemporize a traditional high-country home when its outmoded details are built into the very walls? For homeowner Reid Balthaser—a New York City-based architectural designer and principal of RTB Design Services—the solution came from careful space planning and an innovative design approach. 

“When my husband Martin and I first saw this house, it was basically a 3,200-square-foot drywall shell with logs, rocks and antlers,” Balthaser says. “Those elements were popular 15 years ago when this Bachelor Gulch neighborhood was developed, but they gave the home a dark, dated feeling. We’re never afraid of a big project, though, and since we liked the scale and layout of the space, we knew we could make it work.”

Balthaser found inspiration for the house in the work of the famed 20th-century Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. “Aalto is one of my design icons,” he says. “His use of woods and other natural materials influenced my overall vision, and brought a bit of Scandinavia and a midcentury aesthetic to this project.” 

Aalto’s use of vertical columns to mimic trees in a forest provided the inspiration for Balthaser’s dramatic custom staircase, which sets a modern tone throughout all three levels of the four-bedroom home. Its staggered wooden balusters wrap around a railing of blackened steel, creating “a three-dimensional sculpture,” Balthaser says. 

In the open living area, an original wood-paneled wall was refinished in a rich brown hue that complements the rest of the home’s wooden elements. The outdated rock fireplace wall was disassembled, and Balthaser had a mason integrate new stones before reinstalling it with a new, patinated concrete mantel. “The tile we installed around the fireplace is a reference to the design of early midcentury hearths,” he explains. 

Custom steel-blue kitchen cabinets by Genie Scientific face an island crafted from reclaimed barnwood and topped with a slab of large-grained granite Bal-thaser describes as “like a slice through the earth.”  

Overhead, a dramatic wood “railing” mounted on the ceiling references the staircase and helps define the open kitchen. The couple enjoys entertaining, so they sacrificed a main-level powder room to expand the dining area with a bar designed just for making cocktails. 

Balthaser worked in tandem with Vail Valley-based interior designer Amy Casey to create the home’s sleek, comfortable interiors. “I was excited by Reid’s vision of transforming the space with a more hip, lodge-y feeling,” Casey says. Along with incorporating some of the homeowners’ existing pieces, she sourced furnishings that complement a palette of grays, browns and creams, with pops of color provided by art and accessories. “Many of the accent colors were dictated by artwork from Reid and Martin’s collection,” she says.  

The home features an eclectic blend of vintage and reproduction midcentury furniture and quirky finds like a 1950s school map and kitchen stools made from recycled leather conveyor belts. “The home is very current and hip, but it’s also welcoming and relaxed,” Casey says. “Reid and Martin told me they didn’t want to have to be careful in the house, they wanted to be care-free.” 

In addition to reconfiguring the rock fireplace and refreshing some of the interior wood details, the design team saved one of the home’s original antler chandeliers. Balthaser had the rustic piece dipped in white lacquer to give it a sculptural quality, and hung it in a hallway. “We do have a rule, though,” he laughs. “We can only have one antler feature in our Colorado home.” 

Modernizing the Traditional Mountain Home 
While many of the materials and finishes in his renovated home are new, Reid Balthaser and interior designer Amy Casey took care to incorporate design elements that give a nod to the original house:

MASONRY
The stones were removed from the dated fireplace wall, cleaned and painstakingly reconfigured with new stones and mortar for a fresh look; a built-in niche was created to accommodate a hanging Mission-style light fixture that brightens the wall. 

TILE
To update the hearth, Balthaser added a new, patinated concrete mantel and accents of glossy tile in a steel-blue hue similar to that of the kitchen cabinets. 

PANELING
The wood paneling on one living room wall is original, but restained in a rich honey-brown hue that complements the home’s woodwork. 

FLOORING
Dark hardwood floors in the main-level living area were replaced with 6-inch-wide Arrigoni Woods oak planks with a neutral gray finish.

LIGHTING  
An antler chandelier from the home’s dining room was given a modern makeover with a coat of glossy white lacquer and contemporary light bulbs. It now hangs in an adjacent hallway.

 

ARCHITECTURE Reid Bathaser, RTB Design Services, New York, NY, 917-539-6492, rtbds.com INTERIOR DESIGN Amy Casey, Casey St. John Interiors, Vail, CO, 970-376-0238, caseystjohninteriors.com CONSTRUCTION Meadow Mountain Homes, Edwards, CO, 970-471-8202, meadowmountainhomes.com STONE WORK Avignon Stone, Vail, CO, 970-476-5560, avignonstone.com FINISH AND DECORATIVE PAINTING Eric R. Lavigne Painting, Inc., Eagle, CO, 970-376-3260, justlookinglavigne@yahoo.com TRIM WORK (STAIR RAILING AND OTHER CABINETRY) Trimworx, Edwards, CO, 970-376-3755, TrimWorxLlc@gmail.com DECORATIVE METAL WORK J-8, Custom Fabrication and Welding, 970-390-4663, j-8fabrication.com ARTWORK ENTRY "Jökulsá á Brú Glacial River, Iceland," by Olaf Otto Becker, Amador Gallery, amadorgallery.com DINING ROOM "Working Weight," by James Rieck, Lyons-Wier Gallery, lyonsweirgallery.com BEDROOM "Balls and Jacks," by Kaiser Suidan, Forre & Co., forrefineart.com KITCHEN CABINETS Genie Scientific, Inc., Fountain Valley, CA, 800-545-8816, geniescientific.com RECLAIMED WOOD AND BATHROOM VANITY Acadia Woods, Eagle, CO, acadiawoodsinc.com STONE COUNTERS (KITCHEN AND BATHROOM) European Marble & Granite, europeanmarbleandgranite.net CONCRETE Concrete Design LLC, Fort Collins, CO, concretebygerard.com DINING ROOM TABLE Piet Hein Eck, Future Perfect, futureperfect.com CHANDELIER David Weeks Studio, Ralph Pucci International, ralphpucci.net KITCHEN STOOLS Jim Zivic Design, Ralph Pucci International, ralphpucci.net LIVING ROOM TALL CANDLE HOLDERS David Ebner, Pamela Lerner Antiques, Bellport, NY, pamelalernerantiques.com BEDROOM DRESSER Lane Furniture, Archive, Laguna Beach, CA, archivehome.net        
 

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