A Mesa-Top House in Aspen
This efficiently elegant home is as sensitive to the environment as it is to spectacular views
It would be tempting, when contemplating a homesite that overlooks the Roaring Fork Valley and Elk Mountains, to design a structure that towers above the landscape, hungrily taking in the views.
But when the owners of such a site asked architects John Cottle and Todd Kennedy of CCY Architects to design their new home, their directive was to avoid this temptation. Instead, the home should celebrate the landscape while minimizing the structure’s impact on it.
The master bedroom opens directly onto a shaded stone terrace furnished with an all-weather loveseat, armchairs and coffee table.
Situated in a grassy meadow on the edge of a mesa, the home crouches low to the ground, bending and stepping with the gently sloping topography. “Because the mountain views are relatively distant, the views are primarily horizontal,” Kennedy says. “This condition allowed us to create a low-slung house without compromising the views.” By orienting the structure to the south, the architects captured the panorama while creating privacy from the road and neighboring homes, and maximizing solar exposure—a must for the passive-solar design elements they planned to incorporate.
Native plants and painted-steel walls frame the wood-and-glass entry door. Beyond it, a low-ceilinged foyer is furnished minimally to keep all eyes on the view.
Viewed from the front, the home nearly disappears into the meadow: Limestone and painted-steel walls deflect attention to the landscape, while low, sloping shed roofs downplay the roofline. Near the entry, the façade softens slightly with a few small windows and beds of native plants.
Just inside, the architecture gives a little more with an intimate foyer that offers a tantalizing preview of the view. The low-ceilinged space creates a dramatic contrast with the rooms that follow: voluminous living spaces that open onto broad terraces, all designed for effortless indoor/outdoor living.
“I’m a big proponent of texture,” says Glass Mullen, who chose a wood-and-woven-leather bench by Henry Beguelin and a patterned cowhide rug to complement the foyer’s sleek painted-steel walls and polished-concrete floors.
High steel screens shade the glass-walled rooms, minimizing heat gain during the summer. Concrete floors, used almost exclusively inside the house, provide additional passive-solar benefits. But it’s modern technology that allows the property to produce 70 percent of the energy the 5,750-square-foot house and garage consume. A geothermal loop provides efficient in-floor radiant heating and cooling. A 7.5-kilowatt photovoltaic array (plus a 17.5-kilowatt array at a nearby solar farm) generates solar electricity, solar thermal collectors help with domestic hot water production, and triple-glazed windows minimize heat loss in winter. “It’s a great feeling when I see my electric meter spinning just as fast as my neighbor’s meter, but in the opposite direction as our excess energy goes back to the grid,” the homeowner says.
Bi-fold doors connect the dining room to an adjacent terrace. The Solara table by Axis can be expanded into a large oval. The purple oil painting is by artist Mike Stack; the dramatic Lumiere chandelier—one of just a few ceiling fixtures in the house—is by Jean de Merry. The sculpture is by Tom Corbin of Corbin Bronze.
The interiors, while deferential to the architecture and views, hold their own with striking colors, textures and patterns orchestrated by designers Richard Mullen of Demesne, who oversaw the selection of interior finishes, and Barbara Glass Mullen, who chose furniture and fabrics. In the foyer, a woven-leather bench and chevron-patterned cowhide rug pop against painted-steel walls and polished-concrete floors. In the dining room, the mix is more daring: vibrant saffron-colored chair seats, a spiky metal chandelier and a large purple oil painting. Amazingly, Glass Mullen hadn’t yet seen the artwork when she had the dining chairs upholstered in a complementary color. “I’m a big believer in not matching art to interiors,” she says. “The art should be the art.”
“The homeowners were very open to creating an eclectic mix,” Glass Mullen says of the furnishings and accessories, which include vintage pottery found in a shop on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, a handmade light fixture by Boulder, Colorado, artist Liz Quan and vintage, lacquered bedside tables from online auction house 1st Dibs.
Lift-and-slide glass doors connect the living room to the adjacent stone terrace. The two upholstered chairs nearest the terrace swivel to face into the living room or out toward the view. A blue-velvet sofa, ikat-print accent pillows and a dramatic red painting by Mexican artist Ricardo Mazal create a bold palette that “feels a little unexpected and really interesting,” Glass Mullen says. The hand-knotted rug is by Holly Hunt.
Notably absent from the mix are the massive chandeliers that so often dominate voluminous rooms. “The architecture obviously is very modern, very clean,” Glass Mullen says. “If we were to have done more decorative lighting, it could have taken away from that.” That philosophy extends beyond lighting to the carefully edited mix of furnishings in every room. “By doing less,” Glass Mullen says, “we could make the pieces we did choose really special.”
In the kitchen, fumed white oak cabinets are punctuated by stainless-steel appliances.
Two window-walls and an adjacent outdoor terrace make the intimate master bedroom feel spacious. A custom chaise built for two is positioned to give each person a mountain view.
Glass Mullen dressed the linen-upholstered bed by JJ Custom with crisp white linens and an accent pillow in striped silk by Robert Kime.
With a fireplace on one side and mountain views on two others, the master bathroom’s WetStyle tub might be the best seat in the house. A hand-sculpted, porcelain White Coral pendant by Boulder artist Liz Quan hangs overhead.
PRO DECORATING TIPS
Interior designer Barbara Glass Mullen shares a few of the smart design tactics she employed in this house. Which one will you try?
- Choose white oak floors White oak provides a neutral canvas and takes stain much better than other woods, so you can play with the color more easily. I use it for nearly every project, no matter what color I’m after.
- Don’t put a square dining table in a square dining room I prefer the softness of a round table. It allows for a better flow through the room, and it’s just so nice to have a conversation at a round table.
- Skip the matching set I would never pair a dining table with its matching chairs. It’s much more interesting to choose a different but complementary piece. Make sure the finishes work together, but don’t match them exactly.
- Invest in occasional tables I love little tables because they’re so easy to move. You might want one next to the chaise in a bedroom, or beside the bathtub, or in the living room during a party. It’s just a good flexible piece.
- Plaster, don’t paint Compared to a painted wall, a pigmented plaster wall has a thicker, heavier, more modern feel with a lot of depth; it’s not a perfectly consistent surface. Shadows play differently on different walls at different times of day, creating an appealing layered look.
- Dress beds in white Skip the patterned, matching duvet and shams. White linens are clean, classic and go with everything, and they let accent pillows really stand out.