The True Personality of an Aspen Home

From an inefficient floor plan to a home flooded with personality, this playful transformation was a collaboration between the homeowners and their architect
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A floating staircase of walnut and metal, low-slung furniture and a vivid abstract painting the homeowners discovered in Vietnam give the living room its contemporary look. | Photography by David O. Marlow

Everyone agreed the two-story house had potential, if you could get past its inefficient floor plan and outdated interior design. “It had a playfulness,” says architect Lea Sisson about the midcentury-inspired exterior of the Aspen, Colorado, home. Inside, however, was another matter. Despite high ceilings and plentiful windows ushering in natural light, Sisson says, the indoors lacked a connection with the outdoors.

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A new wall of glass creates the strong link to nature that homeowners Jordan and Lauren Cohen wanted. The interior’s neutral palette, understated furniture and minimal accessorizing enhance the indoor-outdoor connection.

Part of the disconnect could be remedied by updating the 1980s décor, giving it a more contemporary look to match the exterior, Sisson explains. But to forge a real link to the outside, the floor plan needed some serious tweaking. A heavy stairway and a bulky fireplace cut into the living space on the main floor. “We had this two-story living room, but somehow it felt claustrophobic,” recalls owner Jordan Cohen.

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The Asian-influenced landscaping by Aspen-based Escape Garden Design sets a perfect scene for the contemporary house of pale-gray stucco and natural cedar.

Still, says his wife, Lauren, “We had a lot to work with. With the high ceilings and tall windows, the space lent itself to a modern, open, light feeling.” The drywall-enclosed staircase interfered with the flow upstairs, too, and the primary bedroom there felt overwhelmed by its imposing fireplace. Then there was the basement-level accessory dwelling unit. The Cohens wanted to reclaim it for their family, but it was completely cut off, reachable only via a private entrance.


In a move both bold and brilliant, Sisson ripped out the old stairway, installing a sleek new version, crafted of walnut with a simple oiled-metal railing, to connect all three levels of the home. In the process, she reversed the stair- way’s orientation, a decision that added to the living room’s usable square footage. “Lea was adamant—and we were completely complicit—about trying to add as much space to the living room as we could,” Jordan Cohen says.

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A heavy stone fireplace was swapped out for a sleek new version topped with midcentury-inspired shelving. The homeowners selected most of the furniture, including the blue leather sofas, themselves.

The open, bright living room sports a contemporary new look, with low-backed Roche Bobois sofas in blue leather facing off in front of the new fireplace, a sculptural beauty that almost disappears into the wall. Neutral walls provide a gallery-like backdrop for treasured pieces of art the Cohens have collected throughout their married life.

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Architect Lea Sisson mixed materials to good effect in the kitchen; the walnut cabinets, island and dining table nod to midcentury style, while lower cabinets painted white and topped with Cristallo quartzite keep things feeling bright and fresh.

To further open things up and establish the coveted indoor-outdoor connection, Sisson removed a wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room. The modern new space flows from a wall of white cabinetry that disguises the refrigerator, across an island fashioned from luminous Cristallo quartzite and rich walnut, on to the walnut dining table with its companion chairs upholstered in deep blue-gray leather and through an expansive new slider to the back deck. The mix of materials and the lack of fussy details are a hallmark of Sisson’s work. “My interior details take more of a minimalist approach,” she says. “They’re super-efficient and functional, and all the materials just kind of flow together.”

The basement level, now transformed with a lounge area, a kitchenette and even a wine cellar tucked in under the stairs, makes a perfect gathering spot when the couple’s three grown children visit.

All the home needed, it seems, was a trio with the imagination to see its true personality.

Categories: Contemporary Homes