This Home is More Than Meets the Eye
A modern gem outside Aspen balances form with precision and purpose
Just outside Aspen, Colorado, a winding creek slices the narrow green valley in two. Fourteen-thousand-foot mountains—deep red, as if lit from within—push skyward. Tucked unobtrusively beneath walls of green is a rust-colored modern masterpiece known as the Steel House.
The home belongs to an extremely active couple from the Midwest who chose Aspen for its unique blend of outdoor and cultural amenities. “In their home, they wanted a place of respite, a place to entertain friends and family. They wanted it to feel intimate enough for two, but spacious enough for a houseful. They wanted a floor plan driven by functionality, by light and views. It was a tall order,” says designer Leslie Jones, who has worked with the couple on various projects over the years.
Completed in 2013 by architect Vincent James of Vincent James Associates Architects in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Jones of Leslie Jones & Associates in Chicago, Illinois, the Steel House is a work of extreme precision and passionate purpose. Point and counterpoint. Rectilinear architecture alongside soft, rounded forms and textures. Every line, every detail, hidden and exposed, reflects a cooperative decision between architect, designer and sophisticated, responsive clients.
Modern and abstract, the steel-and-glass walls create a carefully calibrated relationship with the natural environment. The rust-red steel echoes similar tones in the canyon the couple likes to bike and nearby peaks they like to hike. Walls of windows open the home 180 degrees to views across, up and down the valley. “It’s almost as if a Richard Serra sculpture had a door,” says James, whose firm won the commission after a national selection process.
Artistry is evident throughout the home. Both designer and architect point out feathered elements, wood interwoven with metal, and stitching details, right down to artist-made curtains in the guest rooms.
Such decisions, meticulously implemented, shape the experience of being in the home. “There is so much thinking that went into it that we cannot see,” James says.
Extensive revegetation and natural, almost wild, landscaping was designed by Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture of Maine, with Landforms Inc. The ipe wood door with sidelights and clerestory windows creates a sculptural opening.
Various tones of purple define this soothing master bedroom. The custom upholstered bench is by Interior Dynamics; the chair and ottoman are by Luca Lanzetta. Leslie Jones designed the custom side table and upholstered bed.
In order to accommodate the couple’s desire for an intimate space for two and a welcoming fluid space for larger groups, James and Jones created a sensible floor plan. On the first floor—which is elevated 30 inches above the entryway for treetop-like views—are the couple’s master suite and office, a living room, family room and kitchen. “It’s not at all cavernous,” says Jones. “They can be cozy when it’s just the two of them.” Although the couple wanted an open kitchen for informal gatherings, there is also a caterer’s kitchen for larger parties.
The center point of the living room is the Fusion Moon coffee table by Arik Levy Studio. On the wall is Vicino molto vicino, 2013, by Marisa Merz.
Downstairs are five unique but equitable guest rooms—each with identical amenities but varying color palettes and textures—another family room and several private patios. “The way it functions is key,” Jones says, explaining that the homeowners are parents, consummate travelers and entertainers. “It has to be easy, and it has to work in a variety of situations,” she says of the design.
The rib-like ceiling is digitally designed and fabricated laminated wood, painted white to pick up light. Its curves contrast with the rectilinear architecture. Architect Vincent James designed the orbed chandelier with LED lights, and interior designer Leslie Jones designed both the dining table and the custom console. The amethyst “Agate” area rug speaks to purple tones throughout the home. Aglow, 2005, is by artist Ricci Albenda.
In addition to the couple’s remarkable art collection, and number of one-of-a-kind furniture pieces by artists from around the world, James and Jones designed and fabricated their own contributions to add organic form to the interiors. The cloudlike dining-room chandelier, which emanates light from cluster cells without revealing their source, was created by James. “It just kind of glows,” he says. Jones designed the forest-like bronze-and-glass sideboards and the cast-aluminum and aged bubinga slab table.
It is this kind of thinking, and doing, this deliberate attention to detail, that makes the Steel House so special, says Jones. The value you create when you can be this intentional with the way a space looks and feels and lives is its own reward, she says.
Expansive decks provide ample outdoor living space and room for more art. Shown here is Odalisque, 2010, by Matt Johnson.
Avid art collectors, the homeowners installed a winding sculpture trail on the property, including Phone Booth, 2011, by Mark Handforth.
AN ARTIST’S PALETTE
When she is designing a color palette, designer Leslie Jones is part artist, part psychologist. Though it enters through our eyes, color shapes much more than our visual experience of a place, she says. Jones uses repetition of color to create a calm, soothing experience, rather than anything remotely boring or relentless.
In collaboration with Vincent James, Jones started with a neutral palette—charcoal-colored Zimbabwe Blue floors, dark mahogany wood, pale opalescent marble—and introduced variations on color throughout the home in ways that are not obvious. Take purple, for example. The dining-room rug pops with the brightness of an amethyst, repeated in shades from lavender to violet in a guest room carpet, the backs of the ski lockers and undertones of the folded stone island in the kitchen. Her use of color gives order without blandness.
Elsewhere in the home, Jones uses vibrant colors—oranges, blue and greens, “bright like gems,” she says—to add interest. Each of the guest rooms has a color theme—the purple room, the blue room, the green room—that threads throughout the home. “Repetition makes people comfortable,” she says.