For decades, Heather and Eric Schultz were among the lucky East Vail residents to have the impressive peaks of the Gore Range practically in their backyard. The Vail Frontage Road winds to an end nearly at their doorstep, before dwindling to a side road and ducking under the highway to climb the heights of Vail Pass. Yet, for decades it was a view they couldn’t much enjoy from inside their home. In a craving for more openness, the couple razed the existing home to the ground and began all over.
Today, the house is unrecognizable from its previous incarnation, and is quite distinctive from its more traditional mountain neighbors. A stunning façade of glass and steel, with bold lines and inspired design, paired with earthy elements pulled from the Western landscape, it is a home that is both open and quietly part of the very mountain environment it inhabits.
The Schultzes have lived in the Vail area for 30 some years. Heather used to teach skiing and Eric still ski patrols. They bought the original house in East Vail in 1992. “We liked the quietness of East Vail,” says Heather, who adds it was a good value. The home, built in the early ’70s, was typical mountain style for that era.
The couple had opened their popular consignment store, Holy Toledo, several years before in Minturn. At the time, Ken Bridges of Blueline Architects, did the remodel of the space. So, four years ago, when they decided they wanted a new look for their home, the Shultzes chose Bridges, whose residential work had impressed the couple. They were drawn in part by some of the more contemporary elements they saw woven in the firm’s work.
When contemplating the new home, the couple wanted to make use of the entire building site. Unlike many housing projects today, maximizing the lot did not mean getting as much square footage on the site as the town of Vail would allow. The home is a moderate 3,400 square feet. “We wanted to maximize the wonderful features the lot had to offer,” explains Bridges.
The new design sailed effortlessly through the Town of Vail’s approval process, recalls Heather. But, she admits, it was more complicated than expected to complete. “It’s just an L-shaped building,” she notes. “We thought it would be simple to build. But there are no right angles in the house.” Every detail leads to an unanticipated element or in an unexpected direction; a surprise waiting in myriad details.
The architecture of the new home was derived from a careful study of the site itself, and was situated roughly in the same place as the old one, but is much more open. At the same time it was designed to tuck seamlessly into the landscape to provide the owners more intimate views and a more total experience of their surroundings. The short side of the L-shaped home is dramatically, yet strategically, glassed-in above and below, oriented to shield from unwanted views and possible noise from nearby I-70. Lofty living spaces and wide expanses of glass embrace the magnificent views.
By using bold architecture, forms and lines that stretch across the landscape, the house became a backdrop, deferring to the landscape. Steel was necessary to support the expansive glass walls and windows, and Bridges chose to embrace it, making it a statement. Paired with natural elements, such as stone and cedar siding culled from Montana snow fencing, the steel enhances the home’s quiet strength. Pop-out window boxes, with touches of bright yellow paint, add interest and an element of the unexpected, while the stacked stonewall along the north side of the house anchors it to the surrounding mountain scape. The slope of the roof also makes the most of the far-ranging western views and low angles of winter sunlight, while efficiently retaining snow for added insulation. As well, the driveway was moved to make it more discreet. The move opened up uninterrupted views and maximized daylight, without having to cut down any trees. “The way Ken shaped the house is amazing,” says Heather.
Upstairs, the home’s main living area, is a surprise of light and airiness. The ceilings soar to 18 feet at the highest end, dropping to a still-lofty 15 feet at its lowest point and is lined with cedar paneling, strengthened with steel I-beams. Stained cedar soffits make up the ceiling exterior as well as interior, creating a dramatic effect as one looks into the home in the evening, drawing one’s eyes deep into the space, explains Bridges.
The elevated living room looks out above the evergreens through high, clerestory windows and beyond. The cantilevered deck off the west end of the living space seems suspended, but also helps to shield from road views.
Aged timbers and deeply textured earthy elements pair symbiotically with modern fittings; sleek surfaces extend to the home’s interior. As well, steel and glass, and smooth drywall spaces were created as a fitting backdrop for the owners’ furnishings, reflecting their penchant for the contemporary. “In a few locations,” says Bridges, “we deliberately brought these two worlds together in an attempt to blur the lines.”
Throughout most of the home, stained cedar siding runs through the glass, pulling the outside in and providing warmth to contemporary interior elements. The strip stone, sandstone veneer of the exterior, continues right into the great room’s interior, offering a continuity of mountain elements and forming the fireplace wall, where it transitions into large slabs of cut sandstone, encasing both the fireplace and a TV.
The highly polished floor, a concrete slab, runs throughout the great room, offering a quirky element of interest. The concrete, Bridges explains, is going to crack eventually. But by using the shapes and angles of the floor plan itself, he turned this into a positive, creating cracks in an artful fashion. “It’s simple and subtle,” he says, “but in addition to serving a functional role, it gives interest to what could have been a large expanse of gray concrete.”
The floor encases radiant heating on the upper level and makes the most of thermal heating on floors below.
The Schultzes have invigorated the wide-open floor plan with touches of playful surprises in furnishings and warm accents. A chrome coffee table gleams in front of the bright turquoise sofa, while feet away a carved and ornate wood side table lends a classical touch. Chrome-framed side chairs, gathered around the stone fireplace, sport bright green pillows. Cool, cream drywall sidles up against warm, pale sandstone, while little gems of accent color and playful bolder splashes in the couple’s artwork keep the room fresh and lively.
The openness of the floor plan allows the home to live larger than its square footage. But this openness can also be a challenge. Bridges defined smaller spaces through changes in ceiling levels, wall heights, planes, materials and lighting. He also created pop-outs, which could house different functions and smaller spaces. The kitchen is a prime example. The soaring height of the ceiling over the living area drops to a more intimate space over the kitchen, while projecting walls better define the boundaries of the kitchen and eating area.
The kitchen is a delightful mix of tones and splashes of color and shapes. A long row of wide windows now allows Heather to enjoy a magnificent outdoor view—a soothing luxury she never knew before.
The long counter and sink were cut from a single sheet of cream quartz, the sink fitted with contemporary touch faucets. A long, glass backsplash, painted with lime-green opaque paint lends a warm glow to the space, and plays off the bright, turquoise breakfast stools placed along the blond birch, trapezoid-shaped breakfast bar. The bar defines the kitchen space and holds plenty of storage as well as a built-in microwave and wine cooler. The pale surfaces of counters and island make an enlivening contrast with the walls of rich, walnut cabinetry. Contemporary stainless steel Wolfe appliances gleam.
Leading from the great room, is one of Heather’s favorite features of the home: a bridge of continued flooring spanning what would otherwise be open space to the level below, and leading to the master bedroom on the other side of the upper level. The bridge, with its open railing, overlooks the wide stone entry below. Bridges explains that in addition to the staircase, there needed to be some sort of connection from the entry to the upper living level. Pulling the stair landing and floor away from the west wall and hovering them above the entry allowed the glass and exterior materials to pull the eye up to the dramatic, main living area. The bridge also allows for conversations to take place between the two floors. Better still, it makes an enchanting entrance to the master bedroom beyond, pronouncing it a separate hideaway. “Ken’s attention to detail is amazing,” says Heather.
The master bedroom seems a retreat tucked in the woods. An entire wall of gilded glass slides completely open to a wooden deck behind, truly meshing the room with the outdoors. Just beyond, an idyllic, private backdrop of flowers, rustling aspen and towering evergreen, encircle the deck. Even when the glass wall is closed, high, trapezoid-shaped windows keep the room connected to natural light and the environment. “We didn’t want to remove the trees, so we situated the house around them,”
Heather shares. The master bedroom’s walnut paneling and cabinetry echo the darker wood tones found on the exterior. Yet the bathroom, fitted with blonde birch, is a place of light, refreshing with its wide windows and wall-length, glass-enclosed shower. Fitted with a rain shower, it is one of Eric’s favorite household embellishments.
A slender, black-iron railing leads down open birch steps to the entry level. On the staircase wall hangs an eye- catching series of stylized paintings of clouds, adding to the suspended effect of the upper level.
Below, there are two bedrooms, opening onto a charming, private courtyard beyond. By tapering the upper deck’s structure and eliminating all columns, Bridges was able to maximize the amount of natural light flowing into these lower bedrooms. Pocket doors cleverly hide a sage green powder room nearby. On this level, too, is a spacious laundry/storage room with blonde counters and storage cabinets and cubbies and providing plenty of room to store gear.
“I love the openness of the whole upstairs area,” Eric states, “and the great acoustics in the design.” But one of his other favorite haunts in the home is a well-decked out workshop in the garage. Here, he can tinker to heart’s delight with bikes and skis in his own private getaway. The Schultz’s home is certainly a far cry from its ‘70s “old Vail” look. It now stands,
in all its glory, bringing in the captivating mountain views that lured the couple to this site years ago. These days, however, not only does the couple have the views, but their home’s design allows them to be enveloped in the land they love so well.