It’s a home with a story that began less than three decades ago but has now entwined its way around multiple generations and continues to unfold through present and soon-tobe new owners.
The tale begins in the Tyrolean and Swiss Alps and then winds its way to Vail, in a storybook European home in an idyllic mountain setting at the foot of Vail Mountain. Here the tale turns enchanting indeed as captivating paintings lead through room after excellently-crafted room, each depicting a new chapter in the original owners’ lives, while enlivening rooms already resplendent with rich color, Old World charm, grace and beauty. Like the storyboards that helped define them, the home is now ready to weave new tales of life.
The home was originally built in 1991 by a couple with Swiss heritage, who loved all things European — particularly the charm of alpine chalets, the beauty of Renaissance paintings and the elegance of great houses from past eras. As the story goes, the couple was inspired by another European-style house and patterned their new home after it, keeping with the prevalent Vail ambiance as well. This penchant for the mountains and for European design is evident from the outside in, with its steep, projecting roofline, timber and stucco exterior, deep casement windows with wooden shutters, and plentiful balconies. Just over 6,100 square feet, this is a home that would fit beautifully in any mountain setting or lifestyle.
“What a distinct pleasure, and privilege, it has been to work with a home that echoes such a charming sense of history in the Vail market,” says Slifer Smith & Frampton Realtor, Led Gardner, the listing broker. “The very definition of a ‘legacy property,’ this living work of art features delightful surprises at every turn, and a level of Old World craftsmanship that is truly rare in today’s world. Its new owners will revel in the memories that their friends and family will create here.”
Inside, the original owners embraced time-honored European craftsmanship, known for its excellent hand carving and detail, and richly honed woods. The sharply slanted roof offers height and dramatic framing and is lined with polished wooden panels, accented by large cross-timbers. Hand-troweled plaster walls are washed in warm hues that not only enhance the gleam of the wood, but meld with the vibrant colors of the plush, highly inviting furnishings. A grand wood staircase twists and curves in wondrous ways, providing an impressive architectural statement at one end of the home’s main level.
The original interior designer, noted San Francisco designer Sudie Woodson, used rich fabrics in bold colors, which blend harmoniously with the Renaissance tapestry, Tyrolean accent pieces and hand-painted antique furnishings, while enhancing the timesoftened colors of European and Oriental carpets. Woodson traveled to Europe to personally select many of the exquisite pieces that still grace the home today. She spiced up the traditional European pieces with whimsical touches and infusions of interesting patterns. Deftly juxtaposing timeless elegance with the best of mountain living, she made it exceedingly livable for families of all ages. Filled with light from the generous windows and a pleasing openness, the flowing floor plan transcends time, creating a home meant to be lived in.
Underneath, tying it all together in a very personal and unique way, are the lovely, hand-painted murals of renowned artist Samantha Renko, that lead owners and guests alike on a journey written over roughly a decade.
“I think of the work as a tapestry of imagery — a synthesis of personal, historical, architectural and whimsical elements, creating a whole and complementing the house,” says Renko, who frequently worked with Woodson, and was originally hired to paint motifs around the front, main entrance on its French door and around the windows on either side. “I felt like a Renaissance artist, sent by my patron to paint a beautiful chateau in the mountains.”
Using months of research on exterior paintings of great houses in the Renaissance and Tyrolean chalets, coupled with inspiration of the wildlife of the area and the Vail landscape, Renko created a calabash with ginger leaves to offer a Hawaiian-style welcome and blessing to the abode. It was a theme she repeated on interior walls and on furniture. She coupled it with life-sized animals to add a playful touch around the perimeter of the house. As well, Renko designed the etched glass panels on the entry doors, with crackled finish on the wood for antique affect.
That single commission evolved into the Bay Area artist spending weeks each summer at the Vail home, collaborating with the owners and creating storyboards to present for the next project in the house year after year. Painting day and night, Renko would break for a daily walk on a mountain path for inspiration. “The first year’s work was so loved by the family, Sudie and the architect that it inspired more ideas and work,” Renko reflects. “I knew I had been given a once-in-alifetime experience.”
In the great room, Woodson’s work repeats themes used on the exterior, and plays off the gilded furniture, Renaissance tapestry and idyllic hand-painted screen above the mantel, as well. “I strove to create a tapestry of sorts, using elements of the house and animals to create an ambiance that would complement the house and make guests feel comfortable — and, at times, amused,” she says. The room is both a handsome nod to historic European tradition and a welcoming, lively room of color and light. A rose-cushioned sofa and chair, paired with spindle-legged antique tables, reside in front of a great stone fireplace, complete with large andirons. It is an inviting place to enjoy family and catch up with friends, or maybe grab a nostalgic book from one of the playful vintage containers or bookshelves.
Beneath the furnishings runs a bold, diamond-patterned, stone floor offering an eye-catching backdrop to the lovely Oriental rug. A Black Forest, Bavarian-style buffet makes an impressive statement in the dining portion of the great room, where walls are adorned with antique scones and Renko’s lighthearted “MacDonnell plaid.” A round walnut table is circled with ornate, straight-back chairs, decked with rose fabric, presenting a formal, yet stimulating setting under the umbrella of a huge ironand- antler chandelier.
Seven years ago, new owners purchased the home. At the time, the kitchen was half the size it is now and not conducive to the lifestyle of a growing family and the influx of friends they envisioned. So they tore down a partition wall and opened it up into a bright, lightfilled space for gatherings. The room still plays on all the European charm of the original home, with its dropped, woodpaneled ceiling, textured plaster walls, richly hued cabinetry and the inevitable cuckoo clock. And the owners added modern accoutrements and functionality to this gourmet kitchen. Although the captivating, green-enameled range looks from another era, it is a modern culinary delight and pairs well with the ornate, cream plaster hood above. A lovely, carved antique buffet offers a beautiful dark contrast to the light travertine and tawny marbled counters and atop the generous central island. A banquet set under one long window is fitted with cushioned seats in pastels, and overlooks the garden. A hidden, temperature-controlled wine cellar is located just off the kitchen.
From the side entrance, double glass doors open onto a generous stone terrace, surrounded by a verdant garden, spilling with flowers in the summer and melding beautifully into the towering pine trees and encircling aspen. The terrace meanders to a hot tub on one side, and then off to lovely garden paths encircling the house. Whether summer or winter, the heated terrace and garden make a magical place to hold gatherings and starlit parties. This serene, secluded spot on the roughly half-acre lot remains surprisingly peaceful, virtually hidden from the upscale neighborhood. Yet this iconic house is centrally located to Vail and just steps away from skiing.
The house is so well designed that it has stood the test of time and modern lifestyles, and evolves into multiple secluded areas and living spaces, without excessive vertical or horizontal ramblings, allowing private spaces for the entire household and guests, as well.
The master bedroom enjoys the entire upper level in its cleverly hidden — yet inviting — open hideaway. Accessed by the impressive curved staircase from the great room, golden, gleaming railings wind up to a charming loft and sitting area above, with colorful seating and bookshelves filled with favorite tomes to read. The loft also encloses an open office area for work or study.
It is through this cozy space, and one of the home’s many tall, European-style doors with pewter knobs, that the master suite is tucked. Cuckoo clocks adorn walls along with vivid, contemporary paintings. The suite has its own inviting sitting area, with brilliant rose-and-green sofa and chairs arranged around a beautiful painted chest. A paneled ceiling slopes in charming attic fashion, framing the bedroom. The master, like all the home’s bedrooms, opens onto a private balcony with cutout railings overlooking the back garden and mountain pines. The deep casement windows are framed with painted, wooden shutters that fold out, or can be closed for total privacy. Above the bed and trailing around the walls, and on the armoire, is more of Renko’s endearing work where she used the owners’ magnificent, restored, handmade duvet cover and satin-and-crewel pillow for inspiration.
Renko also created sprays of mountain, springtime flora and fauna to accentuate the Tyrolean and Renaissance images and then sanded the painting on the plaster walls for effect. And, because the family loved wildlife, she wove these creatures in to create a frieze around the top of the walls, framing them with a faux-marble border, a motif true to the period. And, of course, she added the MacDonnell plaid. “We both knew the value of interjecting a bit of elegant whimsy into the work,” Renko says, referring to herself and the original owner.
Plush, patterned carpet softens and warms footfalls throughout much of the home and leads back to a private guest wing. One suite on the main level encloses twin bedrooms — perfect for children — with their wooden, painted headboards and painted armoires. A side entrance leading to the garden is fitted with an indoor rotisserie where one can grill even on a frozen winter day. Beyond this entrance, yet another hidden, two-story suite has its own private entrance to the front of the home, and is self-contained with a stove, fireplace and sitting area. A guest bedroom, hidden above, is accessed by a wooden, corkscrew staircase, and fitted with carved headboards and boxed upholstered valances, replete with tassels and beads.
On the main level, a stone hallway off the great room leads past a painted armoire hiding a bar to another private guest suite. The suite has its own entrance to the back terrace and hot tub, yet also has access to a hallway to the lower level of the home. The lower level, which is actually the ground level, is entered via another winding, carved staircase. Here are two additional suites of twin bedrooms, one a quintessential vintage ski room, with twin, carved headboards and wooden skis hanging above. Vintage ski posters adorn the wall, while a whimsical duvet, covered in ‘50s-era ski scenes, is accented with pillows, woven with classic pictures of ski resorts.
A family room with a kitchen bar, lots of comfortable seating and a billiard table can also be found here — a light and inviting space with wide windows and doors that open onto yet another private patio setting. The coffered ceilings, too, add authenticity to the vintage mountain d.cor. This level also holds the home’s two-car garage.
The path through the home is a sort of circular journey, which brings the visitor back to the front entry. Exiting the home through a deep, stucco archway, a glance upward reveals where the builder of the home handpainted his own initials in big, artful strokes on the underside.
The home is truly a wonder of color and intriguing pattern, texture and treatments that are found throughout the home’s entire d.cor — yet all somehow blend harmoniously as a whole.
And living in this enchanting home means not just living within a unique piece of art but, in some way, being part of it as well.