Mountain Missive

The central staircase connects the four floors with half-flight landings.
Depending where you look from the house, the triangular porch feature offers different views. However, all point toward the mountains.

When a prime parcel of land became available along the coveted Owl Creek Road linking Aspen and Snowmass, the East Coast owners knew they had only one chance to get it right. They immediately called an acquaintance they’d met socially, architect Jeff Kovel.

“It brought me back to the mountains,” says Kovel, principal and founder of Skylab Architecture in Portland, OR. “I’d spent time in Colorado and they wanted something unique, so we had the same ideals.”

Creating a home that respected the natural environment and met his clients’ needs proved more than rewarding. It also made this architect – who has earned a reputation shaping Portland’s skyline, revamping gentrified city homes and offices in the northwest, and building the Nike headquarters expansion – feel a renewed tug to the Rockies.

“The beauty of Colorado is just amazing,” he says, emphasizing the year-round appeal he experienced while working on this project for over three years.

The furniture throughout the house was custom-designed and custom-built.

It’s no surprise the initial challenge was trying to utilize the home’s 360-degree views, while simultaneously creating an exterior that blends into the natural environment. Furthermore, the intent to create areas that were both open and isolated was challenged by the zoning restrictions that limited the property’s footprint on the land and horizon.

Those juxtapositions would challenge any architect, but for Kovel, it was an opportunity to use the best of the skills he’d honed in the past 20-plus years.

When construction started, Snowmass neighbors were concerned, as huge, custom-made, preassembled
steel forms arrived on site. “This was the first prominent house built in Snowmass since the 1970s,” he tells. They didn’t know, though, that Kovel had already turned to the majestic Rockies for inspiration.

The linking of outdoor elements is evident throughout the home – even the shower area has breathtaking views.

“Our strategy was to take this bold architectural form and integrate it into natural forms, nestled in the palette of the region,” he says. The rusting steel reflects the rust tones in the cliffs of the surrounding area. Local stone cladding and cedar wood further blends the home into the hillside.

Using terraced floor plans, Kovel expanded the living areas, weaving upon one another, resulting in unique, versatile areas. The transparent walls of the open stairwell, complimented with a large hand-blown light fixture that cascades throughout the home, creates an open, yet insulated feel, while the huge fireplace that fills the main room connects the living areas. The kitchen has its own area but overlooks the great room.

“The fireplace and the height were some of the biggest challenges,” says Kovel. The home is four levels, split by half flights of stairs. One great room has the television tucked under the stairwell so that it can go from gathering space to media room with the flick of a switch.

There are two identical master bedrooms – only the views of the landscapes differ. However, with such dynamic landscapes surrounding the home, it creates different experiences. The two additional guest rooms are furnished with a mixture of bunk beds and queen beds that provide a variety of sleeping options.

The structure itself is bermed into the earth, resulting in high-efficiency heating systems. “Houses like this are usually tucked away,” says Kovel, “but these are young clients, who are plugged into the vibrancy of the community. They were incredible to work with and wanted to execute the full extent of the design. At the end of the day, it’s a beautiful piece of architecture.

Photography by Jeremy Bittermann

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