The New Green

Mountain Life
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Mountain Life

Kelly and Linda Hayes don't need a ski report when they wake up on winter mornings; they just look out the window. From their Old Snowmass home in Colorado, the couple can appraise the snow conditions at three of Aspen's ski areas while sipping their coffee. "We can see Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass, says Kelly, pointing out each area from a sun-warmed patio on the south side of their property. "And the first thing we see when the sun comes up is this incredible view of Mt. Sopris, he adds, gesturing toward the 12,953-foot peak that rises to the west.

While it's impossible to miss the panoramic vistas, what isn't so obvious is that the Hayes house is made of straw. More specifically, straw bale covered with stucco. The unconventional material was just one of the environmentally conscious choices the couple opted to incorporate into their new home, which also uses sustainable, low-maintenance products like concrete, galvanized corrugated metal and bamboo, a renewable wood substitute that, unlike trees, grows to maturity in five years. "When you consider our incredible surroundings, doing something Earth-friendly made sense, Linda says.

But "thinking green wasn't part of the couple's lexicon when they purchased the view-intensive one-acre site perched on top of a knoll almost a dozen years ago. Splitting their time between the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains, they originally envisioned a more opulent second home. "We thought, wouldn't it be great to have a 'Californians come to the mountains' kind of showplace? says Kelly, who works as a spotter (an off-camera game analyst) on ABC's Monday Night Football. "Then we decided to move here full-time, and slowly our priorities changed.

For several years, the couple rented a place in downtown Aspen, enjoying one of the country's most glamorous ski towns. But on weekends, weather permitting, they headed to their 8,600-foot-high mountain plateau, where they camped in a teepee they erected on the property to study the light and views and mull their building options. Over time, plans for a grandiose house no longer seemed desirable or necessary, and they imagined a dwelling in the 2,500-square-foot range—miniscule by local mountain-mansion standards, but just right for two people. "The longer we lived in Colorado, the more we realized that we preferred more intimate living environments, says Linda, whose work as a travel writer and SKI's food editor takes her to exotic locales around the world. "We started thinking that maybe small really is better.

That thinking spawned research into an array of possibilities, from log and kit homes to something with an environmental emphasis. They soon became convinced that green was the way to go. "We realized that Earth-friendly materials worked for us both aesthetically and budget-wise, Linda says. Fortunately for the Hayeses, the days of ungainly Earthships fashioned from pop cans, discarded tires and unsightly solar panels are over. They were able to choose from a wide array of handsome green materials and found an award-winning local architect, Tim Hagman, who was excited about creating an ecologically sensitive design.

By the time they met with Hagman, the duo had more than a working knowledge of their wants and needs. "They came to the office armed with paint chips, ideas for materials and photo clippings of really cool home designs, recalls Hagman, who recently was certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. "My challenge was to create a structure that fit into its surroundings while satisfying the owners' desires for an environmentally conscious home that was good-looking and utilized simple materials in a unique way.

"Simple being the operative word, the house features two basic rectangular forms: one topped with a classic roof of rusted corrugated metal, the other capped with a more contemporary sweeping arch fashioned from standing-seam metal. "You've got your peaked roof and your curve, sayselly, neatly summing up the unpretentious concept. The intersecting roofs rise above exterior walls of painted metal and "hardy plank, a durable concrete-based product made to resemble conventional wood siding. The walls are filled with straw bale.

A total of 250 bales were delivered to the site from the small town of Alamosa, Colo. Traditional post-and-beam construction supports the weight of the roof, with the bales serving as infill and taking the place of the plywood, insulation, drywall and siding used in conventional homes. The walls were then formed from stucco, another low-maintenance material, which, unlike wood, requires no painting.

Dollar-for-dollar construction costs with straw are comparable to more typical building products, but the energy savings over the life of a straw house are considerable: It's anywhere from 15 to 25 percent cheaper to run than a wood-frame building with fiberglass insulation. "The stuff is so dense that it's totally fireproof, and the walls are so tight that there's no movement in the wind at all, says Kelly, who was on the site every day during construction. "And the straw bale makes such great insulation, we're more concerned about being too hot in the winter than being too cold.

On a winter day, the drive to the Hayes house is not for the weak of heart or the SUV-less. A steep, curving, snow-covered dirt road dead-ends at a gravel parking area, where a custom door on the lower level leads to the guest quarters and a home office. The owners designed the stair rail—a whimsical juxtaposition of elegant mahogany over inexpensive wire cow fencing that leads to the main level. "Mahogany is a high-end material, but we used it sparingly. When we really wanted something, we found a way to make it affordable even if it just meant using it as an accent, says Linda about their budget-conscious approach. "It was a juggling act all the way around.

Their budget fluctuated constantly, such as when a decision to upgrade all the windows proved more costly than they'd planned. "The integrity of the construction was such that the design of the windows became really important, so we went way over budget on that, says Linda. "But we saved money using drywall in places like the entryway and our bedroom, where we relied on paint color to add detail and visual interest.

Still, the couple estimates it cost around $265 per square foot to build. While that number may seem high in national terms, it's low for construction in the Aspen area, which averages around $500 per square foot, according to the architect. The owners say they realized additional savings by having Kelly serve as general contractor. "He invested a great deal of time finding materials at a good price, says Linda.

Upstairs, the open floor plan features a mix of bamboo floors—25 percent harder than oak and comparable in cost to maple—and durable concrete floors, plus a 20-foot-high window wall. "I put larger windows on the south side for solar orientation and kept the openings to the west more conservative to prevent overheating from the intense afternoon sun, Hagman explains.

A quick survey of the light-filled space reveals a welcoming sitting area and a recessed fireplace flanked by two glass-enclosed "truth windows, designed to reveal the straw material hidden behind the stucco for all to see. The bend in the ceiling mimics the roofline, and the plywood ceiling is screwed in place, eliminating the need for unhealthy formaldehyde glues that can give off nasty fumes. "The exposed screws also look cool, Hagman says.

Adjacent to the living room is a designated dining area and the inevitable gathering place, the kitchen, which is designed with the needs of someone who writes about food for a living in mind. Linda insisted on an oversize butcher-block island—for food prep—and a big stove. "I went with the Viking range for its cooking power and beautiful styling, and a large fridge was essential because living up here, a trip to the grocery store can be an adventure, she says.

Rimming the room are natural-colored poured-concrete countertops. Surprisingly, these decidedly humble materials pull together for an upscale, organic atmosphere. Upper cabinetry, save one unit, was avoided to preserve the views. "I can see Sopris from the kitchen sink, says Linda with a smile. The ceiling is painted Linda's favorite shade of saffron yellow to guarantee a warm glow even on the grayest of Colorado winter days.

Back in the main living area, the integrated color on the walls is best described as a mottled peach, a far cry from its beginnings as the "wall color from hell. "We wanted something striking, like a terra cotta red, and what we got was positively frightening, says Linda, who was warned by the painter that such an intense color would also flake and fade. "Fortunately, it did all those things until it became what you see now.

Situated for maximum privacy, the third-floor master suite is nestled under a gabled roof, with French doors that lead to a balcony and private mountain views. The owners designed the concrete-topped vanity in the master bathroom themselves, as well as the large window in the shower, where it's possible to spot approaching visitors driving up the road.

The Hayeses revel in the contentment of a job well done. "It's not easy to leave; it suits us so well, says Linda. "There's our work space on the bottom, the entertaining space in the middle, and distinct personal and guest quarters. Or as Kelly concludes, "It's the perfect two-people, no-kids-and-two-dogs house.


BLUEPRINT

LOCATION Snowmass, Colo.

CLOSEST SKIING Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain, all about 10 miles away

SQUARE FOOTAGE 2,675

LOT SIZE 1 acre

ARCHITECT Tim Hagman

BUILDER Jeffry Mann/David Mahaffey

STRAW BALE Jeff Dickinson, Jacober Brothers

PROJECT MANAGER Kelly Hayes

MATERIALS Exteriors incorporate stucco, concrete and custom steel panels. Roofs are corrugated and standing-seam metal. Chimney exterior is corrugated steel. Accents and decks are farm-generated mahogany. Wall elements include straw bale and PBS, a recycled-wood product. to the grocery store can be an adventure, she says.

Rimming the room are natural-colored poured-concrete countertops. Surprisingly, these decidedly humble materials pull together for an upscale, organic atmosphere. Upper cabinetry, save one unit, was avoided to preserve the views. "I can see Sopris from the kitchen sink, says Linda with a smile. The ceiling is painted Linda's favorite shade of saffron yellow to guarantee a warm glow even on the grayest of Colorado winter days.

Back in the main living area, the integrated color on the walls is best described as a mottled peach, a far cry from its beginnings as the "wall color from hell. "We wanted something striking, like a terra cotta red, and what we got was positively frightening, says Linda, who was warned by the painter that such an intense color would also flake and fade. "Fortunately, it did all those things until it became what you see now.

Situated for maximum privacy, the third-floor master suite is nestled under a gabled roof, with French doors that lead to a balcony and private mountain views. The owners designed the concrete-topped vanity in the master bathroom themselves, as well as the large window in the shower, where it's possible to spot approaching visitors driving up the road.

The Hayeses revel in the contentment of a job well done. "It's not easy to leave; it suits us so well, says Linda. "There's our work space on the bottom, the entertaining space in the middle, and distinct personal and guest quarters. Or as Kelly concludes, "It's the perfect two-people, no-kids-and-two-dogs house.


BLUEPRINT

LOCATION Snowmass, Colo.

CLOSEST SKIING Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain, all about 10 miles away

SQUARE FOOTAGE 2,675

LOT SIZE 1 acre

ARCHITECT Tim Hagman

BUILDER Jeffry Mann/David Mahaffey

STRAW BALE Jeff Dickinson, Jacober Brothers

PROJECT MANAGER Kelly Hayes

MATERIALS Exteriors incorporate stucco, concrete and custom steel panels. Roofs are corrugated and standing-seam metal. Chimney exterior is corrugated steel. Accents and decks are farm-generated mahogany. Wall elements include straw bale and PBS, a recycled-wood product.