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Ski Resort Life

The Grant Family FlatPak Mountain Home

A modernist modular home confirms the trend: Prefab is back.

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BLUEPRINT: Grant Family FlatPak
Location: Woody Creek, Colo.
Elevation: 7,346 feet
Closest Skiing: Snowmass
Lot Size: 3 acres
Square Footage: 4,644
Interior Designer: Vickee Byrum, Yellow Door Design, Austin, Tx.

See more photos of the house.

All it took was one look. When longtime Aspen resident Kathryn Grant saw architect Charlie Lazor’s modernist prefab on a magazine cover in April 2005, she knew it was the right home for her family. “It just spoke to me,” recalls Grant, 36.

At the time, the idea seemed out of reach. The Grants—she’s from Texas, her husband, Tony, is from South Africa—had met at the Hotel Jerome’s J-Bar in 1991 when she was a weekend-skiing nanny and he was a rugby-playing construction worker. Full-time residents of Aspen for all but one year since, they had bought and sold houses frequently. While each of their Aspen homes had strengths, none felt quite right—and finding the perfect fit became an increasingly greater challenge as they grew into a family of five. In 2006, with their three kids ranging from 7 to 13, and with Tony working 55 hours a week managing the employment agency he and two friends started in the ’90s, finding the right home was proving tough. They were on the hunt again.

“At some stage, somewhere down the line, we were hoping to build our own home,” explains Tony. But building in Aspen can be even more challenging than buying. The Grants didn’t expect to be able to do it so soon—nor in such style.

Then, in August 2006, a realtor friend approached them with news that an overlooked lot at the mouth of Aspen’s Woody Creek was coming up for sale. “It was a junkyard,” Tony recalls. Three overgrown acres framed by utility lines were piled with a 30-year accumulation of cars, RVs, firetrucks, machinery and sheds. The property’s condition made it “a bargain,” say the Grants. Public record shows they bought the parcel for $1.14 million—excellent value in a community where lots one-third its size sell for four times that amount. The Grants made their offer before realizing its true beauty.

“For us it was just a piece of property that we could afford, and that meant we could build something we wanted to build,” Kathryn explains. Then, as the former owner spent nine months clearing the land, the Grants realized they’d hit a jackpot. Located on a plateau overlooking the Roaring Fork River, the parcel is open and bathed in light, with big views toward Aspen in one direction and into Woody Creek Canyon in the other. The site is adjacent to the main road that leads to the famed Woody Creek Tavern, yet it remains quiet and private.

Before the land was even cleared, Kathryn pulled out her magazine cover and contacted architect Charlie Lazor. A founding partner at the furniture design company Blu Dot, Lazor is a key player in America’s current populist modernist movement, which champions affordable high design. When the Grants told him they were interested in purchasing one of his new prefab houses, he invited them to visit his own home in Minnesota.

Lazor’s house, where he lives with his family in a Minneapolis suburb, was the prototype for his innovative FlatPak system of prefabricated, modestly priced architectural residences. The model echoes several of Arts & Architecture magazine’s renowned Case Study Houses of the 1940s and 1950s—particularly the Eames House (Case Study House No. 8)—a matter-of-fact structure devised in clean, simple lines around open spaces that creates a rich, textural environment. It was unlike anything the Grants had lived in before. After sitting in Lazor’s living room, they decided to go for it. For a fraction of both the standard architecture cost and design process time, the Grants were on their way into family-style modernism. “You hear so often that the building process is difficult. We liked the idea that this was going to be simple.”

The FlatPak’s essential component is an eight-foot-long, one-story-high panel, in glass, wood, concrete, metal or some combination of the four. The panels—and therefore the entire house—can be configured according to the homeowner’s wishes. Packages can also include interior fittings such as cabinetry, appliances and lighting. The house arrives in flat panels stacked on the back of 18-wheelers—IKEA writ large. The panels are then bolted to a post-and-beam frame. For the Grants—who completely customized their FlatPak’s interior—the minimalist design provided the framework for both their evolving stylistic sensibilities and their relaxed, family-centric way of life.

“The No. 1 goal for this house,” Kathryn says, “was simplicity,” a precious commodity in a busy family. The Grants brought only a few favorite furnishings into their FlatPak, notably a modest collection of 20th-century lithographs and paintings, including works by Rex Ray, Robert Goodnough, Derric van Rensburg, Graciela Rodo Boulanger and Alexandra Nechita. Working with interior designer Vickee Byrum, Kathryn then wove iconic, functional pieces of European and American modernist design throughout. Thomas Moser tractor-seat stools tuck under the Carrera marble breakfast counter. The kids kick back in Eames molded plastic armchairs and Fatboy beanbags in their rooms, lounge with their parents on pieces by Barcelona, Roche-Bobois and B&B Italia, then gather around the dinner table in Philippe Starck chairs. When winter’s long nights come to Colorado, their lives are lit by Flos, Artemides, Prandina and Moooi. Mirth mixes with minimalism, and high style meets family style.

“The old way feels so cluttered now,” Tony says. Madeleine, 12, adds, “It was kind of unbelievable when we first moved in. But now it feels like home.”

Kathryn concurs. “This is our little sanctuary. It feels so good to be here. Finally we’re in a home that just fits us. This house suits us to a T.”