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Living in 3D

Mountain Life

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Vail, Colo.

This 4,500-square-foot sculpture offers the most exquisite “scenic overlook” above Vail Village. Designed to draw in nature but keep out weather, it was architect Ed Niles’ ingenious solution to view-obstruction. In 1986, owners Michael and Suzanne Tennenbaum contracted Niles (who had built their year-round Malibu residence), choosing this transparent design after weeding out a number of Niles’ creations that were, according to Michael, “out-of-this-world…space station designs.”

Though the house itself is modern, the furnishings¿which will be sold with the home¿are more classic antique than contemporary.

Contrasting the wooden architectural style typical of Vail and other ski towns, the glass structure lends itself to views and direct sunlight, creating an open, airy environment. “It’s not a series of separate rooms like traditional American homes,” Niles says. “It’s more like a continuation of nature¿constant varieties of light and shadows.” You don’t just see snowfall from the window, it falls all around you and in three dimensions. As Michael says, “It’s as if you’re in a snow dome.”

As far as keeping this icy-looking masterpiece warm, the heating system is unique and amazingly efficient. Coils carrying heated glycerin (which is thicker than water) run under the granite floor. They not only warm the surface, but also emit heat, which fans push through vents in the house. The coils also line the ceilings, preventing snow buildup on the flat roof. In the winter, the electric bill is slightly higher than that of a conventional house, but as Michael says, “the views more than make up for the added expense.”

Although the house may appear delicate, the structure is built with the same solidity of a high-rise office building¿and because there’s no wood, there’s little deterioration.

Despite the house’s transparency, privacy isn’t a problem, Niles claims: “Unless you’re running around nude all the time, privacy is absolutely a non-issue.” The house is built into a 45-degree slope, and huge evergreens on either side completely obstruct the neighbors’ views (and create phenomenal shadow patterns). During the day, the green-tinted insulated glass reflects any view into the house other than from a nose-to-glass standpoint. Each of the 5 bedrooms and 4 1/2 bathrooms have blinds on both the interior and exterior walls.

With its ski-in/ski-out convenience and its fantastic views of the Gore Range, Bald Mountain and Red Sandstone Mountain, it’s hard not to feel a connection to nature. The heated floors are great for warming up your muscles with some pre-ski yoga; for après-ski relaxation, each bedroom has its own Jacuzzi/steambath.

The house requires a very unique buyer¿one with uncommon taste and lots of money¿which might make resale tough. However, the Tennenbaums have been very particular about the offers they consider, so two years on the auction block might not be a true indicator of the home’s resale potential in Vail’s otherwise hot real estate market.

LOCATION 307 Rockledge Road, overlooking Vail
PRICE The Tennenbaums will entertain offers between $4.95 and $5.5 million.
TOTAL SQ. FT. 4,500
LISTING BROKER Ron Byrne, Ron Byrne & Associates Real Estate, Vail, Colo., (970) 476-1987,