Peak Performance

This modern-day mountain lodge in Genesee, Colo., serves as the primary residence for its owners, who share a long family history with the upscale community 20 miles west of Denver. "They wanted their home to pay homage to their historical connection to the area," says Aaron Zimmer, project architect for D.

May 01, 2004
Great Room Expectations
Design Takes on New Dimension

This modern-day mountain lodge in Genesee, Colo., serves as the primary residence for its owners, who share a long family history with the upscale community 20 miles west of Denver. "They wanted their home to pay homage to their historical connection to the area," says Aaron Zimmer, project architect for D.H. Ruggles & Associates, "as well as demonstrate their respect for the local architectural vernacular.

"The regional architecture of the log cabin here stems from settlers bringing an English Arts and Crafts feel to their homes as they moved west into the Rockies. We tried to bring that same feel to this home in a modern way, pushing the limits of the construction techniques and the materials that were used."

Castle Builders constructed the 6,338-square-foot custom home primarily with conventional stick-built framing, but steel provides the structural strength necessary for the volume ceilings and window walls that provide the interior living spaces with Rocky Mountain views. In addition, a combination of structural and decorative prefabricated log packages, including the log portico at the entry, enhances the home's lodge-style character indoors and out.

From the outset, the project benefited from the close cooperation of everyone involved, says Zimmer. From the initial design meeting to the open house celebrating project completion, the home took just 16 months to finish.

"It ultimately came down to this: We had incredible owners who knew what they did and did not want for their home," Zimmer says. "And our firm has a great working relationship with the builder that spans over two decades. We have great trust in their ability as a general contractor."

Kurt Hogue, Castle's general manager, notes that "although we had a 35-acre site to work with, the actual building envelope was less than an acre because of the restrictions presented by the slope of the topography."

A winding driveway approach, defined by a retaining wall constructed of natural local stone, descends from the street to the three-level residence, which is incorporated into a natural hollow. Because the home is below street level, the roof line serves as its major exterior design element. "The roof is really all you see of the house at first from the street," Hogue says.

The steep, varied roof line, multiple dormers and broad, sweeping balconies and terraces characterize the home's exterior. "I really wanted to capture the essence of the site by designing an architectural form that felt appropriate for it," Zimmer says. "This home was really defined by its surroundings and is nestled into the terrain."

Volume ceilings, large windows and the rear orientation of the primary living spaces maximize the view of 14,264-foot Mount Evans nearby. "The floor plan really opens up on its rear elevation with lots of glass," says Zimmer. The focal point of the living space is a 28x28-foot, main-floor great room with an eight-sided design that increases the number of walls available for windows.

Although the view-oriented rear elevation features a sunny southwestern orientation, low-E glass, coupled with the site's high altitude, mitigates the effects of solar gain, Zimmer says.

In addition to the great room, the main floor includes the kitchen and formal dining area as well as a separate master wing and home office. The second floor, dedicated to the needs of the family's two children, includes two bedroom suites and a separate study area. On the lowest level, the walk-out basement features a spacious family room, an exercise room, a guest suite and a stone wine cellar with a reclaimed brick floor.

"The clients are extremely family-oriented, with kids and dogs," Zimmer says. "They embrace all the related activities that go along with this type of lifestyle, so they wanted their home to project a comfortable, informal atmosphere. While they were looking for an extremely high level of craftsmanship throughout the interior, they did not want it to be fragile or off limits from use."

To comply with federal fire-prevention codes recently enacted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, existing vegetation around the home had to be thinned, necessitating the removal of 140 mature trees, Hogue says. A professional landscaping company replaced the vegetation with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants and native grasses less likely to fuel a forest fire. The home also features a fire-resistant concrete tile roof.

The home was completed in October 2003.


Great Room Expectations

Constructing this family lodge required a complex marriage of materials, including conventional milled lumber, steel, and structural and decorative logs, successfully executed by skilled local craftsmen, architect Aaron Zimmer says. "It's always a challenge in residential construction to introduce metal framing in what is traditionally a wood-frame structure."

Nowhere in the home is this amalgamation more important structurally — or more striking visually — than in its octagon-shaped great room. A 35-foot, tongue-and-groove pine ceiling culminates in a cupola, all supported by a combination of wood and steel framing hidden beneath decorative log trim.

"The goal was to create a space that appears as though it were a wood-frame structure," Zimmer says. "The eight-sided shape provides the opportunity for multiple window walls, increasing the view potential."

Kurt Hogue, general manager of Castle Builders, says the great room "was a very tricky space to build because of the shape of the room and the number of glass walls. With a room this shape and size, there is just not a lot of opportunity for lateral support."

Subcontractors framed the room's lower portion conventionally with a 14-foot top plate. Next, a tube-steel tension ring with anchor bolts welded to its top, permitting attachment of a nailing plate, was placed atop the walls, and tube-steel columns were positioned in each of the octagon's eight corners. The tension ring then was ramset and screwed into the top plate. Next, a compression ring, with joist hangers attached, was fabricated using I-beams and packed with laminated veneer lumber. A crane held this ring in place while it was welded to the home's steel ridge beam. Two-by-10 wood joists connected the two rings. A plywood sub-roof completed the structure.

"This was not a typical project," Zimmer says. "We relied on our framers' ingenuity and craftsmanship to get the geometries framed and the members set in the best construction method for the home."

Design Takes on New Dimension

Architect Aaron Zimmer doesn't mind at all when clients take his designs and make them their own. "A house continues to evolve throughout the design process," he says, "and with the clients' interaction, it becomes rich, unique and full of life. Ultimately, our design becomes their home."

Zimmer knows there's no better way for clients to visualize what their custom home will "live like" than to experience it while it's still in the design stage. He lets them do just that, using the latest design software to create sophisticated two- and three-dimensional representations that permit clients to take a virtual tour of their home long before construction begins.

"When we work with a client, we always start by creating hand sketches for them," Zimmer says. "Once we've worked out what they want, we use AutoCAD to develop a computerized, two-dimensional representation of their home. This program's strength in 2-D drafting is second to none."

D.H. Ruggles & Associates added a new program, SketchUp, to its lineup of computer-aided design tools during the past year. "Once we have refined the layout for the home with the client using AutoCAD, we translate it into a three-dimensional format using SketchUp," Zimmer says. "This lets us show them real-time perspectives of their home. We can communicate complicated architectural forms in a 3-D rendered format."

This includes showing clients what their house will look like from any angle, as well as the spatial relationships between rooms. "We can even demonstrate how shadows will fall and lighting will change in a particular area depending on the time of day or even the season of the year," says Zimmer.

"I've found that for more and more people these days, the use of computer technology in the design of their home is just something they expect."

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