A Classic is Reborn in Steamboat Springs
By Christina Freeman
A hidden partition brings flexibility in the workspace. Photo by Tim Murphy.
By Jo Webster Mosher
Originally featured in Steamboat Magazine Winter/ Spring 1987 issue, one of the early homes Joe Patrick Robbins designed in Strawberry Park has been given a new life. Renovated for a family that swapped the Southern Hemisphere for the Yampa Valley's friendly community and outdoor lifestyle, this classic has been reborn. Homeowner Jo Webster Mosher shares the story.
The moment we turned down the meandering driveway, we fell in love with the property. Set into a gently sloping hillside, the house overlooks an open meadow flanked by aspen groves and a spectacular bluff framed with pine trees. Staring at the expansive views of the distant mountains, I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to raise our children. It would be tricky to walk away if the house wasn't for us.
Fortunately, we loved the ‘bones” of the house exactly as they were: the high cantilevered ceilings, the expansive white walls, the airy spaces and generous windows reminded us of the house where I grew up, which my father had designed and built. The home incorporated elements of international and mid-century modern architecture styles, but we never saw it as a departure from mountain aesthetics. It could have been a house anywhere in my native coastal Australia or snowy Scandinavia, just as easily as here in the Rockies, and in that sense the design transcended place. It was timeless.
The home had been tailored for a well-travelled couple in their early retirement, with children grown and gone. While it was big on floor space with areas dedicated to their interests, it was essentially a two-bedroom house. After 30 years, the kitchen and bathrooms, fixtures and fittings were tired. It would need some careful reconfiguring, love and attention to make it suitable for our young family of four.
We approached the home's original architect, Joe Patrick Robbins, who agreed to work with us on the renovation. “I was excited to revisit this house and have the opportunity to bring it up to date and make the spaces work for a growing family. The house is essentially a series of three interconnected pods, which originally consisted of an artist’s sculpting studio at one end, the main living space in the center, and a master bedroom and guest suite in the third wing,” Robbins says.
“We redesigned the open-plan sculpting studio to accommodate a closed mudroom at the entrance, a library, office, guest bedroom, bar and bathroom. To ensure a sense of openness, we used partitions around the office rather than full height walls, a suspended fireplace that appears to float beside the stainless steel staircase, and bridge leading to a second-level loft.”
The remodeled office has been constructed to meet disability access requirements, and can be closed off from the rest of the house to function as independent living quarters, if necessary. It was important that we have an area of the house where our parents and other guests would be comfortable staying for extended periods of time. With my family in Australia and John’s family interstate, we knew that when they came to visit, it wouldn’t just be for a couple of nights.
The central wing was kept in its original format as the main living area of the house, with kitchen, dining and lounge areas sharing one open space. The original stone fireplace located in front of a bank of south-facing windows remains the anchor in the room, but the kitchen was completely replaced. A large moss-rock column was removed and replaced with a simple steel support, opening the view through to the stairs and landing that lead to the bedrooms.
The guest suite on the lower level of the bedroom wing was completely gutted. What was once a small library and sitting room, large guest bedroom, bathroom, laundry and ante-room was transformed into a space with two bedrooms, bathroom and children’s play area. The kids’ zone has worked out perfectly. It’s separate from our main living area but still visible from the kitchen and dining areas, so we can keep an eye on them.
The design of the master suite remained similar to its original floor plan, but separate his-and-hers bathrooms were reconfigured to accommodate a single master bath and a walk-in wardrobe. The original Franklin stove located in the center of the room was also removed and replaced with a low-profile, high-efficiency wood-burning stove on the eastern wall, leaving an uninterrupted view of the mountains through the southeast windows.
Each pod is oriented to ensure natural light throughout the day, and the way we use the spaces in the house tends to flow from east to west, following the sun. While most windows are south-facing, glazing on other aspects of the house ensures plenty of opportunities for cross-ventilation. In summer we feel like we are outside, even when we are not.
To celebrate both the original architecture of the house and incorporate a modern style more often seen in Antipodean and European interiors, there was a huge effort to make the lines and detailing of all the fixtures and finishes clean and simple. The woodwork has minimal trim and moulding; the wall plaster and paint finishes are smooth and flat. While it looks simple and effortless, it’s one of hardest looks to achieve, as there is nowhere to hide any mistakes.
Contractor Keith Wilson used a network of local trade businesses and specialist craftsmen to help us achieve the quality of finish we desired. Wilson’s easy-going and collaborative approach meant that he also welcomed the involvement of several of our long-time friends and craftsmen from Colorado, which has added a very personal touch to some elements of the house.
For example, Kennan Harvey of Durango hand-crafted unscented rosewood slabs, which I brought from Queensland, into a free-form cantilevered desk in the studio office. Robbins speaks highly of local Steamboat painter Rusty Davidson, both for his talent and for “taking the time to make aged finishes look new again. The results are extraordinary.”
For simplicity, most cabinetry throughout the house is fully built in, although we used freestanding furniture in the children’s spaces to allow flexibility as they grow and their needs change. We used the same cherry woodwork, quartz stone counters, limestone tile and timber floors throughout the house. The effect it has is not obvious, but rather the continuity of the finishes adds to the feeling of serenity throughout.
Finding stone tile that would work with the moss rock in the two connecting atria was no easy task. In the end, the limestone, as well as the paint color for the walls, was selected to match the mortar rather than the rock itself. While we removed some of it, we wanted to keep most of the moss rock with its crazy acid-green lichen. The original owners had collected it all themselves locally and put every piece in by hand. It was a part of the story of the home.
The warmth of the stone and wood is balanced by the clean edginess of glass, stainless steel and chrome, which were predominantly used in accent fixtures such as back splashes, lighting, cabinet hardware, and faucets. The large wall spaces have also provided the ideal backdrop for the art we have collected during our time spent living abroad and traveling in Australia and Asia.
With the interior complete, we are now focusing our attention on the outside living spaces, rebuilding the decks and gardens that step down into the natural meadow and aspen groves, which of course were the gems that sold us on the property at first sight.
- Replaced all windows with high-quality, double-paned glazing. Windows are high-altitude compensated gas fill with a high solar heat gain coefficient.
- Upgraded insulation from fiberglass batts to closed-cell polyurethane foam.
- Installed smart-capable, programmable, zoned thermostats.
- Installed LED lighting throughout.
- Made provisions for future incorporation of solar hot water heat.
- Installed black stone floor tile in studio to improve passive solar performance.