Three miles up Sunshine Canyon from downtown Boulder, Goatbarn Lane house was named for a historic goat barn at the end of the dirt road. This Colorado mountain community, the site of a 19th-century mining camp, is dotted with simple metal sheds, barns, and homes built for or by the miners, and they inspire much of Renée del Gaudio’s work these days. “The fire resistance of those metal buildings is what I’m doing now,” she says. “We’ve had terrible forest fires in the last 10 years, and the wood structures burn down, while the metal-clad structures survive.”
That concern feels especially urgent when the client is your father. He’d come to her asking for a house that expressed his desire to live simply in this beautiful natural environment. The idea was to design only the amount of space he would use daily and to specify as few materials as possible. Another goal was to let wildlife—the mountain lions, bobcats, deer, and fox they had spotted—continue to roam through the property. The decision to do minimal site contouring led to a rectangular, 860-square-foot footprint with a 440-square-foot bedroom suite that hovers over the terrain.
Orientation to views and the land’s natural features drove every aspect of the design. The 2.5-acre lot contains tall ponderosa pines and offers sweeping views of snow-capped mountains to the west. But its most prominent feature is a spectacular granite outcropping and tumble of rocks on the north. “I have this image of my dad standing next to the rock outcropping with his arms spread upward saying, ‘This is where I want to sleep at night,’ ” Renée says. “That kind of drove the siting, placing his bedroom so it almost feels like the rock is the wall, or is even coming into the space.”
Positioned east-west, the first floor contains an open kitchen, dining, and living area, with a mudroom and bath behind the kitchen. A steel staircase leads to a loft above the kitchen. Supported on a pier, the overhanging bedroom suite makes a hard left turn and comes face to face with the rock outcrop through glass walls. Conveniently, this rock formation creates a natural barrier to north winds and a fire break with the forest above. On this level Renée inserted another delight. A steel bridge with ipe decking begins at the loft, crosses the 21-foot-tall living space, and pierces the outer west wall, forming an airy platform from which to appreciate the mountain view. “The idea for the bridge came early on and helped to create this double-height space for the living room below,” Renée says. “The space upstairs leading to the bedroom needed to be an open, flexible space to get the headroom we needed, so it ended up being a secondary living/loft space.”
Square footage can be illusory, a function not only of floor space but views and natural light. The home’s soaring living area, ring of clerestories, 8½-foot-tall doors, and floor-to-ceiling windows make it feel considerably larger than its 1,860 square feet. So does the structure itself. Devoid of complicated details, the exposed metal superstructure is laid out on 2-foot centers and infilled with 2-by-6 wood studs. Working with the same framer for both the metal and wood helped to streamline construction. “It was a giant metal skeleton, more of a commercial-type steel frame than residential,” says builder Dan Flohrs. On the exterior, flat carbon steel panels with a clear wax finish make the shell 100% fire resistant, as do the steel fascias and 4-by-8-foot smooth-panel concrete base housing a one-car garage.
“The carbon steel has a clear wax finish and is not intended to rust,” Renée says. “We put a sample outside for at least two years and let it sit in the snow. There was no rust at all, so we’ll see. We figured out that when we have to rewax it, we’ll just have the window washers do it.” Applied with planning and precision, the concrete’s formwork seams line up with the steel panels and windows above, which are fiberglass with a clean, metal-clad interior. The soffits are wrapped with fire-safe ipe, including the underside of the bedroom wing.
Ipe reappears on the angled deck near the entryway. The ponderosa pines dictated its location: The sun is intense at this 6,300-foot elevation, and their year-round canopy provides much-needed shade for outdoor seating. They were allowed to stay, despite the best practice of clearing vegetation around buildings to keep fire from spreading. “We do a lot of fire mitigation when we build new construction, taking down trees that could ignite the house,” Renée says. “We worked with the building department to preserve a few to keep shade on the west side.” The deck became part of the entry sequence—a walkway of carbon steel grating connects it to the front door. “The grating drains naturally and is slip resistant, while the ipe decking is easier on the feet and makes it easier to arrange furniture,” Renée says.
The architect and her team took a reductive approach to the interior, too. Wherever possible, the framing was left exposed, and the fire sprinkler system was painted black to blend in. Living areas overlap to eliminate wasted hallways: tucked under the loft, the kitchen and dining area’s lower ceiling defines it within the two-story space. “It was important to keep the interior feeling warm because there’s so much glass,” Renée says. This was achieved with alder passage doors and slatted alder walls that backdrop the kitchen and divide the bedroom and bath. Chunky concrete countertops and sinks lend an earthy texture, as do the bath’s black-and-white cement backsplash tiles and aged-brass fixtures. Batu wood ceilings are exposed above the Douglas fir rafters, and the floors and stair treads are walnut. “Batu is an ironwood that looks and feels very similar to ipe but is almost half the price,” Renée says. “It doesn’t do as well outside as ipe, so I used it inside to save costs.” Adding more tangible warmth are radiant-heated floors and a wood stove. The house is also well-positioned to capture solar energy; rooftop photovoltaics produce more electricity than the owner uses.
Cooling happens passively; the living room’s oversized ceiling fan circulates the mountain air that flows in through tall casement windows. “The majority, if not all, of his neighbors have mechanical air-conditioning; even here at this elevation it’s become that kind of climate,” Renée says. “But his house is performing well without it. He also marvels at how warm the house gets quickly just by lighting the stove.”
For their own unknowable reasons, the local wildlife seem appreciative too. “At one time there were three mountain lions hanging out under the house,” she says. “It’s become an incredible observatory for wildlife.” In the wishes of her client and the characteristics of this inimitable place, Renée found a muse for her own creative expression. “We were trying to pare each element down to its bare minimum, and I think in the end that’s what made the most powerful impact in the architecture,” she says.
Plans and Drawings
Architect: Renée del Gaudio Architecture, Boulder, Colorado
Builder: Dan Flohrs, Coburn Development, Boulder
Interior designer: Renée del Gaudio Architecture
Project size: 1,860 square feet
Site size: 2.4 acres
Construction cost: $456 per square foot
Photography: David Lauer Photography
Cabinetry: Custom walnut by BKI Woodworks
Countertops: Concrete Visions
Entry doors: Reynaers
Faucets: Franke, Watermark, Antique Brass
Fireplace: Rais Q-Tee II
Outdoor grill, built-in: Blaze
Paint: Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace
Shower enclosure: A-Ability glass
Specialty appliances: KitchenAid
Thermal and moisture barriers: ZIP System R-Sheathing
Vanities and pedestal lavs: Concrete Visions
Ventilation: Panasonic ERV
Windows: Marvin Modern
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