The homes that line Frisco’s bike path tend to evoke a high-country charm, crafted as they are out of timber and stone in traditional mountain styles—including a few small log cabins that remain from the 1950s. So when architect Freddie Valdez designed a house showcasing concrete, metal, and glass for a lot along the path, a number of neighbors weren’t quite sure about it.
The home boldly stands its ground. Its rectangular form reaches 35 feet high, punctuated by an essentially flat roof, and a translucent glass garage door, sandwiched by concrete walls, faces the bike path. To the right, a sleek copper tower stretches the entire elevation of the house, and metal railings accent the wraparound decks. In the back, huge commercial windows framed in black metal rise two full stories.
Aware of the potential fallout of their vision, Valdez and the homeowners, Sam and Michelin Sharp, remained conscientious of the home’s surroundings throughout the building process. They incorporated dark colors to match neighboring homes, and they took care to add wood accents to warm up cool metal surfaces. They also researched every step in the construction process to ensure that they would build the most sustainable home possible. In the end, they helped changed many locals’ perceptions about the desirability of modern homes in the mountains.
“They have modern homes in Vail and Aspen, but Summit County is a little behind in that respect,” Valdez says. “People are starting to get used to it. At first, they’d say they didn’t understand this house at all; they thought it was weird. As they see it, they get used to it, and now I have people coming up to me saying, ‘We might want to do something like that or have you design something similar for us.’”
As it turns out, the Frisco lot begged for a modern design. A number of architects and owners had previously considered building on the site but then walked away, deeming it unfit for construction, according to Valdez.
The problem involved conventional thinking. The land cost a pretty penny, so it demanded a sizable home. But setbacks, easements, and wetlands reduced the building envelope to about a 1,600-square-foot jagged rectangle. Figure in a 700-square-foot garage and the additional local height restrictions, and a traditional pitched-roof mountain home wasn’t going to fit. By building a shallow-pitched roof (which looks flat but provides enough angle to shed water), Valdez realized he could add a master bedroom and bath, as well as a kids’ bedroom and an office below, in the space that would traditionally be occupied by a sloped roof and the space outside of it.
The ingenuity of the design makes for a striking interior. Sets of eight stacked stairs separate its six levels in a way that’s not only efficient but also artistic: stairs are cantilevered and also seem to float, with maple treads and no risers. A center wall made of translucent white plastic hugs the interior side of the staircase, and on an exterior wall, vertical windows align with it. The minimal, “transparent” staircase allows light to stream through the space and direct lines of sight from floor to floor, adding to a sense of continuous flow.
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the residence involves Valdez’s success in intermingling the landscape and the dwelling. Not only did he protect the surrounding willows, aspens, and wetlands, but he also brought the views into the home with enormous storefront windows that spread along two walls and extend two stories high, from floor to ceiling, incorporating a glass fireplace and a glass door. The fireplace burns denatured alcohol, so there’s no smoke or off-gassing.
Some might consider the surrounding forest and small stream the outstanding features of the property; owner Sam Sharp says encompassing the views was one of the top “drivers” of the modern design. The Sharps keep furnishings minimal inside, preferring to let the landscape take center stage. The main level consists of a corner sofa and a flat-screen television, a large butcher-block dining table, and an expansive kitchen. A loft with a playroom overlooks the main floor. Stairs leading to the playroom guide guests to two bedrooms.
The family maintains a natural separation from guests by ascending stairs above the playroom. The kids hop up eight stairs, while their parents walk up an additional eight to their master suite. Floor-to-ceiling glass forms two walls in the master bedroom, and large decks offer views of Buffalo Mountain and Peak One.
It can be hard these days to find people in Summit County who don’t at least pay lip service to going green. But Valdez and the Sharps truly dedicated themselves to finding the newest and most sustainable building techniques and products on the market.
“We wanted to respect the wetlands,” Sam Sharp says. “That drove the house design, and the county really embraced that idea.”
Modern architecture lends itself to geometric shapes, rather than sprawling tangents that would have infringed upon wetlands. The compact, stacked structure avoids wasted building materials and forms an energy-efficient home.
To frame the structure, the Sharps and Valdez chose a material called timber strand: pre-engineered, formaldehyde-free lumber produced from fast-growing, small-diameter trees such as aspens and poplars. The straight boards from this resource lead to less overall waste. The decking and entryway are also made of recycled products, and the wood siding is all certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Valdez admits the large glass windows don’t optimize energy usage as well as insulated walls would, but he does assert that “glass has come such a long way” in terms of its efficiency. And the architect compensated in part by orienting the glass southward to allow in more sunlight and by pouring a concrete floor, a thermal mass that holds passive solar heat. As a result, Sam Sharp says, he hardly uses the in-floor radiant heat system.
“It’s crazy how warm it gets in there,” he adds. “We struggle more in the summer to keep it cool—to release the passive solar heat.”
Other sustainable features include a solar array on the roof that powers 90 to 95 percent of the energy used by full-time residents. As Sam Sharp points out, constructing an environmentally friendly home involved “a lot of learning”—leading the couple to products they might never have considered, such as kitchen countertops fashioned from recycled paper and cabinets with low-VOC stains and adhesives.
Now, the green elements—even the rooftop solar array—are easily overlooked, and after living with the modern design for a couple of years, even wary neighbors are coming to appreciate its style. Plus, the Sharps live with the satisfaction of knowing they built a sustainable home on a lot that otherwise may have remained empty.
“The environment is so beautiful, the aspens and views of Peak One and Buffalo,” Sam Sharp says, “that the longer we live in this house, the more we appreciate how it respects the environment and serves that aesthetic.”
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