In the early 1970s, Breckenridge architect Jon Gunson used to walk to the south end of town and set up a picnic with his wife on a bend in the Blue River. It was always the same bend, for from that spot and nowhere else the river appeared to flow directly toward the rounded summit of Peak 8.
A quarter-century later, in 1998, Jim and Evelyn Cavins were hiking along the river, looking for a potential homesite, when they came across the very spot where Gunson and his wife used to picnic. Although they lived in Santa Barbara, the couple had been vacationing in Breckenridge for nearly a decade and had decided to build a vacation home in Summit County, intent on finding a riverfront lot in Breck despite the notoriously scant supply. At the bend with the stunning view, a sign was posted with a telephone number, which they called only to learn the bittersweet news: a developer named Bruce Bade owned the lot at the bend and planned to build a home for himself there, but the lot next to it was available. So they bought the neighboring lot immediately and built a sprawling log home on the river. But they always looked wistfully at the vacant lot next door—wishing they could have snagged its downstream view.
In 2001, Bade called the Cavinses with surprising news: he had decided to sell the lot after all and wondered if they still wanted it. They did, of course, and bought it before it hit the market. Eleven years later, retiring from demanding careers (Jim was a urologic surgeon, and Evelyn sold real estate), the couple decided to make Breck their permanent address, so they approached Gunson (of Custom Mountain Architects) and asked whether he might be interested in designing their dream home on the Blue River. Learning that the Cavinses planned to build on the same lot he had so admired 40 years ago, Gunson didn’t hesitate.
“It’s literally a one-of-a-kind site,” Gunson says. “I’ve been doing this for 44 years, and I’ve never found a site that has this dramatic combination of the river and the mountains. We kind of felt that it was a mutual responsibility to not screw it up.”
And they didn’t. Finished in October, Gunson’s 5,900-square-foot masterpiece showcases that singular view from every possible room (in all, the house has four bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms on three levels). But none frames it more spectacularly than the master suite, where Peak 8 and the Blue River flood the room via 10-foot-tall windows. You could practically deliver the snow report from the great room or the breakfast nook if you had a pair of binoculars. Even the acrylic bathtub in the master bath has a knockout view. No wonder Jim Cavins vacillates when asked to name his favorite part of the house.
“The kitchen,” he declares, explaining that he intends to cook more now that he’s retired.
Then the breakfast nook catches his eye, and he walks in that direction. “Actually,” he says, “this is my favorite part.”
Thirty seconds later Cavins reconsiders again before concluding that the exercise is futile. “My favorite spot,” he says with a smile, “has to be wherever we have a view of the river.”
Maintaining those prospects, in fact, became a sort of guiding principle for the house. So as not to obscure the water, for instance, the Cavinses elected to have their deck built on the sunrise side of the house instead of the sunset side. (They gained a riverfront patio, a gas fire pit, and a hot tub where the deck would have been.) The three guest bedrooms are all located on the view-preserved walkout level, along with a granite bar for après-ski and a yet unfinished den that Jim Cavins expects will become his man cave. The ground-floor living area features a 75-inch flat screen above a long horizontal gas fireplace—one of four in the home—fronted by a sofa instead of stadium seating.
Gunson’s open-flow design defines the main floor just above, from the great room/kitchen/breakfast nook/dining room to the owners’ walk-in dressing rooms in the master. He and Rockridge Building Company principal Peter Joyce, who have collaborated on four homes, kept the ceilings vaulted yet unencumbered by columns thanks to one of the largest beams they’ve ever used: a Douglas fir laminate that measures 33 inches in height and more than a foot thick and spans the width of the room.
“Jon did a brilliant job scaling and proportioning the rooms,” Evelyn Cavins says. “For the square footage, it feels more cozy. It feels like a home.”
The interior design adds to the cozy feel by blending skiing with nature, befitting a couple who attended a Warren Miller film on their first date. One of Evelyn’s friends, interior designer Lisa Thomas, flew up from her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to help with the house.
The resulting finishes are as unique as the view they complement. Joyce and project manager Mark Brunner’s crew installed an alder trim package and a flooring combination of flagstone and white oak, the latter sourced from North Carolina and stained dark. (All of the beetle-kill siding was milled in Grand County.) Joyce also hired Craig and Rory May, a father-son team of metalworkers from Dragon Forge in Pine, to hand-tool ornamental iron handles on the fireplaces—including a tiny nuthatch that took Craig May eight hours to shape—as well as faux aspen branches with copper, brass, and bronze leaves used to detail the house and fill in gaps under the central spiral staircase, which, like the elevator, runs from the bottom floor to the third-floor study.
“A lot of metalwork looks good from 20 to 30 feet away,” Joyce says, “but when you see their work up close, you really notice the transitions.”
The staircase’s center timber is an octagonal column of Douglas fir, which highlights the home’s intentionally downplayed entry. As Gunson explains it, when you have a view like the Cavinses’, it would be a shame to reveal it right off the bat. Instead, he compares the entryway to a symphony’s prelude. “That’s where you greet guests and take their coats,” Gunson says. “Then you invite them into more of a special place.”
Not to be outdone by the rest of the house, the kitchen offers tidy finishes and a space to mingle around two islands. One features a walnut-chopping-block countertop, while the other’s granite is underscored by contemporary rock work below. In addition to the traditional range, Jim Cavins says he’s looking forward to braising meats in his new steam oven. “I might have to learn how to cook,” his wife jokes.
Ironically enough, Evelyn Cavins says she and Jim initially wanted their home to look like an old farmhouse. “It didn’t exactly turn out that way,” she says with a grin, but it maintains a similar charm and sense of place.
Asked to name her favorite part of her new home, she pauses for a minute. “Probably our address rock,” she says finally, walking outside to where the boulder sits. Heavy equipment operators moved the car-size rock from the building footprint up to the driveway.
“The engraver said it was the hardest rock he’d ever come across,” Evelyn Cavins says. “It’s a gneiss rock. Somewhere between 1.7 and 1.8 billion years old.”
Because after all, the only thing better than owning a home with the best view in town is being the rock that has had that view for the past 1.7 billion years. csm