written by:
photos by:
May 14, 2016
Originally published in Modern Across America
as
Rocky Mountain High
A natural disaster cleared a property in the Colorado mountains, giving an architect and her family a blank slate on which to build their green dream home.
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass

The house that architect Renée del Gaudio designed for her family in Boulder uses energy-efficient Loewen windows on the south facade that incorporate triple-paned low-e glass from Cardinal.

Photo by 
1 / 7
modern fire resistant green boulder living area barcelona chairs shaker stove crate bookshelves

In the living area are a pair of original Barcelona chairs, handed down by del Gaudio’s parents. The Shaker stove is by Wittus. Fifty-one crates were used to make the bookshelves, which were fabricated assembly-line-style by the framers from Morningstar Homes.

Photo by 
2 / 7
modern fire resistant green boulder solar panels photovoltaic carport concrete cedar slat plywood

The Solar Revolution installed 3.6-kilowatt photovoltaic solar panels on top of the carport, which sports a board-formed concrete exterior and a cedar-slat-and-plywood interior.

Photo by 
3 / 7
modern fire resistant green boulder kitchen pendants black walnut dining table

Del Gaudio made the pendants in the kitchen from rayon electrical cord, ceramic sockets, and Satco Par38 bulbs. She also designed the kitchen casing, which was fabricated locally in American black walnut left over from the floor. A mix of seating—vintage Paul McCobb Planner Group and newly purchased metal Tolix chairs—are arranged around a dining table from Restoration Hardware.

Photo by 
4 / 7
modern fire resistant green boulder cor-ten steel native grasses

The fire-resistant structure is clad in corrugated Cor-Ten steel that has been left to rust for easy maintenance. Instead of fussy landscaping, the family spread seed for native grasses and wildflowers that they let fill in naturally.

Photo by 
5 / 7
modern fire resistant green boulder ceiling fans ventilation awning windows

The house has no mechanical ventilation, only Hunter ceiling fans and opposing awning windows.

Photo by 
6 / 7
modern fire resistant green boulder floor plans

Sunshine Canyon House Floor Plan

A Living AreaB Dining AreaC KitchenD Roof DeckE PantryF BathroomG BedroomH OfficeI BridgeJ PorchK Master BedroomL Closet

Photo by 
7 / 7
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass

The house that architect Renée del Gaudio designed for her family in Boulder uses energy-efficient Loewen windows on the south facade that incorporate triple-paned low-e glass from Cardinal.

Project 
Sunshine Canyon House

Colorado architect Renée del Gaudio and her family were camping when they heard the news: One of the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history was ripping through their property in Boulder. Del Gaudio and her husband, Ross Wehner, had purchased the land just two years earlier, in 2008, with the hope of someday relocating there from Denver with their two small children. In the meantime, they’d leased a tiny cabin on the property to a college student—who was able to escape the blaze—but the structure was destroyed. 

In all, 162 homes were wrecked in what came to be known as the Fourmile Canyon Fire. “It looked like the scene of war,” Wehner recalls. Equally devastating was the loss of the mature forest of ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, including about 800 trees on the family’s four-and-a-half-acre plot. “Ours was one of the first properties to burn; it was really in the epicenter of the fire,” del Gaudio says. “We had this ashen lunar landscape, which was so shocking and so devastating. But how quickly things regenerate is mind-blowing.”

With help from friends, del Gaudio and Wehner rehabilitated their Sunshine Canyon property, beginning with the arduous task of clearing the burned trees. About 300 could be salvaged for construction lumber or firewood. The other 500 trees were felled and returned to the soil as a chunky black mulch. “Every time I came to work on the property, I looked like a coal miner,” says Wehner.

Because of the intense heat, the soil had become hydrophobic, developing a thick, waxy layer that repelled water. Using rakes, the couple reworked the entire property to break up that layer, spread seed for native grasses and wildflowers, and crossed their fingers. The land proved surprisingly resilient. “It was amazing how quickly the grass came back,” says del Gaudio. “It looks like 100 years ago, when it burned regularly.” And then, another surprise: The insurance company compensated them for the loss of the cabin and the trees, which put them in a financial position not only to rebuild, but also to move forward with their house plans. 

Del Gaudio started by looking at the landscape, now returned to its virgin state, and at the area’s century-old vernacular architecture, dating from an era when Sunshine Canyon was littered with gold mines. “The new house’s facade had to be 100 percent fire-resistant, so I took that cue from mining buildings and chose corrugated metal for the exterior.”

By decimating the trees, the fire had created expansive new views from the property. The couple now could see the Boulder Reservoir to the east, while to the south they had a picturesque perspective of Boulder’s signature Flatirons and the peaks of the Front Range. Del Gaudio decided to orient the house in two stacked, cantilevered volumes with an elongated east-west access on top that takes advantage of the views and the south-facing sun.

The upper volume hosts living spaces that are light-filled and naturally ventilated, while shading and insulating the lower volume, where the three bedrooms are located. The two levels contain enough space and privacy to allow del Gaudio and Wehner— founder of the World Leadership School, an educational reform corporation, and former journalist—to work from home for the first time. “For me it provides a great amount of peace to work in such beautiful surroundings, and the fact that Renée and I can work in the same house together,” says Wehner. “I feel thankful every day for the opportunity.” He can watch from his office as Sebastian and Francesca, now eight and six, arrive on the bus home from school.

modern fire resistant green boulder living area barcelona chairs shaker stove crate bookshelves

In the living area are a pair of original Barcelona chairs, handed down by del Gaudio’s parents. The Shaker stove is by Wittus. Fifty-one crates were used to make the bookshelves, which were fabricated assembly-line-style by the framers from Morningstar Homes.

To preserve their views and allow solar gain, del Gaudio felt strongly about using lots of glass, which could prove troublesome when heating the house in winter. She chose a low-emission film coating for the Cardinal glass to boost efficiency, and all the windows are double-paned save for the triple-paned south-facing win-dows. The rooms heat well, thanks to Boulder’s annual 300 days of sun. “We hardly ever use mechanical heating,” says del Gaudio. “We have a high-efficiency wood-burning stove, and between that and passive solar heating, during the day we only use radiant heating on the bottom floor.” Large metal rolling shutters can close over the glass on the bottom floor during the wicked windstorms that sweep in from the north.

The house also performs well when it comes to electricity, thanks to natural light, a 3.6-kilowatt photovoltaic array, and interior LED lighting. “Our electric bill is basically zero,” says del Gaudio. “The average bill is $9 a month, which covers fees. We have never needed to purchase our electricity.”

High on a ridge laced with mountain biking trails, yet only seven miles from the urban amenities of Boulder, the 2,760-square-foot, open-plan house seems to bridge both worlds. While the interiors offer energy-efficient appliances and clean, modern lines, the steep gabled roof, exposed steel beams, and rugged industrial barn doors knit the house to its place. 

Only 40 houses have been rebuilt in the area since the fire. Del Gaudio and Wehner have not only overcome the challenges of rising from the ashes, they’ve also forged a new connection to the property’s past. By creating references to the mines and barns that built the community, they’re reviving its history, says Wehner. “We not only reclaimed the landscape that existed during the 19th century, we also reclaimed the architectural landscape. 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016