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Mountaintop Modern

A couple's investment of sweat equity pays dividends in a mountainside house in southwestern Colorado

The great room of Barry Doyle and Eve Becker-Doyle's home outside Ridgway, Colorado. Photo by Barry B. Doyle.

Every year for 14 years, Barry Doyle and Eve Becker-Doyle made the long trek north from their home in Dallas to stay at a friend’s vacation home on Log Hill Mesa, about 1,000 feet above the small town of Ridgway on Colorado’s Western Slope. They felt at home among the mountains and the indigenous wildlife, so when they began thinking about building a house where they would spend their retirement years together, it didn’t make sense to do it anywhere else.

They bought a two-acre lot in Loghill Village, an unincorporated area outside Ridgway, and, a few years ago, began making serious plans for what to do with it. They hooked up with a Ridgway-based architect, Sundra Hines, and it quickly became apparent to Barry that he had lucked into a connection with a kindred spirit.

“I told her I was ‘on the road to Bauhaus’ but wasn’t quite there,” he says, “and I loved Olson Kundig out of Seattle and their use of metal. I also have a long abiding love for Greene & Greene, especially their homes in Pasadena—the Arts & Crafts movement. And she was just really delighted to be able to do something modern in this place, where it’s sort of more traditional, mountain-type homes—logs and western red cedar siding and stuff. So we really hit it off and we came to a real intuitive collaboration. It wasn’t one person saying ‘my way or the highway,’ which was great.”

Hines designed a three-story, 2,738-square-foot house, to be set into a mountainside about 8,000 feet above sea level. The plans called for three bedrooms—two reserved for overnight guests—and separate office spaces for Eve and Barry, in addition to an expansive great room that would be the social nexus of the home.

The exterior is constructed of corrugated steel and fiber-cement siding by Hardie Boad. The use of these fire-retardant materials gave the couple a break on the insurance premiums that they pay to live in this area of Colorado's San Juan Mountains, where wildfires have been known to break out. Photo by Barry B. Doyle.

Barry, a photographer, moved to Ridgway in September 2012 to take on the role of general contractor. (Eve stayed behind to complete the sale of their home and to wind down her long tenure as CEO of the Dallas-based National Athletic Trainers’ Association. She joined Barry in Ridgway in January 2013.) Barry, who holds what he jokingly calls an “eminently marketable” degree in medieval European history, had gone to work after college for a cabinetmaker in his native San Diego and later worked his way up to vice president at an architectural millwork firm in Dallas. Leaning on that experience, he set about designing and crafting the cabinets for the kitchen and bathroom of his new house, working from a makeshift shop on the building site.

An acquaintance at a Dallas wood warehouse offered to sell him ten four-by-eight-foot panels of koa veneer, which Barry says the business had acquired before Hawaii passed a law limiting the harvesting of koa (which does not grow outside that state) to dead or decaying trees found on public land. The panels were shipped to Colorado for $3,000—“much below what another supplier would have charged,” Barry says, “with no location within a day’s journey that could have provided what we wanted.”

The panels were bookmatched and numbered, allowing Barry to build cabinets that would carry a distinctive grain pattern from left to right, and from top to bottom. “The panels were numbered so I could begin the grain pattern at one end of the kitchen and continue it around to the dining room area,” Doyle says. “But that also meant that I couldn’t make a mistake because it would throw off the grain pattern. If I had made a mistake in the middle of the run, it would have been terrible.” Mercifully, he didn’t, but Barry acknowledges that his meticulousness made for a slow pace that tested Hines’ patience at times.

Barry also built the dining table, which seats eight. The top was made from figured maple; the legs are bubinga. Photo by Barry B. Doyle.

The couple’s lucky streak with materials and costs carried over to the blue accent wall that partially conceals the stairs to Barry’s office and photography studio. “In the plans, it was known as the ‘X-wall,’ and we went through several iterations of what it could be,” Barry says. Hines suggested that he keep an eye on the “Reclaim” section of the 3form website, where the manufacturer of plastic and glass architectural materials sells remainders from large commercial jobs, often at a steep discount. One day, he logged on to find a dozen four-by-four-foot cobalt blue acrylic fractal panels for sale for about a third of what they would cost new. “I called Sundra and said, ‘Look at this,’” Barry says, “and she sort of screamed and jumped up and down and said, ‘Get it, buy it!’”

Eve got her hands dirty after she arrived in Colorado, choosing the pale yellow paint color that was used throughout the house and working with Hines to select the red paint for the bright accent wall in the great room and the apple green for the exterior doors. Eve also installed much of the window hardware and—when a subcontractor “went AWOL,” as Barry puts it—learned how to apply aniline dye to produce a distinctive finish for some of the kitchen cabinets.

All of that sweat equity helped limit construction costs to a relatively lean $176 per square foot, for a total cost of just under $482,000, Barry says. Other touches were designed to keep energy and maintenance costs low. For instance, the concrete floors were outfitted with radiant heat and divided into seven “zones,” each with its own thermostat. The half-submerged lower floor helps to cool the rest of the house in summer, aided by the opening of sliding-glass doors and windows on the main level.

The couple moved into their new house in May 2013 after 11 months of construction. Since then, they have taken advantage of their mountain outpost by hiking and snowshoeing their way through a network of nearby trails. They have also welcomed their three grown children and several out-of-town friends for overnight stays, and there have been plenty of dinner parties for their growing circle of local friends.

“I have my studio office up here and I spend quite a bit of time there,” Barry says. “I do my photography work and do my digital connections with friends. We are fairly remote. But I think one of the great things about being here and how we use our house is having friends over to share it.”

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