One Family’s Norwegian Roots Inspire This Colorado Mountain Refuge

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By Lucy Wang
Carefully nestled in the Colorado Rockies, Gammel Dam is an award-winning family hideaway whose serene, minimalist interiors recall Norwegian cabins.

When a couple approached Colorado–based Cottle Carr Yaw (CCY) Architects for a modern mountain retreat, they brought with them images of what would be the founding inspiration behind the new design—a simple and rugged cabin in Norway where the husband and his relatives had been gathering since the 1950s. Much like this ancestral Norwegian cabin, the new getaway is designed with the same rustic charms and deference to the landscape, as well as an inviting environment for friends and family to gather for generations to come.

Spread out over 4,942 square feet on an 11.76-acre gently sloping site, the Gammel Dam House includes five bedrooms, one bunk room, and three-and-a-half baths. The home can easily accommodate up to 14 people in the two-story guest wing that can be closed off when not in use.

Spread out over 4,942 square feet on an 11.76-acre gently sloping site, the Gammel Dam House includes five bedrooms, one bunk room, and three-and-a-half baths. The home can easily accommodate up to 14 people in the two-story guest wing that can be closed off when not in use.

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"They specifically didn’t want large bedrooms for the guest wing to encourage their family and guests to congregate in the home’s public spaces," Todd Kennedy, principal architect at CCY, explains. He also adds that because the couple also planned to spend time in the retreat alone, the guest bedrooms, accessible via a bridge, can be closed off from the main living spaces when not in use so that the home could function as a one-bedroom cabin, comfortably scaled for two.

Set on an east-west axis, the home stays cool with shading south-facing glass, minimal west-facing glass, and operable windows that allow for natural ventilation. Energy recovery ventilators also bring fresh air into the home.

Set on an east-west axis, the home stays cool with shading south-facing glass, minimal west-facing glass, and operable windows that allow for natural ventilation. Energy recovery ventilators also bring fresh air into the home.

The angled roof mimics the sloped terrain and connects the cedar-lined sauna (on the right) to the main house and garage.

The angled roof mimics the sloped terrain and connects the cedar-lined sauna (on the right) to the main house and garage.

A connection to the outdoors was paramount to the design both in form—the low-lying building is topped with a roof angled to follow the sloped terrain—and accessibility. Large windows pull mountain views indoors while the house, carefully positioned to minimize site impact, feels immersed in its landscape of aspen groves, scrub oaks, sage, and spruce. The architects even worked closely with an arborist to ensure the long-term health of the mature spruce trees, and balanced all cut and fill on site.

"The engagement of the immediate site from every space was far more important to the client than how every room connected to the long range view," says Kennedy. "Where possible, we did both, but this directive allowed us to keep vegetation close to the house to nestle it into the landscape without worrying about how the vegetation may impact the long-range views."

"The engagement of the immediate site from every space was far more important to the client than how every room connected to the long range view," says Kennedy. "Where possible, we did both, but this directive allowed us to keep vegetation close to the house to nestle it into the landscape without worrying about how the vegetation may impact the long-range views."

The exterior is clad in pre-finished inland cedar and shou sugi ban-charred wood.

The exterior is clad in pre-finished inland cedar and shou sugi ban-charred wood.

"In addition to the spruce trees, the client wanted to preserve as much of the existing vegetation around the house to help the house appear as though it was set within its natural environment," Kennedy notes. "To achieve this, we worked with the general contractor to define very tight limits of construction just beyond the building’s footprint."

The exposed concrete floors, also equipped with radiant heating, help passively cool and heat the home in summer and winter, respectively. The bridge leading to the guest wing can be seen to the right of the mudroom.

The exposed concrete floors, also equipped with radiant heating, help passively cool and heat the home in summer and winter, respectively. The bridge leading to the guest wing can be seen to the right of the mudroom.

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At the entry, a glimpse of the mudroom with the vertical-slat sliding door open.

At the entry, a glimpse of the mudroom with the vertical-slat sliding door open.

Careful consideration of the environment also carried over to the energy-efficient design of the house, oriented for optimal passive solar performance. Thanks to an airtight building envelope and triple-glazed windows, the interior requires no supplemental heat or cooling other than radiant heat.

A custom candle chandelier made of steel, bearing real candles, hangs above the dining table.

A custom candle chandelier made of steel, bearing real candles, hangs above the dining table.

Daylight, landscape views, and a predominantly timber-and-concrete palette define the modern interiors. White oak, in particular, is used in abundance to create a tranquil, monochromatic palette meant to lend a sense of intimacy to the interior.

The oversized kitchen window frames spectacular views of Snowmass. Matching the white oak palette are pale Caesarstone countertops.

The oversized kitchen window frames spectacular views of Snowmass. Matching the white oak palette are pale Caesarstone countertops.

"It allows the focus of the room to be the views rather than one’s focus being drawn to the interior architecture," Kennedy says. "We used two different grades of plain-sawn white oak. The minor differences in the grades of oak, in combination with how it was finished and the way we laid it up, created subtle amounts of contrast through the interior palette which helped create a level of sophistication within the home."

Built-in storage and blonde wood contributes to the home’s sleek and minimalist appearance.

Built-in storage and blonde wood contributes to the home’s sleek and minimalist appearance.

A peek inside the master bedroom that faces panoramic mountain views.

A peek inside the master bedroom that faces panoramic mountain views.

A Victoria + Albert Barcelona tub overlooks stunning landscape views.

A Victoria + Albert Barcelona tub overlooks stunning landscape views.

Sentimental reminders of the husband’s Norwegian childhood also decorate the space, from the framed wildflowers he pressed as a child to the stacked walls of chopped wood and collections of hatches and axes.

"Norwegian blood," says Kennedy, "instills in him the need to chop wood and a love for wood-burning fireplaces." 

The massive wood-burning hearth is built of Mountain Ash granite with a shou sugi ban accent above.

The massive wood-burning hearth is built of Mountain Ash granite with a shou sugi ban accent above.

Custom sliding doors extend the living areas to the outdoors.

Custom sliding doors extend the living areas to the outdoors.

Poured concrete stairs step down alongside built-in storage.

Poured concrete stairs step down alongside built-in storage.

Uphill is a freestanding tool "shed" with a cozy office that serves as a quiet getaway when there are too many guests at home. The south wall of the building serves as wood storage.

Uphill is a freestanding tool "shed" with a cozy office that serves as a quiet getaway when there are too many guests at home. The south wall of the building serves as wood storage.

Related Reading: A Norwegian Summer Cabin Embraces the Rocky Terrain

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: CCY Architects / @ccyarchitects

Builder/ General Contractor: Key Elements Construction

Structural Engineer: KL&A

Civil Engineer: Boundaries Unlimited

Landscape Design Company: Mt. Daly Enterprises

Lighting Design: LS Group

Fixed Finishes/Cabinetry Design: CCY Architects

Cabinetry Manufacturing:  Whalen Custom Cabinets

Photography: Draper White Photography