Self-Regulating Technology Makes Managing This Compound a Breeze

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By Dwell and Zachary Sachs
A Colorado retreat built for extended family gatherings makes the most of smart tech.

The Wells family home in Mount Crested Butte, Colorado, is a study in adaptability. A getaway for Doug Wells, the founding principal of the Des Moines–based architecture practice Wells + Associates, his wife, Sarah (the firm’s business manager), and their adult children, it maximizes available resources: the envelope of the existing structure, a variety of impressive sight lines, and an abundance of solar energy. 

Architect Doug Wells and his wife, Sarah, jumped at the chance to turn a former homeowners’ association clubhouse in Colorado into a vacation retreat. The existing structure is flanked by two new prefab buildings: a garage and a main house. 

Architect Doug Wells and his wife, Sarah, jumped at the chance to turn a former homeowners’ association clubhouse in Colorado into a vacation retreat. The existing structure is flanked by two new prefab buildings: a garage and a main house. 

A Tekmar system distributes solar-collected heat throughout the compound. Wells designed the buildings to carefully respond to the roof pitch of both the original architecture and the neighboring homes.

A Tekmar system distributes solar-collected heat throughout the compound. Wells designed the buildings to carefully respond to the roof pitch of both the original architecture and the neighboring homes.

Wells radically adapted the site, previously the clubhouse of a homeowners’ association, into a complex of mountain-hugging structures designed to accommodate the couple and their children, who visit from Denver and New York City with their families twice a year or more. A seasonal resident of Crested Butte for 25 years, Wells had long admired the property for its views and privacy but never imagined it would be for sal—"until, literally, the real estate sign went up," he says. 

The homeowners’ association welcomed his proposal for the site ("they were happy we planned to reuse the clubhouse," says Wells), but approval from the city took time. Municipal officials seemingly believed a family house should be "one compact shape, and this solution was the opposite of that," he explains. Wells envisioned the addition of two semi-prefabricated structures—a main house containing a master bedroom and bathroom, and a garage with a recreation room—as "bookends" to the existing building. This offers both variety in views and the capability to adapt the different spaces to changing needs: The former clubhouse itself divides with a sliding door into two spaces—one for each visiting family.

Simple passageways with polycarbonate glazing, wood framing, and polished concrete floors connect the structures. 

Simple passageways with polycarbonate glazing, wood framing, and polished concrete floors connect the structures. 

In the main house, a lofted upper level contains the master suite and an office area, furnished with an Aeron chair from Herman Miller.

In the main house, a lofted upper level contains the master suite and an office area, furnished with an Aeron chair from Herman Miller.

A similar versatility informs the smart technologies employed on the property. Used in conjunction with passive solar radiation techniques, Sunrain collectors gather energy to help heat the houses and melt snow from the courtyard. A Tekmar system, working in tandem with 11 Nest thermostats, dynamically manages heat distribution by adapting conditions based on fluctuations in temperature inside the houses and out. Tekmar sensors that track the temperature of the floor slabs, outdoor air, and solar-heated water tank ensure that the structures stay temperate. In summer, automated Velux skylights located in both the clubhouse and main house open for ventilation when the dwellings reach about 75 degrees. Wells designed the houses to stay above freezing in winter months, when the residences are sometimes unoccupied. The smart technology also allows for security management from afar: Visitors to the property can easily be seen and let in using Nest closed-circuit cameras and a Simplisafe security system. "I do it all from my iPhone," Wells says. 

The building frame was prefabricated in Iowa using steel members and stress-tested SDS lumber—elements left exposed in the final design. A pair of LC1 chairs from Cassina create a seating area off the kitchen.

The building frame was prefabricated in Iowa using steel members and stress-tested SDS lumber—elements left exposed in the final design. A pair of LC1 chairs from Cassina create a seating area off the kitchen.

In the master bathroom, custom vanities made of Baltic birch face a Soiree tub by Toto. Paper lanterns from IKEA illuminate the lofted level.

In the master bathroom, custom vanities made of Baltic birch face a Soiree tub by Toto. Paper lanterns from IKEA illuminate the lofted level.

By segmenting the project into three distinct structures, Wells was able to create privacy for each family while echoing the neighboring buildings. "We didn’t want to get in the way of other people’s sight corridors, so we made the structures as low as possible," he says. "Broken down into three parts, they fit the scale of the adjacent buildings." This also allowed for an array of views from the buildings, the courtyard, and several decks, including one adjacent to a bordering ski run. On the way back from an outing, skiers "can just glide onto the deck," Wells says.The self-regulating technologies and the deconstructed layout of spaces speak to the economy and flexibility of the structure: a mountain home as microcosm. As Wells puts it, "It has a village feeling." 

The structures, connected by sheltered walkways, frame a grassy courtyard. "Compositionally, I was trying to create bookends to the clubhouse." Wells says. "I looked at all the parts in assembly."

The structures, connected by sheltered walkways, frame a grassy courtyard. "Compositionally, I was trying to create bookends to the clubhouse." Wells says. "I looked at all the parts in assembly."

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