A Mindful Downsize

Organic materials and a nod to the historic ranches of the area inform an empty-nester couple’s new home.

The rooflines of the Edwards home and guesthouse reflect the ridgeline beyond while facilitating passive and active solar by shading the home in summer and providing a platform for solar panels. Photo by Ric Stovall

They lived on 35 beautiful acres in Edwards, Colorado, but it was time for a change. The couple—both doctors, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts—sought to turn a page on their lives with thought and purpose. With their two children grown, they realized that they neither needed nor wanted a sprawling home. They examined how they wanted to live, and decided that 2,600 square feet, plus an additional 400 in a guesthouse, would do just fine, fitting nicely on five acres of the land they loved.

They asked architect Ann Darby to help translate their vision. “We are longtime friends, and I knew their history on this land,” Darby says, “but architects and doctors speak different languages.” So the couple took an architecture class to help them better articulate their vision. “They started thinking in terms of the relationships of spaces to one another and to the site. They diagramed the flow and how they would use the spaces. Energy conservation was important to them as well as how the home fit on the land.”

Together, Darby and the couple designed a three-bedroom, three-bath house that capitalizes on views of both a nearby pond and the mountains and also interacts well with the sun. “Ann helped us create a property that has the feel of waking up in a national park every morning,” the husband, a surgeon, says.

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The guesthouse is its own intimate space tucked into the adjacent forest. Lake Creek runs by it into the pond. The wife, a psychologist, uses the guesthouse for her practice, so Darby added a second entrance, providing privacy for clients coming and going. The small home also offers comfortable accommodations for visits from the couple’s grown children, and a caretaker can reside there when the couple travels.

The fireplace wall showcases a mix of indigenous materials— timber, stone and weathered metal—used throughout the home. Photo by Ric Stovall.
Engineered hardwood floors of rustic ash radiate warmth from the home’s geothermal heat plant. Photo by Ric Stovall.

A materials palette of timber, stone and metal honors the agrarian nature of the Lake Creek Valley. “The profile of the gable and shed roof draws from an early vernacular of the valley,” Darby says. Aesthetically, the rooflines reflect the ridgeline beyond. Functionally, they open up to the view and the sun and hold the solar photovoltaic system. The roof offers shade and sunlight for both passive and active solar. The metal roof is a medium bronze that stays cool and fits the character of a ranch house.

The exterior materials carry through inside the main house as well. Colorado buff sandstone lines the fireplace wall, absorbing heat in the winter. Cor-Ten steel panels that echo the old ranches add a sense of authenticity. “Cor-Ten will rust but will not rust through,” Darby says. Structural beams of Douglas fir and ocean blue travertine used on the bathroom floors and showers offer an organic sense of permanence throughout. Creamy quartz countertops add brightness to the stainless steel fixtures and appliances.

The ceiling and exposed structural beams of Douglas fir complete the Rocky Mountain modern look.

European engineered wood floors in rustic ash were chosen for superior heat transfer when laid atop the radiant heat slab in the floor. Their beauty belies serious technology. Two geothermal plates at the base of the pond feed into a heat pump that both heats and cools the home. “The efficiency of the system requires less energy to heat the water from the temperature at the base of the pond for thermal heating and is an ideal temperature for cooling,” Darby says.

The husband no longer practices surgery but “is getting his hands back into the land.” The wife counsels her clients in the peaceful guesthouse next to the trout pond. Together, they are writing a new chapter of their lives, in a home that is sustainable but also respects the history of the area.

Architect: Ann Darby
Darby Architects 
235 W. Buckboard Rd., Edwards