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Rocky Mountain Women Power: Renée del Gaudio’s Modern Cabin for Artist Maricel Blum

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Rocky Mountain Women Power: Renée del Gaudio’s Modern Cabin for Artist Maricel Blum

July 12, 2019

Maricel Blum was in the checkout line of a Denver grocery store when she spotted a modernist cabin by architect Renée del Gaudio on the cover of local magazine 5280. “She called immediately and insisted on coming over,” reports del Gaudio, who works out of her family’s steel and glass alpine home in nearby Boulder. “On seeing my place Maricel said, ‘You’re designing a house for me.'”

Blum, an artist from Colombia with home bases in Bogotá and Key Biscayne, Florida, has been making winter pilgrimages to Colorado since her college days in Boston. Over the years, she and her two kids had tried all the ski resorts, and so loved Breckenridge that they decided to build their own place within striking distance. That’s how she happened upon her cliffside lot, 45 minutes to the south (and under two hours from Denver), in the windswept and almost completely undeveloped old mining town of Fairplay, elevation 10,000 feet.

“I thought of building my own log home like everyone else here,” Blum tells us. “But when I saw that view I said no, no, no, it has to be completely open and all about this.” Del Gaudio, who operates her own one-woman office, specializes, she says, in “deeply looking at the climate, the landscape, and the history of the region to create contemporary architecture that belongs here.” In other words, she was ready. To begin the design process, she and her husband and kids pitched a tent right on the rocks on Blum’s one-acre parcel and spent the weekend getting to know the place. Join us for a look at the arresting—and also low-impact and energy-efficient—results.

Photography by David Lauer, courtesy of Renée del Gaudio Architecture.

Maricel’s design brief was “I want to feel as if I’m perched out on that cliff.”  Del Gaudio complied: situated over the South Platt River, the main house faces due south looking out to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Collegiate Peaks of the Rockies.
Above: Maricel’s design brief was “I want to feel as if I’m perched out on that cliff.”  Del Gaudio complied: situated over the South Platt River, the main house faces due south looking out to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Collegiate Peaks of the Rockies.
Connected to the main house by a deck, a second smaller cabin houses two bedrooms for Blum’s children, now in their twenties. The decision to build separate structures was in response to the narrowness of the property and also to provide built-in privacy.
Above: Connected to the main house by a deck, a second smaller cabin houses two bedrooms for Blum’s children, now in their twenties. The decision to build separate structures was in response to the narrowness of the property and also to provide built-in privacy.

“The cabins’ gabled roof forms and rustic materials recall the area’s early mountain huts,” says del Gaudio. Note that both structures are elevated on steel piers to minimize excavation and preserve the natural topography of the site.

Designed to blend in with the surrounding bristle cone pine and ponderosa forest, the house is clad in rustic-grade cedar stained ebony using Broda Prot-Tek-Tor, a low-VOC, UV-resistant product from CBR of Canada that del Gaudio uses in just about all of her projects.
Above: Designed to blend in with the surrounding bristle cone pine and ponderosa forest, the house is clad in rustic-grade cedar stained ebony using Broda Prot-Tek-Tor, a low-VOC, UV-resistant product from CBR of Canada that del Gaudio uses in just about all of her projects.

The standing seam roof is galvanized steel in a matte finish: “It’s a material called Bonderized that’s made to take paint. I installed it raw and left it as is because I liked that it’s not shiny,” says del Gaudio. “It was an experiment here, but it’s now my favorite.”

Another go-to material of del Gaudio’s is open-grate steel decking—”the kind used in ski resorts, so the snow just drips through.” Blum says she’s never had to shovel: snow falls through the openings and from there, thanks to the fact that the house doesn’t sit directly on the ground, natural drainage takes over.
Above: Another go-to material of del Gaudio’s is open-grate steel decking—”the kind used in ski resorts, so the snow just drips through.” Blum says she’s never had to shovel: snow falls through the openings and from there, thanks to the fact that the house doesn’t sit directly on the ground, natural drainage takes over.

The decking was carefully built around a mature bristle cone pine that rises next to the house. Del Gaudio notes that the material is also slip-proof, and says it has only one downside: “it’s horrible on bare feet.”

A triple-paned sliding glass door made by Pacific Architectural Millwork opens the living room to the sweeping southern views. The windows, by Loewen of Canada, are double paned and allow natural light and breezes to filter through all sides.
Above: A triple-paned sliding glass door made by Pacific Architectural Millwork opens the living room to the sweeping southern views. The windows, by Loewen of Canada, are double paned and allow natural light and breezes to filter through all sides.
Del Gaudio lined the 1,300-square-foot interior with clear-sealed Baltic birch plywood and used Douglas fir for the rafters and other exposed framing. The rustic-grade walnut floor has radiant heating set in a concrete slab, and there’s also a Rais wood stove powerful enough to heat the entire cabin: “when the stove is cooking, a thermostat shuts off the radiant heating,” says del Gaudio.
Above: Del Gaudio lined the 1,300-square-foot interior with clear-sealed Baltic birch plywood and used Douglas fir for the rafters and other exposed framing. The rustic-grade walnut floor has radiant heating set in a concrete slab, and there’s also a Rais wood stove powerful enough to heat the entire cabin: “when the stove is cooking, a thermostat shuts off the radiant heating,” says del Gaudio.

The cabins have closed- and open-cell foam insulation, and in summer, cross breezes and ceiling fans keep things cool (no AC). Del Gaudio also pre-wired the structures with photovoltaic panels, so that 100 percent of the electricity can be supplied by solar energy—Blum says right now the house isn’t in use enough to warrant fully installing the system.

An island, finished in the same walnut as the floor divides the kitchen from the rest of the room. Blum uses the 180 square foot loft as a painting studio, storage space, and extra guest room. “It’s accessed by a ladder and is flexible space that keeps the main level clutter free,” says del Gaudio.
Above: An island, finished in the same walnut as the floor divides the kitchen from the rest of the room. Blum uses the 180 square foot loft as a painting studio, storage space, and extra guest room. “It’s accessed by a ladder and is flexible space that keeps the main level clutter free,” says del Gaudio.
The kitchen island has a John Boos butcher block counter and the sink counter is cast-in-place concrete. The loft’s steel railing is enclosed with welded wire mesh: “it’s an inexpensive agricultural staple sold in sheets,” says del Gaudio. “The version we used has four-inch squares—they can’t be any bigger to pass code.”
Above: The kitchen island has a John Boos butcher block counter and the sink counter is cast-in-place concrete. The loft’s steel railing is enclosed with welded wire mesh: “it’s an inexpensive agricultural staple sold in sheets,” says del Gaudio. “The version we used has four-inch squares—they can’t be any bigger to pass code.”
 Blum requested an outdoor shower, something that doesn’t make sense most months of the year here, so instead del Gaudio designed a master bedroom with an en suite bath that feels as if it’s outdoors.
Above: Blum requested an outdoor shower, something that doesn’t make sense most months of the year here, so instead del Gaudio designed a master bedroom with an en suite bath that feels as if it’s outdoors.
Del Gaudio enclosed the shower and bath in a subway-tiled glass cube, “so you can be in the tub and look straight out at the Sangre de Cristos.”
Above: Del Gaudio enclosed the shower and bath in a subway-tiled glass cube, “so you can be in the tub and look straight out at the Sangre de Cristos.”

The twin sinks and faucets are from Ikea and the bathtub is the Eaton from Signature Hardware: “It’s acrylic, which made it more affordable, though unlike ceramic, it doesn’t hold the heat.” The tub filler is the Lethe from Signature Hardware. The toilet is tucked in its own compartment on the other side of the hall.

A painting by Blum hangs in one of the little cabin bedrooms. Blum and artist friends gather at the compound in the summer to paint and take art workshops at Breckenridge.
Above: A painting by Blum hangs in one of the little cabin bedrooms. Blum and artist friends gather at the compound in the summer to paint and take art workshops at Breckenridge.
 “Believe me, this is the first modern cabin in Fairplay,” says Blum. Initially, she looked into buying property in Breckenridge and Vail, but fell in love with the idea of being in a remote—and much more affordable—corner of Colorado.
Above: “Believe me, this is the first modern cabin in Fairplay,” says Blum. Initially, she looked into buying property in Breckenridge and Vail, but fell in love with the idea of being in a remote—and much more affordable—corner of Colorado.
 The cabin’s main entrance is on the north side, so visitors are greeted by a big cliffside view. The two structures are linked by the metal deck; together they frame the vista and create what del Gaudo calls “a wind-protected space in between.”
Above: The cabin’s main entrance is on the north side, so visitors are greeted by a big cliffside view. The two structures are linked by the metal deck; together they frame the vista and create what del Gaudo calls “a wind-protected space in between.”

Here are three more of our favorite modern cabins:

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