Super-sized chalets with exposed trusses and burly log timbering are plentiful in the mountains—the thinking being that the best complement to big country is a strapping lumberjack of a house. But this all-weather abode on the former Cataract Creek Ranch takes an opposite tack. It uses a more human-scaled intimacy to accentuate the grandeur that lies outside.

Siting the house appropriately on 36 acres at the base of the Gore Range was a critical first step that allowed the rest of the design strategy to unfold, according to owners Sarah and Russell Brown, principals with the Denver architectural firm Semple Brown Design. The prime spot was pinpointed at the edge of a forest, where slender aspens abut a plain of sagebrush.

Complementing these natural amenities, the structure reads as two primary forms: a single-story horizontal volume of public realms (living, cooking, and dining) echoing the low-lying meadow to the east, and a 21/2-story vertical tower of private sleeping rooms snuggling up against the aspen grove to the west. The trees shelter the home from winds coming over the Continental Divide.

Functional criteria drove the next round of design specs. “It's not a full-time residence, so we didn't want a lot of maintenance,” says Sarah Brown. “And at the time we started designing the house, there was a drought in Colorado, so we really wanted to use noncombustible materials.” Thus the corrugated metal skin.

TOASTY AND TASTY: A double-sided wood-burning stove by Tulikivi  heats the whole house. Bonus: The kitchen side of the soapstone chamber incorporates a pizza oven. Electrical-ignition propane heaters provide backup heating in the house, but are seldom used.
TOASTY AND TASTY: A double-sided wood-burning stove by Tulikivi heats the whole house. Bonus: The kitchen side of the soapstone chamber incorporates a pizza oven. Electrical-ignition propane heaters provide backup heating in the house, but are seldom used.

Inside the Galvalume shell, though, is a cozy wood lining. The interiors are almost entirely clad in tongue-and-groove Douglas fir. “The trim carpenter and milling carpenter had to adjust every wall with furring or shimming,” recalls project architect Chris Davis. “Drywall you can just throw on, but with wood, everything has to be perfectly aligned. It was pretty painstaking, but the end result feels very handcrafted.”

To offset this indulgence, the architects ganged standard-size Pozzi windows into panels in lieu of custom glazing. “The temptation was to have big expanses of glass to take advantage of the views, but we also had to pull the windows above grade by at least 3 feet to account for heavy snows in winter,” says Sarah Brown. “Ultimately, having the windows divided helped with thermal insulation and made them more structurally sound.” Roughly 70 percent of the windows are operable, allowing for passive ventilation in warmer months.

Another cost (and space) saver: the vertical tower, which reduces the circulation space between the four bedrooms to a single stairway. “We were able to be superefficient in square footage because we didn't have any corridors and the bedrooms are small,” says Sarah Brown. “Since it's not a full-time residence, there's not a whole lot of closet space. But when you go to a place like this, you don't hang out in the bedrooms. They're really just for sleeping.”

VALLEY HIGH: Nestled at the base of a mountain, the ranch house (above) appears to float in a sea of sagebrush.
VALLEY HIGH: Nestled at the base of a mountain, the ranch house (above) appears to float in a sea of sagebrush.

Project: Cataract Ranch, Middle Park, Colo.; Size: 3,200 square feet; Builder: Doug Folkers Inc., Silverthorn, Colo.; Architect: Semple Brown Design, Denver photos: ron pollard photography

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Denver, CO.