Project Name: BLURRED BOUNDARIES: Capitol Valley Ranch
Project Location: Old Snowmass, Colorado
Project Category: 4A - Residential Design (Over $100,000 Construction Budget)
Project Summary | Capitol Valley Ranch’s design conveys a sense of intimacy and human comfort in a life-size, natural
environment. In this rural setting, architecture and landscape architecture merge to create a seamless and understated transition
between the built and natural environments. The design seeks to redefine the design of mountain homes by addressing water,
material and energy consumption. This project defines the notion of successful teamwork, combining the team’s collective
imagination and desire to recreate the landscape utilizing its natural systems with the owners’ commitment to preserving
remnants of the social and agricultural heritage of the valley. The generous use of operable glass allows for abundant natural
light and encourages close relationships between indoor and outdoor spaces, joining the domestic and the wild, while also
facilitating passive solar radiation and cross-ventilation of mountain breezes.
Purpose of Project | The owners of this property, ranching and open-lands enthusiasts, felt strongly that the home should not
impose itself on the surrounding environment, but rather emerge from it in an organic and respectful manner. The home, set on
a topographic bench of land overlooking the Capitol Creek Valley in Colorado, is set low in the landscape, assuming an equal
status with the adjacent ranch land and capturing the panoramic views that surround it. The agricultural and domestic areas are
so successfully integrated that the wooden rail fences – visual markers in the landscape – are necessary only for keeping the
horses and cattle out of the garden areas. Masked by subtle berming and tree massing, the house is virtually invisible from the
ranch road leading to the property. Even with quite a bit of grade change over the site, the design team reduced overall site
disturbance by finding a way to make a level transition to match the existing natural grade. The resulting effect creates a low-key
environment which allows for frequent sightings of bear, elk, deer and bird habitats, achieving the owner’s goals for the
Role of Landscape Architect | The challenge was to make the home feel like it belonged on this piece of land. Striving beyond
stylish influences, designers found equal importance in listening to the land and drawing from the valley’s rural agricultural
heritage. The home was inspired by the designs of Cliff May, the 20th-century architect credited with recreating the modern
American ranch house. The home combines Western ranch house style with an element of modernism. The long central form
and wings that extend out into the landscape invite nature to become as much a part of the home as the furnishings. The indoor
and outdoor spaces are separated only by windows, doors and walls, with no changes in levels between interior and exterior
Working in close collaboration, the design team created a reciprocal relationship between the home, its landscape and the larger
environment. Passive solar design sites the building to optimize solar benefit – creating a heat sink with regional sandstone
flooring that retains heat during winter months and managing undesirable heat gain during peak solar hours via exterior sun
shade design. An outdoor courtyard and edible garden, situated to strategically take full advantage of the site’s solar exposure,
transitions from the interior living room.
The reciprocal relationship also facilitates mountain breezes to flow through the heart of the home. Throughout, windows
extend to the roof, bringing in additional natural light and allowing for cross-ventilation. Inside and out, materials are used in a
variety of ways – horizontally, vertically and even gapped to allow soft dappled light to filter inside. The latter treatment is
reminiscent of how barns have been built in the West for centuries. Deciduous trees, strategically planted adjacent to the home,
provide shade in the summer and allow solar radiation during the winter months.
Special Factors | Like most agricultural lands in the region, the property is reliant upon water provided by the seasonally flowing
irrigation ditches that crisscross the surrounding ranch lands. However, the site’s existing irrigation ditch bisected the existing
building envelope designation. Instead of disturbing the flow of the historic channel, the landscape architect achieved approval
from the stringent Pitkin County planning department for an alternative building envelope site, and incorporated the ditch as an
entry feature. The ditch was replanted with cottonwood trees and masses of willow and dogwood to re-create the familiar
vegetative pattern seen in this region while the approaching gravel drive remains informal, removing any notion of curbs and
allowing water to infiltrate into the adjacent native grass swales.
The landscape architect paid special attention to the anticipated microclimates created by the home’s design. Outdoor living
areas close to the house provide a sense of protection and comfort, transitioning to the agrarian and native environments
through the use of indigenous plants and water. The north courtyard, framed by a U-shaped section of the home, is open to the
sky but protected from the elements. Away from the big view, the courtyard is focused on activities extending from the interior
rooms, including the living room, which connects to the sandstone patio through large floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Anchored by a
rock fireplace and large rectangular seating boulders, the patio is set tight against the home. As it merges into the garden area,
the sandstone floor gradually fractures and becomes a soft carpet of creeping thyme and grass. The perennial cutting garden is
filled with flowers and herbs that bloom from spring through fall.
On the sunny south side, the terrace spans the side of the home, opening to the wide valley landscape beyond. A series of low
rock walls running both perpendicular and parallel to the house help to define the outdoor living spaces. Bold planting strokes of
sun-loving perennials bloom in walled garden beds adjacent to the kitchen and master bedroom doors. A sandstone patio
extension and lawn is meant for play and outdoor entertainment. Beyond, the pond and strategically placed groupings of aspen
and spruce trees provide foreground and structure to the spacious landscape. A lap pool stretches perpendicularly from the
house. Around the edges, tall native grasses, wetlands and then pasture lands spread out across the mountain valley.
Significance | The design of Capitol Valley Ranch possesses underlying principles which meet many of the today’s regional issues
of sustainability. The project achieved approval through the rigorous Pitkin County Efficient Building Checklist. Particular areas
of focus include;
Water Cycle - Water consumption, considered one of the West’s most significant environmental dilemmas, was
drastically reduced by incorporating low-drip irrigation system that were fed by on-site ponds, for all defined planting
areas. Native plants were selected for their low-water needs and minimal maintenance. Like most agricultural lands in
this area, the property is reliant upon water provided by the seasonally flowing irrigation ditches that crisscross the
Energy Flows - Unlike many of the recent homes built in the area, this design avoids the use of snowmelt and expansive
areas of highly designed non-permeable driving surfaces. Instead, a decomposed granite arrival court and series of trails
facilitates stormwater infiltration. An on-site, renewable solar system is utilized to offset minimal snow-melt and energy
generation for heating the lap pool, enabling year-round use. Conscious of the valley’s migrating patterns, designers
followed the night-sky ordinance by limiting the use of excessive landscape lighting.
Materials Usage - Materials were selected for low maintenance, durability and performance over time. Reclaimed
structural log columns and ceiling beams, in particular, play a prominent role in this home’s architectural plan. Rough-timber
fencing and a multi-tiered plant palette supports the residence, providing structure and an interesting
foreground to the long views. It’s no coincidence that the newly planted trees look like they’ve always been there.
From wide swaths of native grasses that move in the wind and “Gro-Low’ sumac interspersed here and there, to Rocky
Mountain columbine, larkspur, hosta and wood’s rose, each plant was carefully selected and placed to look as if it
sprung up quite naturally.
Land Use & Site Disturbance - In lieu of the traditional means of transitioning between levels through larger, vertical
transitions, the team’s collaboration yielded a design which followed the more constant slope of the site. This was
achieved through minor transitions, reducing the amount of cut and full conditions, minimizing overall site disturbance
and enabling all exterior terraces to be constructed on native soil versus requiring compacted fill. This project defines
the notion of successful teamwork; combining our collective imagination and the owners’ commitment to preserving
remnants of the agricultural heritage of the valley. The result blurs the boundary between the built and natural
Project Name: BLURRED BOUNDARIES: Capitol Valley Ranch
Project Location: Old Snowmass, Colorado
Project Category: 4A ‐ Residential Design (Over $100,000 Construction Budget)
Site Plan: The owners of this property, ranching and open lands enthusiasts, felt strongly that the home should not impose itself
on the surrounding environment, but rather, emerge from it in an organic and respectful manner. This project defines the notion
of successful teamwork, combining the team’s collective imagination and desire to recreate the landscape utilizing its natural
systems with the owners’ commitment to preserving remnants of the social and agricultural heritage of the valley.
1. Resting on a topographic bench of land overlooking the Capitol Creek Valley – a landscape recognized for its panoramic
mountain views – the home is set low in the landscape, assuming an equal status with the adjacent working ranch land and
capturing the views that surround it. Native grasses and rough‐timber fencing, which was designed to allow for wildlife
migration, provides structure and a fine‐textured foreground to the long views of the mountains.
2. Instead of the traditional approach to larger vertical transitions, grade changes were picked up through a series of smaller 18‐
24” transitions throughout the home and garden, allowing the residence to follow the site’s naturally sloped grade and to not
overpower the larger landscape. Ultimately, the landscape design allows for the native landscape to embrace the home, blurring
the lines between the built and natural environment with living spaces that extend to the great outdoors.
3. Like most agricultural lands in this region, the property is reliant upon water provided by the seasonally flowing irrigation
ditches that crisscross the surrounding ranch lands. The ditch was replanted with cottonwood trees and masses of willow and
dogwood to re‐create the familiar vegetative pattern seen in this region while the approaching gravel drive remains informal,
removing any notion of curbs and allowing water to infiltrate into the adjacent native grass swales.
4. Unlike many homes built in the area, this design calls for a permeable, decomposed‐gravel arrival court and avoids the use of
snowmelt and expansive areas of highly designed driving surfaces. An Amur Maple adds a soft texture to the vertical stone
façade of the house while preserving an unobstructed view from the arrival court through the home to the distant pasture.
5. A rectangular boulder, placed vertically, marks the point of transition between the intimate seating area and the transparently
colorful gardens. Light‐colored sandstone, selected for its ability to remain cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter, lays
tightly together in the interior court, separating as it emerges into the garden.
6. Dynamic outdoor living spaces extend into the landscape and provide the owners and their guests the opportunity to enjoy
the Colorado environment. A native stone fireplace and large stone seating benches anchor the sheltered northern space, while
blue hues of Rocky Mountain Columbine, Jacob’s Ladder and Larkspur add seasonal color to the space.
7. Working in close collaboration with the architect, the landscape architect studied regional bioclimatic strategies and created a
reciprocal, spatial relationship between the home and its landscape. The design permits mountain breezes to flow through the
heart of the home and allowing passive solar radiation to heat the home during winter months.
8. An informal vegetable, herb and perennial cut flower garden provides the homeowners the opportunity to cultivate their own
fresh vegetables and flowers. Perennial gardens include a rotating seasonal selection of Larkspur (Delphinium x Pacific Giant),
Purple Salvia (Salvia nemorsa ‘May Night’), Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’) and Bellflower (Campanula persicifolia).
9. Vertical punctuation of Larkspur creates visual cues for the extent of the perennial garden. Water shortage, a significant issue
for the state of Colorado, was drastically reduced by incorporating a drip irrigation system, fed by on‐site ponds, for all defined
10. The soft colors and mix of native plant materials take their cues from the subtlety in the surrounding grasslands; the
reflection provides the illusion of a “pastoral painting” set against the home’s exterior. Native plants, chosen for their low‐water
needs and minimal maintenance, were selected to provide visual contrast against architectural focal points.
11. Solar panels, nestled amidst the preserved, native landscape, provide enough energy to heat the lap pool for year‐round use.
Unlike traditional application of solar panels where they may appear as an afterthought or a hidden addition, the layout of the
panels are intended to echo the linear patterns of the pool, its paving and adjacent native stone walls.
12. A foreground cluster of Quaking Aspens set in a horizontal swath of native Timothy Grass anchors the view to the lap pool.
The designer’s light‐handed approach provides the ability to embrace the greater landscape environment.
13. Detailed photograph of Timothy Grass.
14. Perpendicular to the home, the southwest‐facing lap pool and casual dining terrace extends into the landscape. The dark
bottom of the pool accentuates the reflective nature of the still water while a pink sandstone terrace accommodates a range of
passive and active entertainment activities.
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