For architects, limitations often serve as inspiration.
So when Bryan May began work on Black Magic, a mountainside custom home halfway between Aspen and Snowmass Village in Colorado, the restrictive site felt more like an opportunity than a hindrance.
“The site limitation is one we imposed on ourselves, trying to be as light on the land as possible,” says May, an architect in Rowland+Broughton’s Aspen office who works on hospitality and residential projects. “We explored a lot of different options on how we could not disturb so much of the site. It starts with siting it properly, and you don’t have to excavate the entire site. It’s great to restore the natural habitat and the natural topography and it helps you keep the drainage going where the water should go and the migration patterns intact.”
Working with the land, rather than fighting it, became a defining part of the home’s overall form. Likewise, rather than defining the site by what it lacks in services — city water, sewers, and natural gas — May defines it by what it does have: “It’s got its own water system, its own sewer, its own propane. It just provided a different opportunity to use what’s there.”
For the homeowners, who had lived on the lot since the 1970s, raising their family in an older home, the site’s rural nature was similarly a positive trait. It’s set in a large development called Brush Creek filled with lots perched on steep mountain slopes and surrounded by astounding views.
“The site sells the house here,” May says. “[The clients] love the area in general, they love being outside. Being able to blend the interior and exterior, crossing that boundary and bringing the exterior in was really important.”
May wanted the home to provide the feeling of sitting amongst the trees while in the living room. The contemporary, glass-enclosed home provides that feeling of being outside while also sheltering the interior from the neighbors.
“You walk into this house and it looks like a rather private, secluded black box in the mountains,” May says. “You eventually walk into the space and into the main living area and it just completely opens up to the trees on the other side. It’s a great experience.”
The warmth of propane
Propane provided an opportunity to enhance that experience with cozy gas amenities. A propane boiler provides domestic hot water and feeds an in-floor radiant heating system, and a propane fireplace adds to the ambience of the living area.
“I don’t think we would ever sit down and recommend a purely electric home from an energy standpoint,” May says. “There’s a sense of warmth that’s associated with gas. Having a gas-fueled appliance just evokes a certain feel. Knowing they have a gas fireplace, for example, that’s not just electric baseboard, having that element, turning on the lights and having a flame means a lot more to someone than cranking up the thermostat.”
“There’s just the allure of cooking over fire that you can’t quite replace, and clients really want to have that.”
A propane range was also a must-have for the kitchen. “Gas [cooking] of some sort is highly, highly sought after here,” May says. “We’re starting to get into induction, but you’ll never get rid of gas. There’s just the allure of cooking over fire that you can’t quite replace, and clients really want to have that.”
Black Magic’s owners didn’t initially furnish the home’s outdoor space, but many of May’s projects include propane-fueled outdoor amenities. “We have done some propane fire pits simply because of how easy they are,” he says. “You can plop them down wherever you are. That has been amazing, especially with the amount of time people want to spend outdoors in this type of climate. You want to be outside all the time in the winter because the views are beautiful, and everyone wants to just sit out and soak in the sun.”
Replacing their old home with a sleek, contemporary dwelling that fits their style has been cathartic for the homeowners, who now frequently entertain guests after rarely entertaining in the past. And for May, the home was a fun opportunity to push the envelope with different materials.
“When you have limitations, you get a better product,” May says. “Whether that’s a restrictive site or the fact that you only have propane, all of those factors come into play to create the final result.”