By Andrea Bankoff
Photography by Ron Ruscio
The spectacular swimming pool, seen from each of the soaring windows at the rear of this Genesee house, beckons to guests as they catch a glimpse of it through the home’s many windows. With its watery edge vanishing into the view of the nearby forest, its waterfalls, boulders and lush plantings, it’s no wonder that the pool is the centerpiece of the luxury outdoor lifestyle enjoyed at the mountain home.
When the owner bought the home, it was a dated and modest 1960s ranch with a small rectangular pool. The site, though, was breathtaking, overlooking hundreds of acres of forest. Turning the aging property into an outdoor haven that encompasses the many sides of a Colorado paradise—forest, mountains, water and sky, was not a task for beginners. So the owner called in award-winning architect Sears Barrett and renowned landscape architect Martin Mosko of Marpa & Associates to transform the home. “At the beginning, the owner wanted to do a surgical remodel and save certain parts of the home,” says Barrett. “But we ended up tearing almost the whole house down.”
The entire project was driven by the client’s love of the outdoors, according to Barrett, who designed the home so that every room on the main floor opens to a deck or stone patio that leads inevitably to the pool. He positioned the home so that the back wall faces southwest, which is the sunny elevation of the house. “The homeowner loves both mountains and water and had a vision of the house that was very open and playful, yet peaceful at the same time,” says Barrett.
The owner, a geologist, also wanted the house to look like a natural part of the site. To achieve this, moss rocks were used on the grounds surrounding the house and native stone was used on the building itself. “We wanted the house to be understated, so we used cedar siding and blue-gray slate roof tiles so the roof would sit comfortably in the forest and against the sky,” Barrett explains. “The house recedes into the landscape and reads as if it’s stone. It’s quiet and seems to say ‘I’m just another piece on the hill.’”
However, at the back of the house, its extroverted side shows itself off dramatically. The true surprise and delight of the home is walking into its subdued front entry of rock formations and coming upon the huge, dramatic windows Barrett created to further dramatize the views of the surrounding forest and the naturally landscaped pool.
Because the family loves to swim and wanted their outdoor living to be centered on water, the new pool was designed as the eye-catching centerpiece of the landscape and the heart of their warm-weather living. The owner, a water lover with another home in the Bahamas, loves swimming and wanted to improve upon the original pool. Because his daughter is a competitive swimmer, he wanted to incorporate an Olympic-sized lap lane into the new pool.
The architect and landscape architect worked hand in hand to create the successful energy between the home, pool and landscape. Mosko is the force behind the unique pool and the reason it fits so beautifully into its surroundings. In order to make the pool look like a natural part of the landscape, Marpa & Associates moved the location of the pool to take advantage of the home’s most commanding feature—its view of the Continental Divide. The owner had purchased 165 acres of forest adjacent to his homesite, but regulations wouldn’t allow him to encroach upon that land. So Mosko’s team created an 18-foot-high wall to support the desired location for the pool. “The wall was created out of huge boulders that we had to bring in over the house by the largest excavation machine in Colorado, so we could create this outside the boundaries of the forest, yet have it still look natural and very much a part of the existing landscape,” says Mosko.
The wall gave Mosko the height needed to install the dramatic twin staircases that lead directly down into the pools and the waterfalls that feed it. “By surrounding the pool with large boulders, we created the sense that the pool was literally carved from the mountain,” he says.
Mosko, a Buddhist scholar and a Zen monk, considers the creation of a garden, pool and landscape to be a spiritual practice and incorporates ideas from Tibetan and Chinese philosophies into his work. According to Mosko, his goal was to create structures that represent a balance of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space—exactly what the homeowner wanted to achieve in his Genesee retreat.
“The idea was to bring the energy of the mountains into the domicile and into the water because of water’s reflectivity and because water amplifies energy,” explains Mosko. “We are visually led from the lower level patios through the shallow pond that spills into the pool. This carries your eye into the disappearing edge of the pool, which then forms the basis of the all-important view of the mountains. The mountains represent the heaven element that is brought down by the flat water to the Earth.”
In order to achieve a natural look for the pool, Mosko realized it would be important to have the pool’s water come from a separate source, as it would if it were a real mountain pond. He and his team created the mountain spring pool from which water falls dramatically into the main pool and ultimately ends by spilling between 16-foot-high boulders. Near the disappearing edge of the pool sits a bench from which to enjoy the views, as well as a shallow underwater platform that allows a contented sunbather to have part of his or her body in the water.
On this side of paradise, the contact between man and water seems both spiritual and playful, which, of course, was the intention all along. Such a magical place represents perhaps the ultimate luxury: living in a world of one’s own making that also encompass all of nature’s gifts.