Great Curves

Home of the Year Winner!

By Patrick Soran
Photography by J. Curtis

ASK THE OWNERS, THE ARCHITECTS or the interior designers of this unusual 8,188 square-foot house in Genesee what makes it such a success and they all chant the same chorus: playfulness. Its rolling rooflines really do seem to bubble along as happily as an architectural frown turned upside down. "The owners, Stephen and Michelle Koch, are happy people," recalls Judy Gubner, one of the principals of In-Site Design Group, the interior designers on the project. "They call us the 'girls,'"chuckles partner Colleen Johnson, "and we call them the 'kids.'"

When architect Sears Barrett showed the Koch's (they pronounce it "coach") the earliest facade studies, Stephen looked at them carefully and dead-panned, "This looks like somewhere my parents would live." A light went on over Sears' head, "I knew right then it was time to have some fun."

So this experienced design team loosened the client-designer shackles a notch and got creative.

Sears began with the site planning, as this is no ordinary piece of plotted subdivision. The 35 acres pan out across rocky overcroppings and Douglas Fir forest overlooking Mount Evans. "the best location bugled out overlooking the views," says Hunter Collins, co-designer with Sears. There was only one problem. Rain or snowmelt turned it into a river several times a year. Solution: Build not one building, but three, with bridges spanning water courses. The center pavilion houses the living spaces above with guest bedrooms below. Bridges connect the master suite west and a three-car garage on the sunup side - a bit like Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater colliding with a Colorado kayak course.

Next came those arched roofs. "They're an outgrowth of the lines of the site itself," Sears intones in his best architectural voice, but push him on just a little bit and he laughingly admits, "Oh, okay. I've always wanted to do a curve-topped house, and I know Stephen and Michelle would be the couple with the self-confidence to build it."

It certainly results in a joyous place. Standing in the living room makes one think of being under a surge of waves. They lap and overlap, washing up and down the hill like the tide. Sears thinks of them as being of the sea as well, but in a different way. "Standing there under the ribs spanning from wall to wall curving overhead," he says, 'is like standing beneath a beautiful well-made boat."

The arches are constructed with "glu-lam" beams, which are strips of wood "glued" and "laminated" into long spanning structural shapes with great strength and beauty. The columns are peeled logs, each put onto a lathe-like machine with a blade that strips the bark and outer layers off. They end up smooth as silk, but with a lot of woody character. These particular pillars were downed in Montana, where both the beams and columns were pre-assembled to make sure they would all fit together.

"When they arrived here," laughs Hunter, "it was like assembling a giant Tinker Toy set." The round roofs are sheathed in copper, which started out new-penny bright, but has quickly aged into a more subdued hue.

"I think they ended up looking like artwork." beams Stephen, talking about the cluster of curled vaults that comprise him home. Adds Sears, "When you drive onto the site they really do look like a sculpture nestled into the trees."

"Fortunately for all involved, the contractor knew how to assemble such a complex structure. "Bill Vickroy Construction is extremely careful to get things right," says Sears, praising the owner of Vickroy Construction. "He's very meticulous," adds Judy. "Plus he brings a lot of ideas and flexibility to the table."

Indeed, after this design team finishes confabbing about fun, the word that everyone sings in harmony is teamwork. "Working well together makes all the difference on a complicated project," says Judy. "We communicate extremely well," adds partner Colleen. Actually, this group -architects, interior designers, and contractor - could be the poster picture for the idea that an experienced team is the thing to assemble when you're approaching a new project. First, each knows how the others work and what strengths and weaknesses are. Plus they don't get defensive when problems come up - and every project has its its problems. "There's no finger-pointing, says Colleen, "everybody just wants to solve it and move on." Finally no one is threatened by each other's ideas.

Take the bamboo floors, for example. "I had never heard of bamboo floors," says Stephen. But because he had come to trust his designers, he let them run with yet another unusual idea. Not only is bamboo an easily replenishable resource, says Sears, it's as strong as maple an prices out about the same oak." "If we hadn't worked with In-Ste so much," he adds, "we would have been much more cynical."

"We like the bamboo because it's contemporary, it's good value, and it has very rich color," says Judy. She and Colleen wanted something that would bring weight to the floors and balance the visual stimulus going on in the roof. "There's lot of architecture going on," say Judy. "We didn't want the interiors to compete," So the strategy for the Interior Design became to let the architecture do the singing and allow the furniture, fabrics, and finishes to carry the harmony.

While happy and joyous certainly describe this rural retreat, the Koch's' primary residence, other words apply equally well. The layout is open and free-flowing. The curved walls and handrails are sensual. The color selections are rich yet restrained. The furniture is top of the line but nowhere near over the top. And the only word to sum up the artowrd is "wow."

"I've been collecting since I was about 18 or so," Stephen says. Now he and Michelle both look for special pieces together wherever they travel. The designers had seen only a fraction of the extensive collection when they selected the colors. "Happily, it all came together perfectly," says Colleen.

If the art is contemporary, you might call the interior "organic contemporary." At least if you insist on a label, that's what Judy comes up with. "The colors are earth tones, the shapes echo the landscaping, and the materials are all natural -stone, wood and stucco," she explains.

The middle pavilion's central space comprises a great room. The kitchen is wide open while quite modestly sized and definitely sculptural with its floating island of contrasting granites and massive refrigerators. A second-floor seating area throws an edge-defining curve. For the defining area, In-Site had a cocktail chair from the Holly Hunt collection custom designed in a larger size so that it would sit properly for the Holly Hunt table. "The seat is everything in furniture, " Judy insists. "High-priced or low, she adds, "it's how comfortable it is that counts." "The livingroom furnishings ar a prime example. "The instant Michelle sat in the chairs, we knew they were right," says Judy. Then the "girls" used the magic fabrics and finishes to make them work in the room.

Custom, too, are the nightstands and TV console into he master bedroom fashioned to echo the bedstead and to accommodate the ultra-thin plasma screen TV, one of the first in the nation.

You might say they put the fun back in functional.

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