HILLSIDE HACIENDA

By Allison O’Neall
Photography by J. Curtis

After an arduous search for a place to build their home in the foothills near Boulder, Colorado, Erni and Joan Soper struck gold: The 35-acre plot they found included a beautiful mountain meadow. “We were planning to build in the meadow when our architect, Sears Barrett, suggested we place our home at the edge of the meadow,” explains Joan. By siting the home there, the Sopers, as well as the deer and the coyote, get to enjoy the meadow’s splendor in its entirety.

To help the Sopers visualize their home, Barrett loaned them a copy of Christopher Alexander’s 1977 classic, A Pattern Language. “Through Alexander’s book, we gained a better understanding of what we wanted in the home, including the use of space, light and land and how these natural elements would support our lives,” Erni recalls.

The Sopers wanted their home’s design to reflect the architecture of the Southwest. Joan was raised in California and is fond of the Spanish Colonial architecture of that area, as well as the Pueblo Indian designs of northern New Mexico. Erni was raised in Colorado and his first home was an adobe ranch house in Alamosa. “I knew I wanted the adobe style to be a part of our home,” he says.

Barrett beautifully merged the homeowners’ desires with his own dynamic use of space and proportion. Blending Spanish Colonial with Pueblo designs, he used large Douglas fir timbers for ceiling beams and columns, and he intermingled pitched tile roofs and flat roofs throughout. Barrett created thick, adobe-like stucco walls, placed large cedar beams above each window, and rounded corners and wall surfaces to create circular spaces throughout the home.

Barrett counts the Sopers’ home among his favorite designs. A unique floor plan makes this 6,000 square-foot abode feel welcoming and comfortable. “The home is actually a series of rectangular and circular rooms,” says Barrett. The single-level layout creates a serpentine effect, with each room curving into the next around circular and straight walls, the house naturally flowing across the slope while nestling into the hillside.

Ceiling heights that vary from room to room also add interest. “The great room ceiling is 16 feet high, dining room ceiling jumps from 11 to 15 feet high with timer beams dropping to nine feet,” Barrett explains.

The southwestern motif is consistent throughout the home’s interior. To achieve this, the Sopers worked closely with designers Mickey Ackerman and Vince Vandever of Amirob and Associates. “We tried to use as many natural materials from the northern New Mexico region as possible,” says senior designer Ackerman. The home’s custom woodwork, including doors, bookshelves and furniture, was created mostly by crafts people from northern New Mexico. Custom-carved eight-foot-high pine doors add an air of grandeur.

From the formal entryway, heated slate floors flow into the kitchen and toward the study. Antique oak, in shades of gold and brown, is also used as flooring throughout the home.

With spectacular mountain views, the home’s great room offers space in which to entertain many people while also providing a cozy place to curl up in front of the fireplace. “When we first saw the great room, we thought we could never relax in such a large space,” says Joan. Ackerman and Vandever created a welcoming room by mixing comfortable sofas and chairs upholstered in earth tones with heave, hand-carved tables from Mexico. Complete with hand-forged iron bars and hardware, the coffee table is actually a jail door from 18th-centurey Mexico. Large bright rugs from Santa Fe add color, and shelves display Joan’s Southwestern pottery collection.

From the great room, glass doors lead to a sandstone patio. The patio’s three levels, each furnished with table and chairs, allow ample room for entertaining. A small wading pool also provides hours of fun for the Sopers’ three-year-old son, Forrest. “We spend lots of time on the patio,” says Joan. “The meadow is especially beautiful in spring and fall.”

Large timbers outline the patio roof; wood columns and iron railings surround it. Barrett designed the railings using a saguaro cactus motif and topped them with Douglas fir banisters. Movable canvas awnings protect the largest patio from the mountain sun. On the northern edge of the patio is a greenhouse, where Joan grows herbs and salad greens.

Light enters the home from all directions. “In fact, each room has at least two, if not more sources of natural light,” explains Barrett. In the kitchen, a curved wall of windows provides meadow and mountain views, large windows above the sink offer a view of the garden, and light spills from a skylight over the island. The kitchen’s hickory cabinets in rich, golden shades are stunning against the slate floor and black granite countertops. “Though I was a little hesitant about the black granite countertops blending with the hickory, I now love it,” Joan says.

The home’s Pueblo influence is powerful in the circular dining room, where thick interior walls allow for alcoves in which to display artwork. Ackerman designed a built-in china cabinet of knotty pine and Old English glass. The dining room ceiling is a cylinder, with four square skylights. Centrally located in the home, this area offers privacy while also providing views through its wide entryways into the great room and beyond. The rosewood dining table belonged to Joan’s grandparents. “My father can remember watching that table being made when he was a boy,” she says.

Also in keeping with the Southwestern theme, the Sopers’ study has a latilla ceiling made of hand-peeled lodge pole pine. Knotty-pine bookshelves line two of the three walls. The third wall, creating a half circle, is lined with windows. Timber columns separate the tall, narrow windows and a knotty-pine desk curves below. The spacious study provides room for both Sopers work without distracting each other – if they can keep their eyes off of the spectacular view into the meadow below.

The master bedroom, at the home’s southern end, provides a retreat. After a stressful day, the Sopers, who are both psychologists, can relax in front of the Pueblo-style fireplace or in the hot tub just outside the bedroom. In the master bathroom, large windows surround a Jacuzzi tube with relaxing views of the gently sloping hillside. The double-sink hickory vanity is topped with glossy black marble dashed with veins of white. A two-person walk-in shower and spacious walk-in closets provide ample room and organization for the busy couple.

All in all, the Sopers have tapped into their gold mine with rich results. The gentle merging of the home with its natural surroundings gives on the feeling that it has sat at the edge of this mountain meadow for centuries. “A home is not a room with four walls,” Joan says. “A home should be a work of art.” In this case, the Soper hacienda is truly a masterpiece.

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