A Live-Work Philosophy
May 27, 2008
421 Main St. is not what it seems. At first glance, it could be just another piece of Minturn history. High first-floor ceilings lend an imposing air, large storefront windows meet the street and awnings breathe character into the face of the building.
“A lot of people think it’s an old building that’s been renovated,” says Jay Raiola, a real estate broker with an office on the first floor.
From the street, the building appears to be two stories high, and its shape suggests it comes from the same period as a neighboring building that truly is historic Minturn. The only difference is the modern materials. It’s that blend of past and present that suggest a remodeled building rather than a new one.
Outside, this building that mimics Minturn’s past in scale and silhouette reflects the 21st century with modern materials. The awnings, historic in nature, are made of glass and a fitted red cloth. The exterior is divided into several sections, colored red, yellow and green and further interrupted with patches of corrugated metal. Combined with several setbacks, the varied colors and materials give the impression of several buildings rather than one.
The exterior is “not just a flat line,” says Melissa Greenauer, an interior designer who owns one of the condos
“It punches out, and it has interest. I really appreciate the relief.”
The building’s two-story appearance is a bit deceptive as well. While commercial tenants occupy the four units on the street level, the five resident condos above are actually two-stories high. A third-floor setback not only pulls private rooms away from the busy, sometimes noisy, road but also makes way for a rooftop deck. The decks, and the views they afford of the town’s signature feature, Lionshead Rock, are one of 421 Main’s best features, residents say.
That’s what they call it: 421 Main St. It’s not “my building,” or “the place where I work.” It has a name, just like any of its occupants.
“We’re 421 Main St., but we’re not a number in a giant condominium complex,” says architect Stuart Brummett.
In its short life span – it was finished only last year – the building has taken on a personality of its own.
And that’s no accident. Brummett set out to create a vibrant space, alive not only in the aesthetics, but also in the people it attracts.
The man behind the building
Like the building, Brummett is not exactly as he seems.
The slender, bespectacled architect is soft-spoken, unassuming. But his quiet, button-down appearance belies a mind whose cogs are spinning 24-7.
Brummett isn’t just designing buildings. He’s solving problems.
“He’s fairly simplified and functional,” says Greenauer.
By now, we’ve all heard the cry to fight global warming with green building. But arranging the right materials in the right configuration is only one approach to being environmentally friendly. Brummett isn’t merely hopping on a buzzword bandwagon. For him, how we live is as important as what we use.
Brummett and his wife, Jane, live by a philosophy of personal responsibility that extends far beyond “reduce, reuse and recycle.”
The Brummetts value environmentalism, but as a natural outcropping of other values, like preserving a sense of community.
A thriving town offers residents places to shop and socialize – and spend money. That contributes to the character of the town, further enticing residents to stay close to home. A community can’t be vibrant, socially or economically, when everybody is leaving.
So Stuart designed 421 Main St., based on his philosophy of “live-work,” a principle that encourages occupants to stay close to home.
For Stuart, that means living upstairs. Jane makes the short work commute to Vail, and she can ride her bike in the summer.
Ken Bridges, Stuart’s partner at their firm, Blueline Architects, also rides his bike to work from Avon four to five months of the year.
Raiola and Greenauer commute between Minturn and Vail but in opposite directions.
Gerard Heid and Emily Martinez run a remodeling and construction business from the first floor. Heid lives in Minturn, Martinez in nearby Redcliff.
Condo owners Michael and Ashley Ruger still work in Denver, where driving is a major part of their jobs. But they bought their condo with the intent of moving to the mountains full-time, once the opportunity presents itself.
Michael Ruger is impressed with Stuart’s live-work design.
“I think it’s a perfect fit for Minturn,” he says. “We were attracted to the fact that you can walk out your front door and you have restaurants and a coffee shop and a post office within a couple blocks. To me, when I get up here, the last thing I want to do is get in my car.”
Stuart points to automobiles as one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. We can make greener cars, he notes, but as long as we’re still driving, we’re still consuming fuel and building more and bigger highways.
“There’s so much weight being put on solar panels and sustainably harvested wood and over-insulated walls, and all of those things are very important, but the vehicle is one of the more destructive forces,” he says.
And the extra commuting means less time with family and friends, time that is vital to building a community where neighbors know each other, mix and mingle.
A cozy feeling
Stuart deliberately set out to find a smaller parcel of land to “develop.” Rather than building hundreds of houses on large swaths of land, he wanted to design a building that would encourage neighbors to feel like they all know each other while creating opportunities for small business owners to buy into the community instead of renting.
“It’s kind of an incubator for small businesses,” he says. “In my mind, the smaller the development, the more it contributes to keeping the character of the town.”
Fostering a sense of community is something he and Bridges both value.
“Most firms – and I think it’s out of necessity – are more interested in gigantic second homes,” Stuart says. “We’ll have to do some of that. But we would love to be doing more projects like this … projects that are more responsible to the whole community, whether it’s environmentally or just how the whole town comes together.”
It’s no surprise that such an industrious fellow would have industrial finishes in his own home. Conspicuous pipes and cable lighting in open web steel trusses give the Brummett’s living room the feel of a New York loft. A spiral staircase with metal handrails further suggests urban dwelling. On the wall above the staircase, origami peace cranes from the couple’s wedding hang in a brigade of perfect rows.
The kitchen showcases black granite countertops and irregular shapes of glass tile for a backsplash.
The piece de resistance, however, is a magnetic chalkboard on one wall, allowing for endless possibilities of ever-changing designs. Magnetized spice tins with glass lids cling to the wall and display their wares in a swoosh or a swirl or whatever shape suits the Brummetts on a particular day.
In planner speak, 421 Main St. is a “mixed use” building, combining commercial and residential units. It’s modern lingo, but the idea is as historic as the town.
“Mixed use sounds like a radical concept,” Stuart says, but “it’s the concept that existed in the early 1900s, when the shopkeeper lived upstairs.”
Stuart drew on that part of Minturn’s history to solve so many related problems facing growing High Country communities. If other builders could follow suit, even for just a few projects, he thinks his live-work philosophy could save a sense of character many fear Colorado’s mountain towns might be losing. And, he says, such baby
steps could help