A Touch of History
Hiking and skiing hundreds of miles through Colorados backcountry each year and driving thousands more to reach dozens of trailheads, John Fielder may be more intimately familiar with the states landscapes than anyone.Not surprisingly, the renowned photographer dislikes conspicuous hilltop homes that mar sweeping mountain views. In choosing the site for his home on a 20-acre plot with beautiful stands of aspen, it was important to Fielder that the structure could not be seen from nearby access roads. He was able to achieve that but still enjoys four stunning views from his property in the Acorn Creek subdivision north of Silverthorne in Summit County, CO. The most impressive view is to the south of the Gore Range across the valley one of his favorite ranges in the state.Its a nature photographers dream come true, Fielder says.Fielder worked as a prospector at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (widely known as CF&I Steel) as a college student, where his uncle served as CEO. The experience caused him to develop an appreciation for the states mining heritage, which mixed with his extensive backcountry travels to induce an idea for the design of his home. Wanting to build a structure that would blend with the landscape, he decided that an 1890s mine replica would sit perfectly within the propertys dense aspen forests.JumbledSuzanne Allen-Guerra owner of Design Build in Breckenridge and her team worked with Fielder to bring the states history into the design. They studied historic mining relics in Summit and Park counties to add special touches that brought the architectural vision to fruition.The home is centered by a tall, narrow section that projects higher than the rest of the house. In mining operations, these chutes were built below the mine, and workers used gravity to bring ore-filled carts to the processing area, where precious minerals were separated from rock in sorting bins. Prosperous mines received additions in successive years that typically stretched downhill but were attached to the original structure.(Fielders house) might look sort of jumbled, but thats what we wanted to replicate, Allen-Guerra says. Corrugated steel that will rust in the elements and 10-year-old reclaimed wood siding project an old, nearly dilapidated feel on the exterior. The wood, which is also used liberally inside, was harvested from Wyoming state highway snow fences. Clearstory windows dominate the tallest portion of the home, bringing light into two top-level rooms that serve as a home office and yoga studio. The architects placed seven floor-to-ceiling windows on the front side, then covered one to mimic what might have been a boarded-up section of a mine. In actuality, the floor plan did not lend to a window in that location, so the fix added to the design.Fielder is known as an environmental activist involved in state political issues regarding growth and open space. In 2000, he campaigned for Amendment 24, the Responsible Growth Initiative that aimed to change growth management across the state (it was defeated.) During the campaign, he spoke publicly about sprawl and ranchettes, trying to convince people to think about growth. He acknowledged that his new homesite on a former ranch that was subdivided in the 1970s is antithetical to what he preached at the centurys beginning, but added that his political views evolved over the years. His current professional work involves photographing ranches placed under conservation easements, a tool used to protect private property from future development.It may be easier for us to buy the land before it gets developed or purchase the development rights from the farmer or rancher before he sells out, he explains. Theres a better way to protect land … basically doing it democratically rather than regulating. Still, he doesnt rationalize that political efforts can somehow erase the impact of personal decisions such as building a new home. The honest truth of it is, Im torn, he says about the new home. In the end, we humans are not benign. We use and consume to one degree or another. I am a human, I have a right to live in a house on earth. But how do you do it with the least impact?Modest sizedFielder naturally chose green building concepts photovoltaic panels to harvest the suns energy, spray-in foam insulation to conserve fossil fuels where practical. But the greenest concept Fielder chose does not involve a commercial product or application, according to builder Nick Farkouh. Johns house is not that big, says Farkouh, owner of Base Building Solutions in Breckenridge. Its not commonly discussed, but theres no green construction technique in the world that rivals building smaller. At 3,000 square feet, the home includes three bedrooms and three baths, an open dining and living room attached to a functional kitchen with counter seating, and two upper-level rooms that include Fielders office. A small sitting room offers the only TV and includes a window-seat bench just like the sunny seating arrangements typically found in popular backcountry huts such as Francies Cabin near Breckenridge. To maintain a rural look, the detached garage is modeled after a shed on a Lower Blue Valley ranch. It isnt heated and doesnt have doors. I tried to keep the house as small as possible but still be practical, Fielder says. I know what I need to be productive in life and give back as much as I can. Hopefully, talking about it will help other people think about their consumption and how much they give back.Fielder decided to do his own interior design, and seems to have enjoyed the project as a creative outlet that didnt involved F-stops or a tripod. Thirty-five years of photography definitely came into play as he chose colors, tile and furniture to decorate.Visual things are all the same, he says. The three ingredients, form, texture and color, can be applied to a photo, a painting or even a house.Acid-washed concrete floors reflect the same red rust color as in the exterior corrugated steel, but added brown hues mix and flow like a stone-bottomed river. Reclaimed wood is used for wainscoting throughout the home, and a large wall in the master bedroom is covered with the old weathered fencing, creating a homey feel even though the room has tall ceilings. Fielder chose light fixtures with swirls of primary colors to set off dominant earth tones throughout the home. The E.L.K. lights are made of glass and bring a bit of funk to the design.Photographers touchOf course, the photographers own work also adds brilliant color. He chose prints he never had in his house before, and then went with an aspen theme in the stairwell, an appropriate choice considering the propertys setting. On one side, he displays a spring scene showing lime green colors as leaves begin to sprout in the Sneffels Range photo. On the facing wall, yellow dominates a Routt National Forest landscape taken during the fall season.Fielder took a break from shooting while he designed the house. I enjoyed it because its visual and it felt good, he says. He used an artists instinct to carefully choose each element, right down to the second bathroom where a copper hue in Santa Fe tiles is repeated in an over-sink mirror.This is what you do in a photograph, its a political process, he says. You determine how to engage the viewer and so everything has a reason.Fielder says hes pleased with the finished home even as he paid just as much attention to the natural beauty surrounding him. He watched and made pictures as columbine, larkspur and geranium flowered around the property this past year. He discovered a bear den and took pictures of 200-year-old Douglas fir trees on a foggy spring morning.Fielder formerly lived in Denver. His wife, Gigi, died in 2005 of Early Onset Alzheimers disease, and his two daughters are grown, so the photographer finds himself living alone for the first time in 27 years.Its nice to have, but this is just a house, he says. Im not infatuated with materialistic things and tend to distribute the places from which I gain pleasure from nature to my home, to family and friends and photography.
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