Where do you look for a vacation getaway if you want a Rocky Mountain location just one airplane flight away from your primary residence in Houston and small-town surroundings? For Patricia and Kurt Sommer, the perfect spot was the village of Estes Park, Colorado. Less than a two-hour drive from Denver, Estes Park sits in a valley surrounded by the Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest. “Patricia is an artist and the physical beauty of the area is spectacular,” Kurt says. “I’m a geologist and am fascinated with the effects of glacier activity on the area.”
The Ideal Spot
The Sommers initially searched for an existing vacation home to call their own. Unable to find the right house on the right lot, they came across Windcliff, a private residential community on the sunny side of Rams Horn Mountain with a panoramic view of the Continental Divide and the dramatic peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Since the property abutted Rocky Mountain National Park, their less-than-one-acre lot would include a 265,769-acre backyard. Windcliff’s mix of full- and part-time residents appealed to the Sommers, since they would only live in Colorado part of the year. Having neighbors who were permanent residents gave the community a sense of stability; a place where they would be able to make friends. With other part-timers in the community, the Sommer family wouldn’t be considered outsiders. “We weren’t sure what we were looking for, but when we walked out onto the lot, we knew we had found the ideal spot,” Patricia recalls.
Once they had decided upon the property, Kurt and Patricia began contemplating the perfect style for their mountainside residence. They pored over photos in magazines but didn’t find one that seemed to fit. While on a trip back to Colorado, they attended a timber frame and log home show in Denver. “We stopped at the exhibit for Trail Ridge Timber Frames,” Patricia says. “We met Mark Miller and were instantly impressed.” The couple had already decided to use local builders and as many local products as possible in their new home. Trail Ridge’s Masonville, Colorado, shop location is less than 50 miles from the couple’s building site.
Mark Miller explains his company’s philosophy: “Trail Ridge Timber Frames likes to promote ‘green’ building using heaving timber and structurally insulated panel (SIP) construction.” For the Sommer home, Trail Ridge used Douglas fir timbers that were forest salvaged from the Biscuit fire in Oregon which had burned millions of acres of fir. Cherry wood for the home was harvested and air-dried in Pennsylvania for a year before being shipped to Colorado. The Sommers interviewed several architects, finally selecting Judd Dickey, an architect who specializes in custom timber frame homes and who was recommended by Mark Miller. Judd met Kurt and Patricia in Estes Park and together they drove to the site. They stood on the 9,000-foot-elevation lot and envisioned where each of the rooms would be placed to maximize the views of the 14,000-plus-foot peaks yet not feel intrusive in the environment. Judd’s first schematic design laid out dramatic yet intimate rooms and only required minor tweaking as it developed into a set of plans.
The Sommers tapped Mark Westover, owner of Westover Construction Inc., to serve as the general contractor. As builders of custom-designed, high-quality mountain homes since 1990, Westover was very familiar with the issues related to construction at high elevations. “Mark hired a talented crew,” Judd says. “These artisans plied their craft to turn the complex design, at high altitude, with cold wind and steep icy access, into a magnificent home. Everyone who worked on the house took it personally.”
The unique L-shaped floor plan features two timber frame styles that define the two main wings of the house, carefully joined over the loft. In the great room wing, the timber frame includes a truss system with principle purlins that span the length of the ceiling. Rafters help support the roof. Set at a 90-degree angle from the great room, the master bedroom wing features a ridge beam, truss and rafter system with curved king-post trusses. The frame was built from dried Douglas fir with cherry knee braces. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) were used to for the exterior walls on the main level and the roof.