A Peek Inside a Walden Pond-Inspired Mansion

Photography by Ric Stovall | Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2017 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

In doing without, in the mid-19th century, Henry David Thoreau erected a 10-by-15-foot cabin on the banks of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Of his solitary time in the New England wilderness, Thoreau mused, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

In this valley, when it comes to living large, Thoreau-style, there’s no better—or more extreme—example than Walden House. The 12,000-square-foot, 7-bedroom, 9.5-bathroom home sits atop Whiskey Ridge off East Lake Creek Road in Edwards. Priced at $33 million, at press time Walden was also the most expensive listing in the county. Suffice it to say, Walden House is unlike any home in the valley. Douglas Elliman’s Joshua Saslove deems Walden “an architectural piece of art.” A real estate agent might say the same of any  property at the pinnacle of our luxury market. But this is the only home in the valley designed by one of New York City’s hottest architects, Annabelle Selldorf.

A central glass-walled corridor wraps around a Zen-like courtyard accessing the primary volumes of the home. Image: Ric Stovall

Never heard of Annabelle Selldorf? A Google search yields more than 10,000 results, the third being a 2015 Bloomberg profile that dubs the Cologne-born Selldorf “the darling of the design world” and “designer du jour to cultural institutions and the wealthy elite.” Defined by an aesthetic she describes as modernism enhanced “by embracing the so-called austerity,” Annabelle Selldorf’s 55-architect practice has created luxury residences (like a new SoHo condo with a $25 million penthouse and $1 million parking spaces) and public spaces in big cities across the country and around the world, including Brown University’s John Hay Library, San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Neue Galerie in New York, Le Stanze del Vetro Museum in Venice, and most recently, the expansion of Manhattan’s Frick Collection.

With stainless steel and copper accents, the white-paneled kitchen resembles the galley of a starship. Image: Ric Stovall

The Lake Creek commission? That happened nearly a decade ago, after a longtime client with a Selldorf-designed pied-à-terre in New York City bought 105 acres on Whiskey Ridge and asked Selldorf if she could imagine what a family home in rural Edwards might look like. By way of example, Selldorf took her client to Dunton Hot Springs, a “glamping” destination outside of Telluride where the only other home she designed in Colorado, the Pika House, occupies a grove of pines like it grew up out of the surrounding forest. Struck by Selldorf’s visually stunning and unassuming tower of glass and wood, the client commissioned a full-time residence for Whiskey Ridge.

With articulated windows facing a man-made pond and peaks of the Lake Creek Valley, the dining room is the home’s primary gathering spot. Image: Ric Stovall

Inspired by a favorite book and completed in 2009, Selldorf’s Walden House celebrates minimalism and nature, departing from the log cabin/wilderness lodge vernacular that characterizes most luxury homes in Vail Village and Beaver Creek: a series of single-story pavilions (and a three-story tower) arranged around a central Zen-like garden. Walden is a Thoreau-esque tribute where every living space is oriented around the outside environment via exterior walls of glass (shaded by automated blinds) offering different—and expansive—views of the mountainous landscape, east to the Gores, west to Hardscrabble Mountain, south to New York Mountain and Gold Dust Peak, and north to Red and White Mountain.

“My favorite part of working on the project was being on-site,” says Selldorf. “It’s so beautiful, and I was always happy being there.”

As such, she took cues from the local environment to make Walden House blend with, rather than stand out from, its surroundings, sculpting an exterior clad in field rock, log pole pine, and pine beetle kill siding, and a copper-sheathed roof.

“It was terrific to have the opportunity to use local materials for the house that we wouldn’t have used on another,” she explains. “I love the beetle kill pine; I wasn’t familiar with the material before, and I was delighted that we were able to give it new life by stacking it horizontally in a façade of exacting detail.”

A soaring ceiling and clerestory windows make the sky and surrounding landscape the focal point of the airy living room. Image: Ric Stovall

Such nature-enhanced attention to detail isn’t limited to the exterior, either; Selldorf used hand-dyed lamb’s wool (imported from Holland) on the walls of the study to create a cozy nook that’s complemented by a hearty fireplace, then used the material again in the master bedroom, where it adorns the floating wall that separates the sleeping area from the closet, and again on the floor, carpeted in a bright blue hue. Pops of color throughout the house temper sleek lines with warmth; reds accent the living area, bathrooms are tiled in teal, and copper connects the interior to the exterior.

With walls lined with books and a bolt of hand-dyed wool imported from Holland, the study is the home’s coziest, and most intimate, space. Image: Ric Stovall

Each volume (white-walled with hardwood floors and soaring wood-paneled ceilings), segregated by function, is accessible by a glass-walled central corridor that spirals around the courtyard starting, counterclockwise, with the kitchen. The white-paneled utilitarian space resembles the gleaming galley of a starship with concealed appliances, stainless steel countertops, and a hardwood-capped island with stools sculpted from wire and metal tubing—purposely uncomfortable to encourage guests to circulate into the next volume, the dining room, where 4 of the 10 seats around an oval banquet table face floor-to-ceiling glass patio doors that open onto a pond overlooking New York Mountain. That room shares a wall and fireplace with the neighboring living area, a gallery-like hall furnished with a baby grand piano, sculptures, four chairs around a coffee table, and an overstuffed plaid-upholstered couch for lounging in conversation. Next is the study, a book-lined sanctuary with a cushy sofa facing a roaring hearth, followed by the three-story residential volume of the home, where a staircase ascends to bedrooms stacked one atop another to a master bedroom garret, an aerie with a bank of windows overlooking the distant horizon like the bridge of an ocean liner. Then the game room, a whimsical space appointed with a vintage popcorn maker, a billiards table, a pod-like chair facing a wide-screen television flanked by moose and antelope trophies. And last, a home office with his and hers computers where the commercial center of Edwards bustles in the distance.

The home may draw its minimalist aesthetic from Thoreau, but its spa, workout room, and heated lap pool evoke Kubla Khan’s Xanadu. Image: Ric Stovall

Outside, in addition to an infinity pool, spa, and gym, Walden fronts onto a Thoreau-worthy manmade pond by New York celebrity landscape architect Edwina von Gal (who has designed outdoor spaces in the Hamptons for Calvin Klein, Martha Stewart, and Larry Gagosian). Without river stones, waterfalls, fountains, or any other embellishment (save a rowboat in the summer and ice-skaters in the winter), the pond is more sculpture than water feature, a mirror to the sky inviting contemplation from within.

As Thoreau famously concluded in Walden, “The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode.”

Yet somehow through the panes of a $33 million home designed by Annabelle Selldorf, that same sunlight, refracted off the surface of an Edwina von Gal pond, seems more brilliant.

Resource Guide

Architect Annabelle Selldorf, New York, NY, 212-219-9571, selldorf.comGeneral Contractor, Shaeffer Hyde Construction, Avon, 970-845-5656, shaefferhyde.comHardwood Floors All City Floor Company, Denver, 303-371-0400, allcityfloors.comLandscape Architect Richard Herbert Landscape Architect, Brooklyn, NY, 718-388-8039, richardherbertla.comLandscape Designer Edwina von Gal, East Hampton, NY 631-907-9040, perfectearthproject.orgListing Agents Liza Hogan and Joshua Saslove, Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Aspen, 970-925-8810, elliman.comMillwork Heartwood Custom Woodworks, Eagle, 970-328-9663, heartwood1.com


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