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Small Wonder

Small Wonder

Sometimes smaller is better.
By Mindy Pantiel
posted: 10/17/2001

As a Connecticut family learns, living large on vacation doesn't require a ski-town mansion. As problems go, this is a good one to have: Your investments are doing well enough to afford just about any home in ski country, but which to choose? Unlike many wealthy part-time resort residents who buy or build vacation homes the size of small hotels, one Connecticut family picked a 1,800-square-foot condo in Telluride's on-slope Mountain Village for their winter retreat. For them, less is more. Click on the slideshow below for pictures.

"We live in a big house most of the year, so we wanted a place where we could pop in and out with ease and not worry about property and caretakers. A condo means no-hassle homeowning with no-hassle skiing," says the owner, who prefers to not be named. She often joins her lawyer husband and her ski-racing teenage daughter zooming down Bushwacker early in the morning—when Telluride's empty slopes can make the mountain feel like a private ski club.

The wife, who volunteers as a charity fundraiser, selected an end unit because it overlooks a chairlift and offers ski-in/ski-out convenience. She first spotted the future family getaway four years ago while riding that very lift, and purchased the place shortly thereafter. "Every year there was this beautiful Christmas tree lit up on the balcony, and I fell in love with the place before I even saw the inside," she recalls. But the interiors weren't as lovely as the balcony holiday scene suggested, and an initial tour of the compact three-bedroom, three-bath flat revealed a blend of nondescript cream-colored walls, outdated carpeting and a mix of predictable Colorado ski-condo furnishings and accessories. "I don't like those fake Southwestern or kitschy cowboy motifs," she says. "I wanted a more sophisticated, collected look, and I knew I couldn't achieve it alone."

The hunt for an interior designer who understood her vision ended during a vacation to Santa Fe, when she met Michael Violante, the design manager at American Country Collection. With a degree in art history and a passion for 18th-century antiques, the designer had a love of old, handcrafted objects that she shared. "We hit it off immediately," says the owner, who hired him on the spot. "My husband and I had all these unusual things from Africa, Thailand and Bali, and I just had this feeling he could make it work together."

A few days later, Violante flew to Telluride to assess the situation. "We saved the custom cherry kitchen cabinets and donated the rest to charity," he says. "Because it was a small space, it was important to make design choices that would allow the rooms to flow."

The first decision was to select a single paint color—a soothing khaki—to create continuity from one room to the next and to set a relaxing tone. "A neutral color allows your eye to go to the beautiful objects and doesn't compete with the fabulous vistas from just about every room," Violante says. "We repeated the idea with the carpet, using the same cream color throughout."

The furnishings, upholstered in brown-toned fabrics of varying textures, continue the monochromatic theme. "Materials are key to a neutral palette; silks, chenilles, leather, velvets, everything here is tactile," Violante says. In the living room, silk chenille chairs flank an Italian cotton sofa, while Renaissance-style leather seating surrounds an old wood table in the adjacent dining room. Layers of soft linens and antique Chinese wood nightstands distinguish the master bedroom, and the daughter's room includes an 1880s Irish bed with a headboard upholstered with a soft red animal print. "It's the one place we put color, because she's young," he notes.

With the big pieces in place, Violante tackled the most critical variable: the collectibles. "The owner already had some wonderful things, and we traveled to Santa Fe together a couple of times to buy more objects," says the designer, who, along with the owner, assembled an eclectic mix of objects from exotic locales like Indonesia, China and India. "Thesee items have soul and tell stories about the people who touched them and used them," Violante says. "From the moment you enter the condo we wanted visitors to be interested in what was happening. We wanted to convey a sense of history."

The effect begins just inside the front door. There stands a mid-19th-century Chinese altar table, the perfect platform for a meticulously assembled montage that includes carved Indonesian utensils, a reproduction Chinese candlestick lamp and a stack of red-lacquered leather boxes, also from China. "It helps to repeat color, pattern and shape, so I try to buy multiples," he says. "When you include things of different sizes, it makes it easier to do an interesting arrangement."

In the living room, an early 19th-century Tansu table supports an African headdress that sits on a teak Indonesian document holder. The oversize coffee table includes an arrangement of Indian boxes, a miniature African stool holding African candles and a large bowl brimming with East Indian bean pod balls. "It's like a series of still-lifes," Violante says. Equally intriguing are the wall hangings, like the one over the fireplace, which is fashioned from shells sewn onto a textile by an Indonesian artist. "It's one of my favorite pieces," says the owner.

Santa Fe artist Pamela Adger created one of the condo's more complex wall mountings. The intricate design, titled "The Messenger," hangs in the living room and includes a mix of African kuba cloth, bones, silk, turtle shells and other captivating items. "Each 'messenger' comes with a book that provides specific details about the piece," Violante says.

Two of the owners' favorite items, acquired on their honeymoon to Thailand, are housed in the master suite. One is a framed sampler. "I think every woman in the village contributed to it," the owner says. The other is a small illustrated story etched onto strips of bamboo that sits on her nightstand. "Everything here came together so beautifully," she says. "We were fortunate to find a designer who wasn't interested in making it all about him. This is about us and really is our home."

With a large home in Connecticut and an apartment in New York City, the family looks to its modestly sized Telluride condo as a low-maintenance mountain retreat. "We wanted to be able to pop in and out and turn the key and be gone," the wife explains. "Compared to owning a big house, the condo is refreshing and relaxing." Check out the slideshow below for pictures.

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