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A Green Dream Home

A Green Dream Home

In an Aspen artist's home, the walls are canvases for color. But the foundation on which it stands is pure green.
By Susan Reifer
posted: 03/27/2008

For more images of the Shaw home, go here.

Long, linear, and understated, with exterior lines like a Scandinavian farmhouse and cladding of reclaimed barn wood, Daniel Shaw and Isa Catto Shaw's home on the outskirts of Aspen, Colo., nestles into Little Woody Creek Canyon as if it belongs there. But appearance isn't the only way in which the Shaw home harmonizes with its surroundings. The house—a full-time residence for a family of four—is a study in building green while also building a mountain dream home.

"Our attitude was that building a house in a place like this is an inherently anti-environmental act," explains Daniel, a 43-year-old journalist and blues musician. "And our goal was to absolutely minimize the impact on this immediate environment and on the environment at large." The Shaws hired Carbondale, Colo., architect Doug Graybeal, a specialist in sustainable architecture, to design an environmentally friendly home to replace existing buildings on the 17 acres of ranch land Isa bought in 1995. Graybeal worked closely with Isa, an abstract painter and collagist with a rich design sensibility (Daniel describes her vision for the house as "a Moroccan-tinged, Japanese influenced, sort of Scandinavian Colorado thing").

Like a plain cover concealing a great novel, the understated exterior shelters a vibrant inner world. The home centers around a 25-foot-tall, 46-foot-long gallery, which feels like a Moroccan street or a cathedral nave. To the right are the home's shared living areas, all of which afford big, unobstructed views of Snowmass and the Elk Range. To the left rises a scissor stairway to the bedrooms. Furniture is a blend of midcentury French and handcrafted Mission-style Mexican, with touches of rustic global Moderne. Art is everywhere and covers a broad spectrum, from a ceramic statuette by one of Oaxaca's renowned Aguilar sisters to a 3-D Peter Sarkesian video installation of a nude woman bathing in a tub of milk. The eclectic mix works together as a seamless whole. "I'm not one to think you can't mix everything up," explains Isa. "I had to roll the dice a little bit. A lot of this was intuitive."

Isa's particular strength as an artist is color, and she mixed watercolor swatches to create custom-blended wall tints—wildflower pink, sagebrush green, sky blue—from the surrounding environment. She sourced fabrics, furniture and fixtures from New York flea markets, eBay sellers in Uzbekistan, fabric dealers in Paris, tile makers in Mexico and more. She even directed the placement of each of the handcrafted animal-shaped tiles in daughter Fiona's bathroom. "I drove the tiler crazy," she says, "but I wanted a certain controlled randomness."

It's a description that also fits the Shaw family's daily life. On a typical afternoon, Fiona, 5, stands on a chair at one of the kitchen's two oval islands making banana bread with Isa, while Duncan, 2, meanders underfoot, sharing Jell-O with Mojo, the family dog. The phone rings, then rings again. (The Shaws serve on numerous boards—including the Aspen Community Foundation and the Anderson Ranch Arts Center—and entertain frequently in support of various causes.) Daniel shows a visitor his collection of harmonicas, Isa's niece prepares to ship a large watercolor to a charity auction, and contractors address finishing touches. The garage contents yield further clues to the family's way of life: Hybrid cars share the space with skis, snowshoes and lots of flyfishing rods.

But this way of life was not something the Shaws were willing to embrace without mitigating the environmental cost. "We didn't just stick solar panels on the roof," Daniel says. "It's the way the whole house was built that adds up."

First comes energy efficiency. The concrete walls on either side of the gallery regulate temperatuure, retaining warmth in winter and cold in summer. Roof overhangs and retractable shades on triple-paned, high-efficiency windows keep the home's southern exposure from generating excessive heat while minimizing the need for artificial light. Meanwhile, 60 rooftop photovoltaic panels and a passive solar array on a nearby pond tap into that southern exposure, while a solar thermal system heats the home's water. The Shaws sought high-efficiency light fixtures and appliances, and eliminated "phantom loads" from electronics that draw energy when turned off. Most days, the house feeds power to the public grid, rather than the other way around.

Next, the Shaws and Graybeal assessed all materials for their environmental impact. Did they have to be trucked a long way? Did their production or installation pollute? Many decisions required tough compromises, but the Shaws chose reclaimed or renewable materials whenever feasible. Floors are bamboo or concrete. Stone was quarried locally. Even the plywood was sourced from a "certified renewable" supplier.

Finally, the team assessed each material—sealers, paints, compounds, glues, resins, roof joists, even the reclaimed Moroccan doors—for its impact on the internal environment. They chose formaldehyde-free varnishes and low-toxicity plaster. For the cabinets, they used Medite II, a recovered and recycled wood that produces minimal off-gassing.

But it's not these scrupulous details you notice. It's the bigger picture: a girl pedaling her tricycle through a sleek indoor fountain that burbles up from the floor, a toddler licking banana-bread batter from a spatula. In other words, a house in harmony with its inhabitants. "It felt like home immediately," Daniel says. "The first day we moved in."

BLUEPRINT: Shaw House
Location: Aspen, Colo.
Closest Skiing: Snowmass, 12 miles away
Square Footage: 7,286
Lot Size: 17 acres
Architect: Doug Graybeal of Graybeal Architects LLC, Carbondale, Colo.
Builder: Structural Associates Inc., Glenwood Springs, Colo.

JANUARY 2008

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