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Going With the Flow
A Colorado mountainside home preserves its natural surroundings
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Roaring Fork, the Crystal, and Frying Pan; Tincup and Hygiene. You have to hand it to Colorado’s first citizens, who gave the state’s rivers and towns such colorful names. Sally Cole fell right in step when a decade ago she named her home Feathered Nest. The name is a natural for the house, located in the mountainside ranchland near the small town of Basalt. "The whole ethos of my place is to provide and conserve wildlife habitat, so all around me there are creatures building their nests—their places of safety and renewal. Well, I built mine right alongside them!"
The flower-filled courtyard garden and its little stream are bracketed by the house and screened porch.
Photography: Emily Minton Redfield
Produced by Mindy Pantiel
Landscape design: Robin Williams & Assoc., 32 Ferguson Rd., DEVIZES, Wiltshire SN10 3UA United Kingdom; 011 44 138 072 8999, robinwilliams.co.uk. To read: The Garden Designer, by Robin Williams (Frances Lincoln Publishing, 2007; $45).
Architect: Scott Lindenau, Studio B Architects, 501 Rio Grande Pl., Suite 104, Aspen, CO 81611; 970/920-9428; fax, 970/920-7822, studiobarchitects.net.
Interior design: Melinda Douglas, Douglas Assoc. Inc., 2525 E. Exposition Ave., Denver, CO 80209; 303/722-6979.
After spending years learning how to garden and having studied with Robin Williams, one of the top landscape designers in the world, Sally finds her interests have evolved into an appreciation of flower forms as art. "Digital photography is my thing now," she says with enthusiasm. "I adore Photoshop (a design software), and I’ve learned how to use it to turn my images into art." Now, instead of spending hours toiling with a trowel, Sally takes her tripod into the garden and turns her artistic eye and lens to capturing the detailed beauty she finds there.
The house is "50 percent inside and 50 percent outside," Sally says, describing how she wanted the structure to be a part of the landscape. "We worked hard to make everything fit what was here, rather than introduce alien features."
Sally refers to the house style as "ranch vernacular," with barn-like sliding doors, a metal roof, and drainage pipes or culverts upended and used as supporting columns for roof overhangs. The breezeway connecting the house and garage is screened on both sides to do double duty as a porch. The guest room-cum-lookout tower has a 360-degree view and its own terrace overlooking the garden. The main entry to the house is almost hard to find, in keeping with Sally’s desire for a low-key, country feel, a design trope that is carried out in the tranquil, uncluttered forms of the interior decor.
Above, Humphrey, Sally Cole’s Portuguese water spaniel, takes a snooze in front of the couch.
Living areas flow seamlessly into each other, and the spacious interiors, filled with natural light, are furnished with simplicity and decorated in warm earthen colors that allow the house to reflect its surroundings.
Sally brought plants from her old garden to her new, confident that the high water table would help them grow.
What she was less certain of was how to design a garden. So, ever resourceful, she enrolled in a two-week garden-design course at the Colorado Mountain College in Aspen. Her teacher was Robin Williams. Not the American comedian, but the internationally renowned English garden designer and author of The Garden Designer. "It was a hands-on course, and I made the students work quite hard," says Williams. "And Sally was no slacker. She knew what she wanted—a wildlife garden and mountain meadow that would be boggy in winter and spring, then gradually dry out. And a pond."
Here, the colors of the garden she'd blend easily with the soft hues of the courtyard garden’s flowers.
"And Robin!" says Sally with a laugh. "I asked him if he would help me design it." His answer: "Ooh, Sally. A thousand horses couldn’t keep me away!" But, admits Sally 10 years on, she is still surprised at her audacity in rejecting his first plan.
The pond is in place on the east side of the house, just 18 feet from the dining-room window, capturing the mountain’s reflection in its still waters. Sally calls this "the Zen side of the garden." By contrast, the garden on the west side of the house is shaped into a collection of island beds through which gravel paths and a little stream meander.
Guests at Feathered Nest get a bird’s-eye view of the courtyard garden and its patchwork of flower-filled beds stitched together by a winding gravel path and a small stream.
The east-facing aspect of Feathered Nest looks across the pond to the Rocky Mountains. The dining room gets the full effect of the spectacular view.
Considering the subtlety of the home’s interior and exterior, Sally observes, "This house is in such a beautiful setting, surrounded as it is by nature, so I used just a few carefully chosen hues to underpin the garden planting scheme and unify the rooms of the house. I’m a colorist inside and out."
And a bundle of creative energy, observes Williams. "She’s a one-off, just like Feathered Nest."
Here, Humphrey manages to demonstrate one of the best uses of the screened porch.
A wing with the guest-room tower and a bedroom stretches from one side of the main living area. At the other side, a pergola covers a path to the pond.