Mining The Past

How two 19th-century coal sheds, a treasure trove of salvaged materials, and one preservation-minded builder inspired a 21st-century mountain retreat.

mining the past tout
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One funky, slice-of-pie-shaped piece of town property would induce head-scratching in any architect. Two rusted-out, bullet-hole-riddled coal sheds that the local preservation board says must stay. Dozens of town ordinances regulating setbacks from the road, a nearby creek, and an alley, as well as the dimensions of every window and door.

Sound like the makings of a dream house-building project?

It was just that for one dogged couple, who devoted three years of their lives to transforming a long passed-over parcel into a historically sensitive homestead.

Elizabeth LeCoq Currier and her husband, Joe, knew that perfect building lots weren't easy to come by in Created Butte, Colorado. What was once considered the poor coal-harvesting cousin to the area's former silver mining towns of Aspen and Telluride had remained rich in Western history and architectural artifacts—and the preservation folks wanted to keep it that way. Which, for prospective homebuilders, means there's no removing what's left of those 19th-century tin—roofed, wood plank-sided coal sheds that dot potential lots.

But that wasnt a negative for the Curriers. The native Colorado interior designer and the former logger/ski instructor appreciated Crested Butte's mining past. "I know a lot of people would have looked at that property and just seen eyesores, " says Liz. "But I stood in the middle of the lot, closed my eyes, and imagined a house coming up around me." Once the Curriers bought the cottonwood tree-lined parcel, it would take two years of phoning in to Crested Butte's Thursday-night planning-board meetings from their home in San Francisco to get their plans approved, and another year to build.
One funky, slice-of-pie-shaped piece of town property would induce head-scratching in any architect. Two rusted-out, bullet-hole-riddled coal sheds that the local preservation board says must stay. Dozens of town ordinances regulating setbacks from the road, a nearby creek, and an alley, as well as the dimensions of every window and door.

Sound like the makings of a dream house-building project?

It was just that for one dogged couple, who devoted three years of their lives to transforming a long passed-over parcel into a historically sensitive homestead.

Elizabeth LeCoq Currier and her husband, Joe, knew that perfect building lots weren't easy to come by in Created Butte, Colorado. What was once considered the poor coal-harvesting cousin to the area's former silver mining towns of Aspen and Telluride had remained rich in Western history and architectural artifacts—and the preservation folks wanted to keep it that way. Which, for prospective homebuilders, means there's no removing what's left of those 19th-century tin—roofed, wood plank-sided coal sheds that dot potential lots.

But that wasnt a negative for the Curriers. The native Colorado interior designer and the former logger/ski instructor appreciated Crested Butte's mining past. "I know a lot of people would have looked at that property and just seen eyesores, " says Liz. "But I stood in the middle of the lot, closed my eyes, and imagined a house coming up around me." Once the Curriers bought the cottonwood tree-lined parcel, it would take two years of phoning in to Crested Butte's Thursday-night planning-board meetings from their home in San Francisco to get their plans approved, and another year to build.
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Colorado renovation weathered wood siding
Photo by Tim Murphy
Weathered wood siding from Montana's defunct Elkhorn mine blends the new home right into the town's 9000-foot mountainscape.
The couple admit their secret weapon was a preservation-obsessed local builder, Mike Fahrlander, who had developed a process for restoring the region's old sheds. Once the sheds were rebuilt, said Fahrlander, the house could be conceived to include them—something that Boulder-based design firm Coburn Development Inc., which would also work extensively in the area, made happen. "It evolved over time," says Dan Rotner, a Coburn architect. "It didn't just happen in one imaginitive burst."



Not that it was an easy feat. After setback requirements were met, the Curriers were left with a 20-by-40-foot rectangle on which to build. And then there were those sheds: the plan was to make one a 480-square-foot master suite, connected to the house by an 8-foot breezeway, and to leave the other detatched, 30 feet from the front door, where it could function as the Curriers' son Jenner's 213-square-foot bunkhouse. The style of the new 1315-square-foot home would be a classic Rockies upside-down house with main living quarters on the second floor, high above winter snow that typically rises above first-story windows.



The challenge for homeowners building in a historic area is to get the house they want while remaining consistent with local architecture. Both inside and out, the Curriers designed a home that looked like it had been there for awhile, which is why whenever possible they used reclaimed building materials. "We were thinking old Maine barn, old Western mine, old French farmhouse," says Liz, summing up the eclectic result.



The exterior of the new construction would be classic Crested Butte, with a tin roof that matched the exact pitch of the area's originals, designed to shed snow easily. The weathered gray siding would come from a shuttered Montana mine, and the windows would be framed with West Coast Douglas fir that the elements would make blend in with the time-worn woods used throughout.
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Colorado builder Mike Fahrlander
Photo by Tim Murphy
Builder MIke Fahrlander, who worked through the winter from sawhorses atop 30-foot snowbanks, secures a window casting.
"I wanted the house flooded with light," says Liz, "but the zoning board doesn't allow big cathedral windows. So we went with lots and lots of the small, narrow, double-hung windows you would have found here years ago." French doors and skylights, both frowned upon by preservationists, were another struggle. "I just kept going back to them," says Liz, explaining her eventual success.

Builder Fahrlander worked miracles on the sheds. "They were in really bad shape—some of the worst I've seen in 30 years here," he says. Wearing masks, he and his team hosed them down with bleach solution to kill mold and any diseases from the rodent remains and bear droppings left behind. Then they dug out the two feet of vermin carcasses and debris that had accumulated inside over the years and rebuilt the sheds from the inside out, reusing whatever materials they could.

For the interiors, the Curriers had a vision of a frontier house constructed with decorative and ruggedly beautiful materials. So they again consulted Fahrlander, who specializes in working with salvaged goods, then spent nights scouring the Internet for old flooring, fixtures, and doors. "Most dealers will send you samples," says Liz of working off the Web. "You just need to be focused on what you want."



The home's 300-year-old eastern heart pine floors came from farmhands' quarters on a Virginia apple orchard; its 100-year-old doors were recovered from Mexican haciendas; and its enormous ceiling trusses, from an Oregon warehouse. Luckily for the homeowners, Fahrlander knew what to expect when dealing with reclaimed building materials. "At times it was a logistical nightmare for Mike," says Liz.



So strong was the pull of the Rocky Mountains hideaway that the Curriers just finished their latest project; one where, like homesteaders before them, they bed down each night in tin-roofed sheds.
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Where to find it:

 

Where to find it:

Mexican doors in Colorado renovation
Photo by Tim Murphy
Century-old Mexican door shrank in chilly, dry Colorado and required complicated framing. The painted doors, also from Mexico, are new.
Architect
Coburn Development
Crested Butte, CO
970-349-1366
coburndev.com

Builder:
Mike Fahrlander, Mountain Home Construction
Crested Butte, CO
970-209-5913

Interior Designer:
Liz Lecoq Currier
Crested Butte, CO
970-349-5015

Recycled wood siding, metal roof, and entry slate tile:
Mountain Home Construction

Windows:
Marvin Windows and Doors
Warroad, MN
888-537-7828

Floors:
Carlisle Wide Plank Floors
Stoddard, NH
800-595-9663
wideplankflooring.com

Floor Installer:
Clint Cordova, Timberline Hardwood Floors
Crested Butte, CO
970-641-6323

Antique Mexican doors:
Salsa Trading Company
Sonoma, CA
707-939-1710
salsatrading.com

Lighting:
Whiterock Electric
Crested Butte, CO
970-349-7320

Kitchen cabinetry and Golden Buckskin sandstone countertops:
Thurston Kitchen and Bath
Crested Butte, CO
970-349-5023

Shaw's Fireclay apron sink:
Rohl LLC
Costa Mesa, CA
800-777-9762
rohlhome.com

Faucet:
Tate three-hole mixer with sidespray and volume control in Weatered Copper; Ann Sacks
Portland, OR
800-278-8453
annsacks.com

Kitchen backsplash tile:
Decorative Materials Inc.
Denver, CO
303-722-1333

Cabinet hardware, lighting, and paint:
Mountain Colors
Crested Butte, CO
970-349-9200

Range:
Viking Range Corp.
Greenwood, MS
888-845-4641
vikingrange.com

Master bathroom concrete vessel sinks and faucets:
Waterbridge Collection, Sonoma Cast Stone and Sonoma Forge
Petaluma, CA
877-283-2400
sonomastone.com
sonomaforge.com

Countertops:
LeArgille Series, Arizona Tile
480-893-9393
arizonatile.com
 
 

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