Much has been written about architect Charles Haertling and his modernist designs on display throughout Boulder’s rocky landscape. But where did he come up with these unique shapes? Undoubtedly, the breadth of his work shows influence from the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff but a closer look reveals that nature may have been his true inspiration.
Throughout his storied career, Haertling utilized organic shapes to blend his designs into Boulder’s topography; he even called Boulder his “gallery.” The four homes below highlight how successful Haertling was in capturing the natural beauty of the yucca plant, barnacles, rock out-croppings and the aspen leaf.
Warburton House (1963)
Located in Gold Hill, the building site for this home sits on the last ridge before the Continental Divide, near the third windiest spot in the world. Because of its precarious location, Haertling’s design had to take advantage of the jaw-dropping views while resisting the relentless wind. The result? A curved structural shell-like shape resembling a yucca plant with no overhangs to catch the winds. Repetitive pods placed around the center shape capture the stellar views of the Continental Divide.
Brenton House (1969)
Known by locals as the “Mushroom House,” the structure was inspired by Haertling’s Navy years, when he spent much of his time chipping barnacles from ships' hulls. The homesite in Wonderland Hill rests above Maxwell Lake and offers views of the mountains to the west and the plains to the east. To capture these views, the home was structured with five pods across the main level, giving it the bulbous mushroom look. The house has received its fair share of press and cameo appearances, with multiple features in architectural magazines and even a brief scene in Woody Allen’s 1973 film, Sleeper.
Menkick House (1970)
Of Heartling’s designs, the Menkick House is the one that most resembles the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, specifically his famed Fallingwater. When most architects may have steered clear of a large rock out-cropping, Haertling embraced it, utilizing its craggy texture as an integral design feature. The horizontal flat roof allows the natural beauty of the stone to take center stage. Using materials such as aggregate concrete and wood allows for the structure to harmoniously coexist with its environment. Surfaces of stone and wood move seamlessly from the outdoors in, but practicality counseled against integrating the actual out-croppings into the interior. However, a master bedroom balcony incorporates the natural rock, which is backlit by the morning sun.
Leaneagh House (1980)
Inspired by the pointed silhouette of an aspen leaf, Haertling wanted this house to be a "large space, with protruding balconies.” After receiving a flash of inspiration from nature and drafting the initial sketches, his clients agreed that the aspen leaf design was “almost perfect.” The roofline, reminiscent of an aspen leaf’s point, reaches skyward, offering the main level incredible views of the plains below. (Denver, 40 miles away, is clearly visible.) The interior of the home is equally stunning. Even though the home is nearly 40 years old, the floor plan is remarkably current with its open concept and floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing the unparalleled views to be enjoyed at every turn.
The “Aspen Leaf” house is currently on the market (listed by Colorado Landmark) and worth seeing if you’re in the market for a Charles Haertling classic.