the lucky house

of Heart Fire Mountain Retreat

The Building of the Lucky House

David and Lee Mitchell

Discovery

We found the land in July, 2002 and from our first steps onto the property, we loved it. The views of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide were breathtaking and the meadow with wild flowers blooming was gorgeous. It was quiet and peaceful. We felt very lucky to find such a beautiful and unique property so close to Boulder.

The seller, Nancy Maresh, was someone who Lee had met before, a lucky surprise. Nancy had been on the CU ski team in the 1960s and loved the mountains. She purchased 100 acres of mountain property after she sold her successful educational business in New York. 

Architecture

Our neighbors in Boulder, who had moved from Europe, had become dear friends. Brasilia Martinez Kuperus was the daughter of a major political figure from Guatemala and had grown up in Spain. She became an international fashion model and then an architect. Brasiia spent many hours fitting the theme and style of the house to the feeling of the land. The shape of the home allows for placement of the kitchen on the west side of the house to acquire light from the morning sun and the master bedroom and living room to enjoy the setting sun. The house has maximum solar gains from its shape and design. She based the shape of the house on ancient Aztec design principles of the four seasons. She hosted a group of architectural design students from CU to visit the site as it was being built (600 photos of each phase of the construction are available).

Off-the-Grid

The location of the house allows for excellent sunlight. The home is created to be operated primarily with the energy of the sun. It is completely off-the-grid, meaning it is not connected to Xcel Energy or any other outside power source. A photovoltaic inverter system and battery bank meet the home's needs for the electricity. Additionly, there is a back-up generator. Clerestory windows splash light across the 100-foot length of the house with an abundance of egress windows which allows for maximum light during the day.

This is a “smart” house with built-in intelligence that runs the electrical system. With radiant floor heat, a masonry heater that radiates heat, and a propane stove, it's a low tech / high-tech house. The computer, battery banks, boiler, and generator  are stored in the detached garage so the house remains quiet.  There are no EMF fields inside the house because of the specificthe pattern used to wire the electrical layout.

The Overland Fire

Early morning on Wednesday, October 29, 2003, a power line blew over near the old Burlington Mine west of Jamestown, literally sparking a fire that would torch 3,500 acres in less than twenty-four hours. The fire spread quickly, fed by a dry climate and winds exceeding thirty miles per hour at times. By 10:00 am, the fire had devoured 400 acres. The town of Jamestown was evacuated around noon and a crew of 100 firefighters fought to save the small community. By evening the fire had grown to 3,000 acres.

Smoke from the fire drifted out across Longmont and the plains and could be seen as far East as Denver. Points offering shelter to evacuees were set up at Centennial Middle School and the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. The fire was classified as a Type one on a scale from 1-3 with one being the most serious. Two helicopters were stationed in Boulder to help fight the fires although because of the high winds they were never able to leave the ground. By Wednesday evening a cold front had reached the foothills and the temperature decreased dramatically and the winds died. Crews were able to partially contain the fire that night although the fire was not 100% contained until the evening of Saturday, Nov 1, 2003.

One of our neighbors, thought he had seen our house destroyed by the fire. We were still living in Boulder during construction and were devastated to hear the report. 12 out of 14 homes in the area were lost in the 3,000 acre fire. 

The next day, we drove to our land with heavy hearts. It was spooky to drive through the smoke, smoldering rocks and burnt landscape with the trees dripping icicles from the rain that had extinguished the fire. We were astonished beyond belief to see the house rising up through the smoke completely untouched. The plywood roof and the entire wooden frame was unharmed.  The Boulder County fire marshall said an angel must have been watching over our house, surely that was true. The house was the epicenter of the blaze, with 2,000 degreeblaze raging all around, yet the fire that had been divided, reconvened right at our house and continued as one from there. 

The day before the fire several lucky things had happened. We had finished sheeting the roof trusses with plywood, the interior walls were all framed and standing. There was no metal roof on the house, or windows set. It should have been a tender box but instead it survived. The evidence of fire went around the house on all sides! 

David had started the excavation for the garage site and the key had broken off in the ignition of the backhoe and so he had to leave it in the excavation instead of its usual place on the land where it surely would have been destroyed. The fire burned around the hole where the backhoe was parked!  The backhoe was spared. Our construction trailer burnt to the ground but luckily we had good construction insurance to replace the tools.

Lee and her best friend, Karen, had also been to the house the day before the fire and collected and removed all the scraps of wood laying around the job site to tidy it up, which surely could have caught fire. There was a 20 foot tall by 100 foot long slash pile that had burnt that our neighbor had mistaken for our house he thought was burning. The slash pile was totally gone after the fire.

The fire burnt within 4 inches of the home. There was a gasoline can and construction generator right next to the back side of the house, covered in a tarp and the tarp was burnt but the gasoline can and generator were fine.

Onward!

After the fire, we completed the house within five months. We were blessed with wildflower seeds and small trees to replant the land. Friends, family and strangers came to help. 

All the materials were chosen to reflect state of the art construction. The primary building material is RASTRA which creates the super structure and is an insulated concrete form with superior R value, structural integrity and is virtually fireproof. The RASTRA material saved the house as it absorbed the heat during the Overland Fire. 

This structure was capped with a standing seam roof by US Steel, with each panel being custom made by hand on site.

Because Details Matter

  • We were fortunate to have two very good friends help us in the construction of the home. Both excellent carpenters and craftsmen. Mike McMillan, a former attorney and jazz musician, and Kent Brandt, David's best friend since grade school. Kent was the General Contractor for the house.
  • Finding water in the mountains can sometimes be a difficult task. We found an excellent water source at 365 feet on the very first drilling. The well supplies an abundance of water to the house.
  • The concrete was made by the Golden Ready mix company. There are 120 yards of concretein the house, 14 full loads used in the construction of house for the footers, walls and decks. The walls are filled with steel reinforcement bars and pea size concrete slurry which creates a stronger structure.
  • The RASTRA has exceptionalsound reduction co-efficient. The stucco exterior was all done by hand, hand troweled with two layers.
  • The interior was also hand troweled, layers ofstructolite and skip trowel plaster. The house is created with old world craftsmanship. All the interior doors are hand made eight foot alder wood doors created by amaster craftsman, Ken Sully, who agreed to build the doors which was also good fortune as he is one of the best wood craftsmen in Colorado.
  • The floors are California birch, each piece was hand cut to the monolithic installation design of the house, with countless hours hand shaping each curve. 
  • The ceilings are made of aspen wood, also in a monolithic design, cut to match the curvature of the roof.
  • The cabinets are red birch.n
  • The stunning limestone for the masonry heater and entry ways are from a limestone quarry were that special color of the limestone can no longer be found.
  • There are double thermopane windowsand doors throughout the home.