Entering a passcode, the visitor rises to the third floor, and is ushered into another world entirely.
The sense of calm that hovers over this 7,000-square-foot home (with three decks) on the otherwise commercial building’s top floor seems rooted in the entrance room’s historic grayish-white limestone floors, reminiscent of ancient headstones.
Culled from the walls of European homes and castles, the limestone was matched for shade, shape and texture, then transported – piece by piece, to preserve the original edging – to be carefully reinstalled at its new setting.
Co-listing broker Rosie Cusack points out the dings visible in the floors – the possible result of anything from arrows to lead rivets.
Pewter-white plaster walls reinforce the sense of quiet and calm.
The visitor’s gaze is drawn to the waist-high 15-by-4-foot zinc counter, off-center in this room that multitasks as an entrance hall, gathering place, dining area and connecting point to the apartment’s four discrete sections. The utilitarian counter offers the final clue to the overarching aesthetic that links the myriad components of this four-bedroom, four-bath, one-of-a-kind home.
It’s an aesthetic in which function meets fashion, and a careful sense of proportion rules.
Flanking an oversized galley kitchen, the zinc counter (a sunken white porcelain sink at one end) is not only perfect for food prep, it functions as an easily-accessed serving station as well, for the standup drinks-and-appetizers parties – often fundraisers supporting one of Telluride’s many nonprofits – hosted at 300 Elks Park.
Across from the counter, tucked close in to the room’s south wall, a china cabinet, dining table (with ten chairs) and butcher-block side table look almost incidental. The large multipurpose room is ultimately defined by two steel-grid floor-to-ceiling door-and-window panels by Point Five (they were hoisted from ground level, intact) that open out to decks perfectly positioned for taking the long views, to the east and west, from the tiny Town of Telluride.
DESIGN WITH A HISTORY
Evaluating design decisions so that they underscore, punctuate and set the stage at key points in the sun’s traverse over town for presenting Telluride’s most iconic views is a matter of prioritization, says architect Alan Wanzenberg, named one of America’s top architects in the January 2012 issue of Architectural Digest.
Wanzenberg, whose website says his Manhattan firm, Alan Wanzenberg Architect and Design, emphasizes “a high level of design resolution and craftsmanship” for clients, went to work fresh out of architecture school for I.M. Pei, the 20th century’s master of modern architecture.
Working at I.M. Pei & Associates (now called Pei Cobb Freed and Partners), Wanzenberg recalled recently, “They prioritized design in a way that people don’t always discuss; within the projects that they did, they always treated hierarchies of the various design priorities.
“And they would vigorously defend those priorities, obviously from the highest ground.”
As a young architect, Wanzenberg said, “I felt that was a wonderful experience for… learning to evaluate design.”
In the mid-1970s, Wanzenberg moved on to co-found Jed Johnson, Alan Wanzenberg & Associates (he left in 1986 to strike out on his own, although he continued to work closely with interior designer Johnson, his life partner, until Johnson’s death ten years later).
In an obituary, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger praised Johnson, who died in the July 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800, as possessing “one of the best eyes that existed in our time.”
Johnson’s sensibility was “very unique,” remembered Wanzenberg, whose firm today produces a rugs and furnishings line, and whose interiors at 300 Elks Park retain the integrity of the many projects on which the two worked together (some of them chronicled in Jed Johnson: Opulent Restraint, assembled by Johnson’s twin brother, Jay, and published by Rizzoli).
“He didn’t have any formal training,” Wanzenberg said of Jed Johnson, but had “a very sophisticated eye.
“He was highly, highly discerning, but he wasn’t a snob.”
The world of objects and design was, for Johnson, “almost like another world that he could go into, at his will.”
Wanzenberg and Johnson, who regularly visited Telluride from the mid-1970s on, were “very fond of Telluride,” said Wanzenberg, who these days oversees a staff of 15 architects and designers at his firm.
THE ESSENCE OF TELLURIDE
Framing the essence of Telluride and its surroundings was a high priority in Wanzenberg’s design for 300 Elks Park.
In the master bedroom, for example, a pencil-post bedframe echoes a four-squared oak pane on the south-facing window. In daylight, the delicate bedframe interfaces with the windowpane as if to facilitate the illusion of pulling a constantly shifting outdoors into the room.
Outside, on the apartment’s southwest-facing deck, a window-sized cutout in the brick masonry punctuates a view of the Telluride Ski Area’s north face.
A towering oak door jam frames the transition from the multipurpose entrance room to the 900-square-foot living room ahead, echoing the large, angular room’s board-and-batten-style ceiling (the almost-sculptural striped pattern is actually the result of painted-white load-bearing steel beams, installed for support).
“We had to redo the structure of the roof system, because they opened up the whole thing into one big space,” explained Paul Ricks, of Fortenberry and Ricks Construction, who was the project manager. The floors were raised, bringing the windows from eye- to waist-level, and the ceilings raised, making room for electrical storage space.
Making the vast living room seem at once welcoming and habitable brings a second design priority into play: the creation, throughout the home, of clearly defined and welcoming interiors.
The living room is a case in point, furnished with six eminently practical Wanzenberg mohair chairs (custom-scaled to be larger than normal, as are the firm’s two custom leather couches and the 19th century Brazilian farmhouse table in the center of the room). Completing the furnishings are four more tables, six coffee tables and 11 more chairs, for a counterintuitive sense of intimacy – a phalanx of furniture that creates three intimate gathering spots in the large room.
At night, a white limestone hearth is the focal point, perfectly counterpointed by a glass coffee table that looks a bit like an ice sculpture. By day, a view across Telluride to Ajax Mountain dominates, although the game table with chairs invites visitors to sit and look to the south for downhill skiers.
Heading out of the living room to the home’s north side, the visitor passes through the bar-and-billiards room, a sign from the legendary Harmon’s restaurant on the west wall, a yellow Pyrolave cocktail table in an east corner.
“It’s beautiful, yet super-durable,” said Wanzenberg Project Designer Elizabeth Peeples, of that tabletop’s crackled-ceramic-looking surface that’s actually volcanic rock from France’s Auvergne region.
In the next room – a sitting room that, thanks to a custom-designed foldout coach, can double as a fourth bedroom – a distressed metal media cabinet with BB pellet-sized holes is the centerpiece. “We worked with the Ann Mason Gallery, in Chicago, and the artist Jim Rose, to design the piece to our specifications,” said Peeples.
But even a media cabinet that looks like it spent time at a shooting range can’t compete with the view.
“I love this courthouse,” said Mike Wentworth, the property’s co-listing broker with Cusack, of the red brick San Miguel County Courthouse (the Historic Sheridan Opera House off to one side) directly across the street, with a red-rock cliff band looming above. Noise from the late-night bar-and-restaurant scene below is non-existent, here as elsewhere throughout the apartment, thanks to soundproof Pella windows.
Heading west, two guest bedrooms, each with their own bath, come next. Then it’s out into a hallway (featuring, as do the bedrooms, wall-to-wall milled wool carpet designed by Wanzenberg and made by Beauvais) with built-in shelving, heading south past laundry, exercise, storage and media rooms.
Pausing for a quick tour of the west deck, useable year-round thanks to heat lamps, cushioned teak furniture and another Pyrolave table, this one sea-blue, the visitor walks through a carefully furnished study – a lacquered-steel bookshelf, built to be freestanding, is, thankfully, anchored to the wall – for a quick visit to the master bedroom and its views, from the shower and soaking tub, of the ski mountain.
All this, and “it’s a block-and-a-half to the gondola,” Wentworth said of the 300 Elks Park location, closer to skiing “than most ski area parking lots.
“This is unique in Telluride – and in the world.”