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Custom Home Outdoors: Privacy in a courtyard oasis

The architecture forms a barrier to the streets and closes off views of the pool.
The architecture forms a barrier to the streets and closes off views of the pool.
Lindenau used diverse level and material changes to break up the courtyard expanse and create an engaging geometry.
Lindenau used diverse level and material changes to break up the courtyard expanse and create an engaging geometry.

For clients who travel for business more than they are home, a house that feels like a vacation home is a must. Three busy streets framing a one-third-acre lot with four derelict houses and piles of junk wasn't exactly an auspicious beginning for such a retreat. Scott Lindenau, founder of Aspen. Colo.-based Studio b Architects, saw potential, however, and jumped right in to fulfilling his client's program for no-maintenance outdoor spaces that could handle frequent entertaining and enjoyment in any season.

"This courtyard was key to the way this couple lives," says Lindenau. "The architecture forms a barrier to the streets and closes off views of the pool." Lindenau stretched the 6,500-square-foot main house into an L shape to block off two of the streets. A 750-square-foot guest house obstructs the third thoroughfare and provides guests with their own street entrance as well as free access to the outdoor areas. "If the client is home and there are guests staying, they can meet in the courtyard," explains Lindenau. "If guests are there alone, then they can use the pool area and not disturb the main house."

One of the existing houses was deemed historic and was moved to the edge of the lot, fenced off, and sold to complete the architectural perimeter. Thanks to the site's 10-foot grade drop, the courtyard and lower level of the house sink a full story below the street. Since the surrounding neighborhood is less than bucolic, Lindenau designed the house to turn its back on the neighborhood and face in to this secluded sanctuary. "The street facade is very unassuming," he says, "so you'd never know this place existed."

Hardscaping the entire 45-foot-by-45-foot courtyard eliminated the client's maintenance concerns. Concrete paths connect the lower level rooms such as the master bedroom to various courtyard destinations. A raised wood plinth sets off a heated, swim-in-place pool. A slate platform surrounds a flush fire pit that lights up at the flick of an indoor switch. Filling in the blanks, monotone pebbles counter smoother surfaces. Zinc planters filled with indigenous trees and shrubs soften crisp corners while the compound's flat roofs allow the variegated slopes of Mount Sopris and Aspen to dominate the line of sight. Custom sail-shaped canopies strung across steel columns gently billow in the breeze adding a tranquil auditory element. The sails also help mitigate the relentless high-altitude sun.

Lindenau used diverse level and material changes to break up the courtyard expanse and create an engaging geometry. Robust Ipe decking brings richness to the collection of surfaces and connects back to the house cladding. Long, low concrete walls, also lined with ipe, contain outdoor speakers and double as seating. Wide exterior stairs between the house and garage offer casual resting spots and allow visitors to walk directly into the courtyard without traipsing through the house. Storage beneath the stairwell is deep enough to house deck chairs, cushions, and pool supplies. Suspended aluminum trellises produce friendly shadows that lure people to come out and play.

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