A resurgence of Midcentury Modern with a western twist defines Steamboat Springs contemporary.
What is contemporary architecture? Its literal definition “of the now” is open for much interpretation. In Steamboat, where mountain-rustic dominated local architecture style for so long, the current style is changing. Classic contemporary features such as gabled rooflines and materials like timber, stacked stone, and rusted corrugated metal that characterized much of the building style over the last decade, have given way to a simpler style. Open floor plans, slow-pitched roofs, floor-to-ceiling glass, and more simple functional design are current, even if this so-called modern style is borrowed from the past.
“I call it ‘modernism 2.0,” says Michael Olsen, of Michael JK Olsen Architects. “What we’re seeing in Steamboat is the resurgence of modernism, and that’s what’s driving the wave of building that’s going on right now.” Olsen says the cornerstones of modern design—simplicity, open floor plans, lots of natural light, integration of the natural landscape, and sloping or flat roofs—are a major departure from the more rustic influence that dominated Steamboat’s definition of a contemporary mountain-style home for so long.
This more contemporary mountain rustic style became so engrained in the Steamboat landscape that it was heavily mandated by covenants in some of the higher-end neighborhoods where building restrictions forced a heavy hand on the type of architecture that was permitted over the last two decades. “In Steamboat, there’s a lot more rigid interpretation of what the design guidelines are,” says William Rangitsch, of Steamboat Architectural Associates. Just getting permission to build modern touches on a home in some of these neighborhoods, such as floor-to-ceiling windows, can be a struggle. “We have to push design review guidelines all the time. It’s hard to get approved for designs that are more open and contemporary.”
As a result, the Steamboat market has created its own signature interpretation of a mountain home, with gabled rooflines, and the use of rustic materials like river rock, stacked stone and heavy timber. “The percentage of modern architecture is super limited. Modern architecture firms are busier because there’s no supply out there,” says Charlie Dresen, Associate Broker for Steamboat Sotheby’s International Real Estate. “As a result, more modern homes, with their clean lines and structural elements exposed, do sell quickly because there is such a limited supply. Real estate values are always influenced by supply and demand and today there are more buyers looking for those modern homes. So with limited inventory, values of these types of properties are going up faster than your typical mountain rustic home. “
Dresen says the Steamboat buyer is getting less conservative and with an influx from the west coast and cities such as Seattle (which now has direct flights into Hayden), people are more likely to have been exposed to modern architecture and more current building trends. “I’m finding that more people are gravitating toward simpler, more linear modern designs, highlighting the wood, concrete and steel rather than covering it up like more traditional mountain rustic homes.”
This is a trend that’s been well established in Aspen and Vail, but Steamboat is just catching up. “In Steamboat, we’ve trailed a bit behind the latest shift toward contemporary, so buyers, designers, and Realtors® are all walking though my contemporary homes oohing and ahhing all the way through,” says Stephan Zittel, Broker Associate for Steamboat Sotheby’s International Realty. “It’s not that they’ve never before seen the product, but more of an excitement that finally the product has been brought to Steamboat.”
In terms of investing in contemporary real estate, Realtors® and architects alike point out that what’s considered contemporary now is really a resurgence of mid century modern, a clean and elegant style that had real staying power, unlike more ‘contemporary’ architecture that was built ten years ago. “If you find a property that has taller ceilings, an open floor plan, simple living space and clean lines, even if it was built in the 70’s, that will transcend time and retain its value. Upgrading countertops and cabinetry is easy. As long as the structure has an open floor plan, good natural light and flows well, such properties transcend the “contemporary” style of the day,” says Dresen.
When it comes to the Steamboat spec home building market and striking the right balance between design that’s current but will also have staying power and value over the long term, architects and Realtors® agree that a return to simplicity and elegance is key. “You need simple, elegant design that is honest and true,” says Rangitsch, who has worked as an architect in Steamboat for over thirty-five years and seen many trends come and go. Architect Michael Olson notes, “We don’t have a particular style. We’ve always gone with what the client wants and we’ve had people who have requested modern style homes for the last twenty-five years.”
So when it comes to understanding Steamboat contemporary and differentiating between contemporary and modern design, the key is to look forward—and then to look back. As is true in any creative field, whether it’s art, music, fashion or design, what’s old is new again.