When Aspen architect David Finholm first visited the rugged site that would one day cradle the 2005 Home of the Year, he knew the job would take more than architectural expertise and innovation. Building a home on this canyon property that spans a 100-year flood arroyo would also require an optimistic imagination. Meeting the challenge, Finholm designed a series of four structures connected by three interior bridges that allow the floodwaters to disperse uneventfully and the homeowners to realize their dream of a family complex where three generations can gather together for years to come.
The home is a reflection of the surrounding landscape’s wildness and powerful energy
Some owners interview potential architects for months before deciding who will build their home. For the owners of this Sedona, Arizona, escape, a chance encounter at a friend’s house two states away was all it took to know that Aspen architect David Finholm was the man best suited for the job.
“They invited me out for the weekend, recalls Finholm of his trip to the owners’ property, located in the narrow canyon of Oak Creek. “We walked the property together, discussing the land and conceiving ideas.”
Both the owners and Finholm agreed that the project would require more than architectural innovation; it would require an optimistic imagination. The decision to build a structure of log and stone was easy, especially since the materials were much more organic to the region than the localized adobe architecture. And the homeowners’ desire for a “family complex” where three generations could gather together was a request Finholm could easily grant. It was the land itself that posed the challenge. The canyon property spans a 100-year flood arroyo — a natural feature that would have to be drafted into the home’s design since working around it was not an option. Today, such a lot would be deemed unacceptable for a structural building, but because the lot was purchased years ago, Finholm was able to grandfather it into modern-day building codes. He met the challenge by creating a series of four structures connected by three interior bridges — a solution that also catered to the idea of a family complex. Each building functions differently; the entry building encloses the noisier sections of the home, such as the game/media area, laundry room and garage; the great-room building houses the living room, dining room and kitchen; the bedroom building is home to various master and guest suites; and the elevator tower offers an elevator and flight of stairs the lead to a grandmother’s master suite. The design of the bridge-connected buildings allows the floodwaters to disperse between and under the buildings and bridges and into a storm drainage system. As a secondary measure, pond landscaping and spa positioning were located accordingly in case the system failed. And instead of separating the land’s water flow system from the inside of the home, Finholm designed the interior architecture to embrace it. Inside the entry building, floor-to-ceiling windows provide a commanding view of an enclosed natural waterfall. “In fact, the lot’s water flow and trees really determined the interior floor plan,” recalls Finholm.
Although the floor plan unfolds instinctively, the house, with its sharp angles and unexpected turns, is as unpredictable as the untamed desert forest canyon. “The home exudes energy similar to the region’s famed vortexes. The land created a lot of interior interest that an architect would normally never design,” Finholm says.
Where function did not dictate from, Finholm made sure to add details that would accentuate the home’s quality of living. For example, he oriented the roof’s angles and lifts so that the owners would have views of the canyon and not their neighbors. He also positioned the house so that the southern sun would filter through the evergreen forest behind the house.
A rusted metal roof, typical of old farm buildings, emphasizes Finholm’s desire to keep the materials “local,” as does the use of Sedona redstone and Douglas fir logs. Working in tandem with interior designer Karen S. White of FW Design Group, Finholm was able to bring his organic philosophy indoors, where natural stone and terra-cotta tile connect the home to its Southwest heritage. White defined the powder room with a slate slab backsplash, artistically styled to resemble the highest ramparts of the surrounding canyon walls. “We looked to nature for inspiration in everything from the design to the materials,” she recalls. Indeed, though unpredictable, the home unfolds naturally, almost in anticipated surprise.
“The home has a profound spirit,” white says. “You sense it the moment you enter, where a stylized kiva greets you — a nod to the Native Americans who inhabited the valley.”
It’s a feeling that’s shared by all who enter the home, especially those who have witnessed just how harmoniously a man-made structure can work in accordance with nature. During Christmas of 2004, the house was put to the test when the 100-year flood came rushing through the deep channels of the arroyo. The owners, along with visiting family and friends, watched in awe as turbulent waters tumbled towards the house. And, sure enough, the home’s design worked just as Finholm had planned. The water passed uneventfully beneath the house and bridges, utilizing the storm system and the pond overflow.
“It was the most difficult lot I’ve ever built on,” Finholm admits. “But in the end, we all felt the same: The house surpassed our highest expectations.”
Architect: David Finholm, Finholm Architects, Inc.,
Builder: Phil Morris, The Phil W. Morris Company.
Interior: Designer Karen S. White, ASID, FW Design Group,
Landscape: Architect Peter Curé, Arterra, Inc.,