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A Sense of Place
Kate Abney | Photo: Laziz Hamani | May 21, 2013
Miami architect Chad Oppenheim’s Red Mountain retreat is a faithful homage to its natural surroundings.
“It just blew my mind away,” he recalls. “I thought: I’ve got to live here. This is the best place in the world.” The progressive modernist paid our city dozens of visits over the decades, but it took some time for him to call Aspen home.
After all, Oppenheim had been busy: shifting the Miami skyline with condominiums such as Ten Museum Park; racking up awards from The American Institute of Architects, The Chicago Athenaeum and World Architecture Festival (for a resort in Wadi Rum, Jordan); and designing an Emiliano Hotel for Rio de Janeiro in time for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
It was 2008 when he finally purchased a 3,500-square-foot, 1971 split-level chalet on Red Mountain and began to transform it with local materials, including weathered steel, glass, copper, plaster, wood and stone.
“We wanted our house to be very much connected to this place, with materials from this place,” Oppenheim explains. Minimalist in execution, but romantic in feeling, it recedes into the verdant acreage, while remaining open to the surrounding views. By blending in, it stands out from its mega-mansion neighbors.
Architecturally, the idea was to create a home belonging to no particular design genre or decade; a timeless refuge that the Oppenheim family—starting with Chad’s wife of 11 years, Ilona, and their two young children, Hendrix and Liloo—could enjoy for generations to come.
Describing his home, which he named La Muna (mountain by the stream), as “small, but surprising,” Oppenheim relishes intimate moments in its beautifully proportioned, cozy rooms. Appointed via his Miami office, the interiors speak to the wabi-sabi sensibilities of the Japanese and the soulful approach of Axel Vervoordt. Collected and casual furnishings range from custom-upholstered beds to a 1960s Fabricius & Kastholm Grasshopper chair. In warm months, streamlined Verellen sofas and dining benches are slipcovered in off-white linen. Above a 400-year-old baroque walnut trestle table hangs a natural-moss art assemblage by Los Angeles-based artist Max Lamb.
“The walls just off the dining room have an incredible finish that we developed with the plasterers,” Oppenheim notes. “They’re dark and incredibly beautiful, almost like steel.”
The floors are laid with fumed, reclaimed oak; while locally sourced, centuries-old barn wood adorns walls and ceilings. Miami-based, Belgian-born craftsman Marcel De Cock and his team lived in the house for months at a time, “really laboring over the details,” Oppenheim recounts. Each porous plank runs from floor to ceiling, doors camouflaged neatly within their seams. Drains of tubs, sinks and showers are equally discrete, hidden as slits within their own hand-hewn stone surfaces. The work of Glenwood Springs-based Eurostone, their rustic texture is repeated in the moody bathroom walls.
Specimens that clad the exterior are just as striking: Local Telluride granite commands a spacious oak-cloaked lawn, as well as a granite table picked up at JF Chen in Los Angeles and a custom steel fire pit Oppenheim compares to the minimalist sculptures of Donald Judd. Flanked by a giant granite boulder and winding stream, it’s often the site of fondue parties or gatherings of children wrapped in fur blankets and nibbling chocolate-chip cookies.
Throughout all seasons, enormous picture windows—some as large as 9 by 10 feet—frame breathtaking views of Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Maroon Bells and beyond… and open with the simple press of a button. Skylights have been inserted into the eaves to let in natural light, while modern technologies—photovoltaic panels, insulated glass, solar-heated water—bring the residence into the 21st century.
Since their home’s completion in 2010, the Oppenheims have spent up to eight weeks per year here—skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and sleigh riding in the winter; hiking, biking, climbing and kayaking in the summer; and generally opting out of the downtown fanfare in favor of communion with nature and each other. Through nature workshops at Sustainable Settings and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, they’re also learning to live off the land.
“My wife is from Switzerland, so she understands and appreciates the mountains,” Oppenheim says. “Here, we forage for herbs and make tea. We go to the farms to pick up fruits and vegetables, and collect eggs. We milk the cows. Ilona mills her own flour. She’s actually doing a book about our house—all about the food, the architecture, the lifestyle.” Look forward to that publication, as well as the arrival of an Aspen office for Oppenheim Architecture + Design, later this year.
ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN
245 NE 37th St., Miami, FL 33137
Project Manager Geoff McIntyre
124 Totterdown Road, Aspen, CO 81611
4351 County Road 115
Glenwood Springs, CO, 81601-9023
Marcel De Cock
M Design Group & Associates Inc.