The elements of nature and music are the foundation of this admirable Sanctuary home, which is an example of how thoughtful building a home in Steamboat can be.
The critical elements of home design are open to interpretation; some base it on ancient studies of feng shui and ayurveda, others focus on modern day research of ergonomics and the four cardinal directions. Ultimately, the roots of home design are personal and meaningful, and there’s no ‘one way’ to approach it. In Steamboat Springs, husband and wife team Steve and Lorraine Morrison (owners of Morrison Custom Builders) used their 26 years of home building experience to collaborate on a unique project that prioritizes their take on the fundamental elements of nature and music.
A lifelong student of music, Lorraine Morrison has developed a love of the arts and architecture. She studied music theory and composition as well as classical piano, and met Steve Morrison in 1995. Steve was an established builder who approached his projects from an architectural perspective, using programs like CAD software to further illustrate his vision with clients.
“Steve and I believe that structures are like interactive works of art that influence the people who live and work inside of them,” Lorraine explains.
Working together in the real estate and building industry, the Morrisons have now completed several builds throughout Colorado that reflect their artistic approach to design.
In the fall of 2017, a close friend approached the couple to build a one-of-a-kind home on a unique lot in the Sanctuary neighborhood. The location was stunning, but the mountainside terrain provided a design challenge. The Morrisons were excited by the opportunity and agreed to take on the project, offering to design the home from the ground up. With tremendous support from Alpenglow Engineering Solutions, the team decided to use the surrounding elements of the building site to their advantage.
The first obstacle was excavating a boulder retaining wall that was a prominent side of the .58 acre building site. The team knew there were ways to incorporate the rock wall without making the house feel cavelike when built into the side of the mountain. The time spent planning the structure and assessing options for creative solutions was a critical step in the process.
“We calculated the distance between the house and the retaining wall and then calculated the angle of the sun during the warm season,” Lorraine explains.
The structure was designed to mask the rise in elevation by splitting the levels multiple times; from the garage, to the mudroom and up to the main living area. This design approach contributed an open floor plan and optimal flow throughout the house.
The team wanted to protect the sightlines of the homeowners from Steamboat Boulevard, a popular road where the private driveway would connect. The positioning of the house had to be calculated in a way that is set back, yet built to a height where the road was not seen from the main living area. The great room was then positioned so the main view would face Fish Creek Canyon rather than the hillside on the other side of the narrow canyon. With each unique characteristic of the building site considered, the project was on track to become a sanctuary of its own.
Music Composition and Design
When studying music in college, Lorraine learned how to write and arrange music for orchestra groups as well as small ensembles. “Writing and arranging music for each instrument to have purpose within a composition was all about blending textures and tones in time,” Lorraine explains.
Her favorite definition of music is ‘sound arranged in time.’
“I find that in design, you access the very same part of the brain; the process is very similar: create a theme, layer the sounds, repeat the theme, adjust for interest and repeat again.”
In the home design process, Lorraine consulted her library of music and replayed a familiar song that helped draw inspiration for the materials that would bring the structure to life. “If I could turn music into a structure, what would it look like, how would it feel, and what effect would it have on the people inside?” Lorraine had asked herself. From incorporating the surrounding elements of nature and drawing inspiration from the process of composing music, the vision for the home started coming to life.
Incorporating Elements of Nature
From source to structure, each component and piece of material selected had a unique meaning and purpose. The Morrisons sourced tile curated from Turkey and Italy and wood harvested from an artisan logging company in New Mexico. Every touchpoint in the finished home has a story. Beyond the stories, the touchpoints are composed of natural elements, which the Morrisons believe affect the well-being of the home and its homeowner.
The entire house is made of natural stone and vertically grained wood, giving the home an earthy, grounded aesthetic that compliments the mountain contemporary appeal of the surrounding neighborhood structures. The custom kitchen cabinetry was built with rift-sawn cherry oak and the use of limestone throughout the house displays traces of fossils and other living organisms from where the limestone was excavated. The powder bath showcases sage-green stacked stone quartzite. This popular stone is formed in the earth through a natural process of heat, chemicals, and pressure recrystallizing sand grains and silica, creating a hard, dense stone. A combination of India Black Granite quarried in India and a quartzite slab on the island make up the kitchen counter surfaces.
Parallel to Fish Creek with an accessible trailhead up the road, the element of water was a bonus feature to the building site. The outdoor living areas feature two hot tub locations and inside, the owner’s suite is complete with a steam shower and generous soaking tub with a view to the manicured exterior and rock wall.
The custom, three-sided fireplace is seen from almost every room in the home; the kitchen, dining room, living room, master bedroom, the library, and the gallery at the top of the stairs. When assessing the importance of fire as an element that connects the design of the home, Lorraine’s declaration says it all: “If the fire is the heart of the house, then the wine is the life.” The three focal points that were strategically placed to be seen upon entry were the outdoors, the fireplace, and the wine cellar.
“We wanted the soul of this house to be welcoming, nurturing, and full of life,” Lorraine explains.
Construction of the home was completed in 2019. It took two years to realize their vision from start to finish. The couple took the time needed to layer textures and tones, to blend the theme, and then compose this stunning structure. The home has come to life with the thoughtful selections that stemmed from elements of nature and inspiration from music. From a fundamental approach, the Morrisons have created an example of how a challenging building site can be transformed into an artful, livable structure, and foundation for a beautiful life in the Yampa Valley.
Photos: Michael Robinson Photography