It is only natural that Florian Speier, founder of Zola Windows, would design a house for his family with one side made up nearly entirely of windows. In 2015, when he found the perfect plot of land on Amethyst Drive that had stunning views and a close proximity to downtown Steamboat, that’s exactly what he did.
Florian, a Swiss-trained German architect, designed the house himself; although he doesn’t do much design work anymore since he founded Zola Windows in 2010 when he couldn’t find American windows that met the performance needs of his projects. Specializing in custom-made windows and doors for high-performance and luxury homes, Zola’s windows and doors are custom-crafted in Europe and shipped to the United States.
For his own creation, he envisioned a house with floor to ceiling windows, essentially creating a wall of glass.
All of the windows are from the Zola No Compromise system. They are handcrafted from African Sapele wood and have a one and a quarter inch structural foam layer sandwiched between the wood frame and the aluminum rainscreen cladding. The glass is triple glazed with an altitude compensated gas fill and is tempered and laminated, giving full UV protection.
In this particular house, most of these windows are south and southwest facing which provides warmth in the winter; they also face in the correct direction for both views and privacy on this lot.
The home is built to passive house standards, actually exceeding the current standards by 20%. The walls are close to 14 inches thick, 12 of which are wood fiber insulation. Insulation made from recycled foam helps keep the heat in during the cold winter months.
“Windows like this are really only possible if you use high performing windows that are triple glazed,” said Florian. “With these, you can stand right in front of the glass on a -30 degree day and not feel the cold.”
And while any house can be designed as a passive house, with Steamboat’s harsh climate, houses do need to take solar gains from windows. Bigger windows tend to be more efficient with this, as illustrated in Florian’s own home.
The windows each have an automated shade that can be drawn for added privacy or to keep cool air inside during the hot summer months, while still allowing light to filter through.
The house was designed to integrate the outdoors and indoors together, blurring the lines between interior and exterior.
It was designed with a 45-degree bend in the middle to give the illusion of more space and to make better use of the space on the lot. It also served to create a better flow for the main living space.
“I highly appreciate when you see another part of the building from the inside,” he explained. “Seeing both the inside and outside of the house when living in it feels very grounding to me. It really gives you a sense of place and space.”
The design began around the kitchen, which Florian describes as “the hub of the home.”
The open concept room features a large island and flows seamlessly into the living and dining room. A 48-foot sliding door system opens out onto the deck, again blending the inside out. The door wraps, post-less, around the 45-degree bend in the house – a key part of the design idea as the eye takes in the deck on the outside and the body feels the room and deck together as one large, rectangular space.
Wall to wall windows in the bedrooms give the illusion of being outside, and each room was designed with a deck bridging the space between interior and exterior.
“The deck becomes a natural part of the form of the room,” says Florian. “In the months when it’s too cold to open everything, the decks visually become a continuation of the room and make it feel much bigger.”
Teak ceilings are the same material as the overhang of the roof – all designed to give the impression that the room extends to the outdoors.
The two-story master wing looks out over Butcherknife Creek, giving a rural feeling of privacy even though the house is central to downtown.
And while clean lines and sleek fixtures lend to the modern image of the home – one of the more modern homes in Routt County – warm materials, such as European oak floors, give the interior a cozy feel. The walls are painted white with a German matte paint to show off a play of light and shadow, adding to the complexity and layers of the home.
Because of Florian’s belief that windows can be an artistic work of beautiful craftmanship, they add to the feeling of warmth in the home.
While his clients often specify that they want their windows to disappear into the house and just “be glass,” he chooses to embrace the windows instead. Forgoing typical materials like metal and aluminum, he chose wood for his own frames to contribute to the feeling of coziness throughout the house.
“The house combines everything that we believe in about construction in terms of design, energy efficiency, sustainability and great living,” said Florian. “In the winter, being indoors needs to be fun and joyful. We want to feel like we’re outside even when we can’t go outside.”
Photos: Tim Murphy
Windows: Zola Windows
Builder: Garcia Construction
Carpentry: Superior Carpentry
Electric: Ryan Murphy Electric