When home building is your full-time family business, building your own family home can be rewarding but intense.
For Chris and Mara Rhodes, co-owners of Soda Mountain Construction and Design in Steamboat Springs, the year-long process of building their first personal home together paralleled construction on two larger homes for clients as well as raising three young children with no local family members to help out.
When Chris first asked Mara if they should build for themselves, her answer was complete hesitation.
“I thought it would be just one more thing,” said Mara, mom to children then ages two, four and seven.
“It took some convincing,” Chris said, with a big smile, giving his wife a bear hug.
But the couple, who met in Steamboat through friends in 2002 while both working two jobs, made it through the detailed, demanding process and celebrated afterward with a two-week trip to Hawaii for their 10-year wedding anniversary.
“Ideally it’d be great to build a home for yourself when you have some ‘down time’ or when things are ‘slow,’” Mara said. “But financially, as owners of a construction company, that’s not really possible. The time to build is when you have work, which is when you are the busiest. I look back on the 12 months of planning and building, and I honestly wonder how we did it.”
Completed by mid-summer, their “mountain cottage” with contemporary flare is inspired by Mara’s childhood on Cape Cod. The Fish Creek area home is energy efficient and sits on a smaller footprint than they usually build for clients. They worked carefully during the planning process to maximize the use of space and to use simpler roof lines for a more efficient build.
On the sloped lot, the two-car garage is situated uphill, and the two-story home sits downhill. The sloped yard is landscaped with large rocks and a stream feature, designed by the couple, who both once worked for landscaping companies in Steamboat.
Inside, the main/second floor layout features an open kitchen and dining/living great room that seems to flow through high-end sliding doors onto the 700 square feet of covered Trex decks. When they show their bright, clean-lined, super organized home to potential clients, the visitors guess the home is closer to 3,500 square feet rather than the actual 2,700 square feet of livable space, Chris said. Yet the more efficient size is all the family needs and was better for cost, heating, energy efficiency, maintenance and upkeep, they said.
“There was a lot of thought that went into the layout so that it lives a lot larger,” Chris explained. “We are trying to promote efficient and more functional square footage and detailed craftsmanship. We want to build homes that last 100 years.”
The home’s décor is durable, clean and nautical-themed with three-pane, crank-out windows as well as glass and rope light fixtures. White vaulted ceilings with century-old Douglas fir timbers further the feel of a beach house in the mountains.
The couple was able to reuse materials from previous construction remodeling jobs such as a granite countertop for the powder room and zinc metal panels for around the natural gas fireplace and under the kitchen island. Chris created an accent wall in the stairway from scraps of reclaimed timbers from old barns from across the county. He “hoarded” the timber scraps for five years with the design in mind for his own home.
Perfect for any Steamboat home, the mud room off the garage features multi-shelved sections for each child, a laundry chute to the lower floor and a convenient powder room decorated with wave design wallpaper.
Downstairs, the first-floor bedrooms for the three children are smaller by design but connected by a comfortable playroom and movie room with a 9-foot ceiling.
The entire house has no VOC paints and finishes and all hard-surface flooring to help with their oldest daughter’s severe environmental allergies.
Outside, the home features beetle-kill blue stain pine for the soffits and durable features such as a garage door with black extruded aluminum and opaque glass. Gray moss rock from Montana is used on some of the lower exterior, and maintenance-free hot roll steel serves as the wainscot near the front door.
As a Colorado Mountain College graduate in wilderness studies, a former furniture maker and a skilled carpenter turned general contractor, Chris said his wood of choice is raw walnut. He turned the main floor of the home under construction into a wood shop to mill wood and create his own custom finishes.
“We used purple heart old-growth walnut that was reclaimed from an 1890s barn from Missouri to build the custom barn sliding doors and countertop. It is irreplaceable,” Chris said.
Chris labored some 2,000 hours across 10 months on his family’s home. The 34-year-old would sometimes begin his day at 5 a.m. by skinning up the ski mountain for his morning exercise and then head to his construction work at 6:30 a.m. Workdays could extend to 8:30 p.m. under lights.
“Chris really was working double time,” Mara, 38, said. “The process is 24-7, but that is the only way to get it done and do it right. It’s a massive undertaking, so you have to commit. But when it’s finished, the reward is your home.”
The builder is especially appreciative of all the hard work from the trades that went into his family’s home because he started his own construction career as a laborer pushing a broom.
With Chris functioning as both lead carpenter and general contractor, and Mara handling the administration, the couple was able to lower their costs by approximately $300,000 in labor and management to meet their family’s construction budget. Their company Soda Mountain Construction has grown into a design-build business making the process more efficient and affordable for customers. In-house architectural designer Travis Mathey created the design concept with an homage to regional barns, so the home features a strong gable roof and a low-pitched shed roof.
Mathey used computer modeling with a sun study to determine the home’s best orientation on the lot and the appropriate width of roof overhangs. The layout saved as many mature trees on the property as possible. The goal was to create the impression that the house flowed naturally across the sloped site. Areas that the homeowners felt do not need windows such as the stairs, laundry and mechanical room are bunkered into the slope. The majority of the glass opens to the east, and the north side of the home has high, smaller windows for privacy and protection from winter winds.
Chris said the intensity of building for his family came from the “details, budget and timeline.” As a dad, husband, lead carpenter and builder, he said, “There was a lot of things to pay attention to.”
For Mara, working full time for the company and being a busy mom piled on the intensity. With their home finished, relief, enjoyment and pride is warranted.
“Having lived and worked in Steamboat for 15 years, I can truly appreciate all the years of hard work and dedication it took to be able to afford—and build—a single-family home within city limits,” Mara said. “I love that my children were able to watch the process of mom and dad building homes for others and then finally one of our very own. The space we’ve designed and created for our family is so important because this is where the memories will be made.”