The Skinny House
Denver architect André Vite turns a slice of land in Minturn into an open, livable mountain retreat.
The lot wasn’t much to look at. It was barely a sliver—just 25 feet wide and 100 feet deep—tucked on Main Street in the quiet mountain town of Minturn. A mobile home consumed almost the entire lot, which was the narrowest in the community. From a development perspective, it was one of the least desirable pieces of land in the glamorous, opulent Vail Valley.
And the instant he saw it on a winter day in 2011, André Vite knew he had to have it.
Vite, the campus architect at the University of Colorado Denver, had spent the day with his wife, Ginger Borges, and their sons, skiing at Vail before heading to Minturn for dinner. Vite and Borges, an oncologist at the University of Colorado medical school, had always been drawn to the town, a modest village that’s often overlooked in swanky Eagle County. “Vail is nice and Beaver Creek is nice, but there is an authenticity to Minturn,” Vite says. “It’s an Old Western town.”
The property Vite had his eye on, though, was a challenging one. The town’s five-foot zoning setbacks meant that the new home could only be 15 feet wide, which is incredibly narrow for a single-family home. (It’s more on the scale of urban apartments or row homes.) The difficulty of building was further compounded by a 10-foot grade difference between the front of the property, on Main Street, and the back, on Boulder Street.
Far from being frustrated by the building constraints, Vite was attracted to them. “I search around for sites people think they can’t develop,” he says. (The very first house he built was on a nonconforming site in Cape Cod.) “I’ve always found that more constraints on a project— economic, physical, environmental, zoning—give you the greatest opportunity to embrace a challenge and come up with a new—and innovative—solution.”
After buying the land and scraping the mobile home, Vite set about designing a modernist residence with an open, free-flowing floor plan to maximize the space. “When [a house] is 13 feet wide on the inside, the challenge is to not feel constricted,” Vite says. “Since we’re there as a family, you want a variety of spaces—some intimate and some larger.”
He selected a structural steel frame—an unusual element for a single-family home—that freed him to create large spaces. Consider, for example, the main living area on the second floor. With the exception of a bathroom, there is nary an interior wall from the back to the front of the house: The cork-floored space flows, uninterrupted, from the airy and bright kitchen, through the simple dining room, and out into the large living room.
The modern living room is further expanded by soaring 26-foot ceilings and a NanaWall (a sliding steel and glass wall) that opens out to the deck and views of Main Street and Lionshead Rock. “On a nice day you go out [on the deck], and it brings the outside right in,” says Brian Beckett, the general contractor on the project. “This is a little house that feels large inside.”
Elsewhere, the living spaces are more intimate. A guest bedroom is housed on the first floor along with a garage space that is zoned for a potential retail expansion. On the third floor, the west-facing bedroom is for the couple’s 9- and 12-year-old sons, René and Niko, while Vite and Borges’ “master” bedroom is a loft open to the living room—and the views.
Despite being finished recently, in October 2012, the home is already known as “the skinny house” around town. “We have the Minturn Market every Saturday during the summer, and people will knock on the door and ring the doorbell,” Vite says of neighbors asking for tours. “The thing that I’m very proud of is that the town likes it.”
Not that Vite and Borges don’t enjoy it, too. In fact, the family has spent more weekends than not at the home, undercutting their original plan of flipping it as an investment: They’re now keeping it as a second home. “My family loves it,” Vite says. “It’s our little getaway.”
Vite Collaborative, 303-364-4998, vitecollabora tive.com
Beckett Custom Homes, 970-328-1276, beckettcustomhomes.com