Escaping into the wilderness has long held appeal for Coloradans, but as we face another month of pandemic life, getting away to a place far from others sounds even more attractive.
Enter Off Grid Hideaways. The Switzerland-based startup partners with homeowners around the world to rent out their beautifully designed and remote properties. There are currently 13 homes in Off Grid’s portfolio—but just one is in the United States, and it’s right here in the Centennial State.
The Colorado Hideaway—nicknamed MARTAK, an acronym of the designer’s family’s surnames—is a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom home in the mountains of Larimer County, about 30 minutes from Fort Collins. The minimalist and open-concept space incorporates plenty of natural, eco-friendly materials (like Forest Stewardship Council–rated timber and recycled-newsprint insulation) and is the state’s first certified International Passive House. But don’t let that scare you: There is electricity and indoor plumbing (and wifi, too, though you can ask to shut it off for a true digital detox). “It’s a regular house. You wouldn’t even notice it as being anything different at first,” says designer Andrew Michler, who lives in his own off-grid abode next door and runs the architecture firm Hyperlocal Workshop. We talked to Michler about MARTAK’s aesthetic and what “Passive House” really means.
5280 Home: How would you describe the design of this house?
Andrew Michler: It’s kind of a Colorado contemporary cabin. It has a lot of inspiration from Japanese architecture in its use of materials and the space-making. People respond to two main things: the materials of the house, which are really quite simple—picket fencing for siding, plywood for the flooring, plywood boxes for furniture and steps—and the shape. It’s a big, strong triangular motif inspired by hogback mountains here on the Front Range. It’s almost like being inside one of those hills in a way.
Is there a spot in the house that guests gravitate toward most?
The most popular part of the house is the net (pictured above) at the very end of the loft space. It’s 10 feet off the ground. [Overlooking] the main living area, it serves a few functions: We needed to make that space feel less cave-like, and it brings daylight in. Acoustically, it connects the two living spaces as well. It’s just a lot of fun to do a surprise element in the house.
Tell us about the furnishings.
Almost everybody responds to the minimalist aesthetic. People are feeling a little bit cluttered in their lives now that they’re working from home, and that decluttered-ness really speaks to them. The trick was trying to find the balance between creating a space that’s completely uncluttered but still has the amenities you need to be comfortable. It’s very much about getting people to engage with the space. [For example,] the windows are fairly deep, so [the sills] act as benches.
What does it mean that this house is a certified Passive House?
This is the first certified International Passive House in Colorado; that’s a very strict and rigorous energy-efficiency standard. The goal is to achieve buildings at any scale that use about 10 percent of the heating and cooling that a typical building would use in that environment. It’s a massive leap from what typical buildings do. It’s naturally comfortable.
I think it’s important for us to start focusing on the long-term quality of buildings, which goes beyond what we typically talk about: just the aesthetic component. Passive House has put a tremendous emphasis on the well-being and comfort of people. You can’t take photographs of it, but a lot of people express how it feels to them. They feel protected. It’s quieter. The temperature range is more stable. From a human point of view, our buildings haven’t been able to provide quiet spaces, constant fresh air, and really comfortable environments before. That’s something we can emphasize in parallel with the reduction of the carbon footprint of buildings in general.
So, no air-conditioning, then.
Because I’m off-grid, air-conditioning is not really an option. We use Earth tubes—air is pulled through tubes that go through the ground, which helps to temper the air before it comes into the house. But primarily it’s just night cooling: Open the windows at night and close them during the daytime. In the wintertime, the main heating system is the sun, or passive solar; the secondary heating system is our everyday activities in the house, from cooking to taking showers. A small supplemental heating system makes up for the rest.
Who’s making reservations?
Lots of families; a lot of design-oriented people; people who are looking for a unique place to spend time for a few days or a week. Especially with COVID-19, everybody feels locked in. They’re looking for something serene.
The Colorado Hideaway sleeps four and is available to rent for $250 per night; pets are not allowed.