Features & Essays

Ahead of Its Time

Twenty-five years later, an architect’s modern farmhouse vision still rings true.

Long before the phrase “modern farmhouse” made its way into the design vernacular, before Chip and Joanna built an empire out of mixing the contemporary with the classic, Greg Fisher had a bit of a problem. It was the early ’90s, and the Fort Collins-based architect was designing a home for his own family. He envisioned a postmodern aesthetic, inspired by the stark, avant-garde designs he’d come to love in architecture school. His wife Jeneen, however, was more of a traditionalist: She’d always pictured something a bit homier, something not too far afield from the place she’d grown up in. “My grandfather built our house—a white farmhouse on a ranch in Montana—in 1930 or so. It was a humble place, nothing very cool. But to me, that’s what stuck. A white farmhouse means home to me.”

Of course today, in the Epoch of the Modern Farmhouse, the meshing of the two tastes—contemporary and classic—seems almost instinctive, but 25 years ago Greg Fisher’s finished product (the result of “lots of fights, but also lots of fun and enjoyment”, he says) was way ahead of its time. In fact, the family home—a sleek, clean-lined twist on the traditional white farmhouse, set on two acres that once held a cherry orchard—is exactly the type of place Fisher’s clients are asking him to design for them today.

Of course, it’s easy to see the timeless appeal in the Fishers’ house—a house, it’s worth noting, that Fisher designed and built almost entirely on his own. (And aside from several eco-minded upgrades and a few cosmetic upgrades in the mid 2000s—new concrete countertops; an expansion of the laundry and mudroom; a fresh coat of paint on the custom maple Shaker cabinets—the couple hasn’t done any major work since the place was completed in 1993.) The 4,600-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath home is breathtakingly bright and airy, thanks to soaring ceilings and massive windows throughout the place.

The heart of the house, the living room, spans two stories, offering a luxurious openness and a grounded coziness, thanks to a freestanding Plyboo bamboo wall that floats across the space to define the sitting area. “The concept was to create an entertainment center and fireplace that felt like a large piece of furniture,” Fisher says. The piece is anchored by a simple concrete hearth, which hovers over the concrete floor as a cool contrast to the warmth of the bamboo.

Another highlight of the home is actually what’s outside of it: those beautiful North FoCo views. Fisher angled the home and installed walls of windows to soak in as much of the scenery as possible. The two-acre plot offers sight lines to the Rockies, but there are also gorgeous views of the couple’s own lot, blanketed in the now-majestic trees they planted when they first moved in. In fact, it’s hard to choose the best perch for viewing: There’s the laundry room/mudroom, where walls of windows look out into the understory of trees in the back (and Alaskan daisies in the summer); there’s the screened-in porch, overlooking the rows of cherry trees the Fishers’ planted to honor the land’s orchard past; and there’s the master bedroom, where windows open right out into leafy ash trees. “It’s like being in a treehouse,” Jeneen says.

The connection to nature is no accident, of course. The couple chose the location for its natural, bucolic beauty. “We call the house ‘the meadow house,’” Jeneen says. “It’s this white house that sort of crops up, gently, out of the meadow.” She’s right, and you’d never know by looking that the place is just 10 minutes from Old Town, another facet of the home they both love. And so when, this past summer, they decided that it was finally time to move on from the meadow house and create a new “empty nest” home for themselves (their only son is a college student in Boulder), they didn’t want to go far. The pair bought the lot just across the irrigation ditch from their current house—the site of the former cherry mill, actually, that used to process the fruit from the orchard.

The couple chose the location for its natural, bucolic beauty. “We call the house ‘the meadow house,'” Jeneen says.

The home-in-progress that they’ve dubbed the “mill house” is just in the beginning phases of design, but Fisher says it will incorporate many of the same elements they’ve come to love about the meadow house they’ve lived in for the last quarter century—so much so, he says, he’s also taken to calling it Farmhouse 25.0. They’ll keep that “refreshing” gable form, he says, plus include again the white lap siding, lots of windows and glass, and the requisite breathtaking views. But, he adds, the new place will be smaller to better fit this stage of their lives, and it will be a high-performance, passive home (a speciality he’s developed since he built the meadow house). He envisions a smaller overall scale, a larger kitchen, a more modernist bent that plays a bit off the idea of a mill—though, as with the first home, he adds, his purist vision will be tempered by Jeneen’s tastes.

 

Such compromise, he says cheerfully, is an architect’s lot in life. “And I love my wife more than I love architecture.” Anyway, he adds, he’s excited for the chance to create something fresh and innovative, “relative to now.”

Of course, leaving the original farmhouse won’t be easy, Jeneen admits—they’ll leaving behind the baby cherry orchard, the treehouse Fisher built with their son, the neighbors and all that sweat equity of the home itself, which so perfectly reflects the both of them. “But it’s time for us,” she says. “And like this house, I know the new place will be cool. Greg will be ahead of his time on this next house, too.”

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