It took a handful of visits to the sprawling 35–acre plot north of Fort Collins before Miles and Emery Golson noticed the address: Gratitude Road. “It was an epiphany. It just fits with our mentality,” Miles, a marketing consultant with a focus on sustainability, says. The young couple (Miles is 29 and Emery is 27) jumped at the chance and, along with Fort Collins’ HighCraft Builders, began dreaming up a house befitting the pastoral backdrop. The final result is a modern-day homestead with room to grow.
The farm—christened Shady Grove Farms for the Golsons’ favorite spot on the property—is more than just a home, it’s central to their passion: food, and food as medicine. “We’re passionate about healthcare and nutrition and we love the idea of growing our own food,” Miles says. Emery is trained in herbal medicine. Of the 35 acres, they plan to plant about two, run chickens and goats and eventually a couple cows, and leave the rest wild. The couple, who originally hail from Kansas City, will harvest what they need and donate the rest or sell it from a farm stand. Emery also conducts herbal medicine classes on the land.
The design of the house and the attached greenhouse perfectly meld with the Golsons’ holistic goals. The idea was to make it as energy efficient as possible. Even simple decisions, like the orientation of the roofline, had conservation in mind (it’s oriented to the sun to maximize passive solar heat).
The Golsons stress that Shady Grove’s working design extends beyond heating and cooling. “I’m talking about usage of space,” Miles says. “A lot of houses become fragmented and don’t work out with a flow of everyday life.” With only 800 square feet to play with, this meant trading a small living room for a larger kitchen (the couple loves to cook and can) and placing the washer and dryer in the kitchen where plumbing already existed. It is not by accident that the washer and dryer also sit near the entrance and around the corner from the master bedroom: “Working on the farm, we track in a lot of dirt,” Miles says. “When you get inside, you can throw your clothes into the wash on the way to the shower.” To keep the area aesthetically pleasing, the Golsons installed a counter over the top and turned it into a coffee bar.
The couple were so enamored of the land that they bought it, thinking that they’d use it as a sort of personal campground, a place to explore and enjoy when they came out on vacation. “But after a year, we decided, ‘No, we have to spend more time here,’” Carpenter says. They decided to build a real retreat. They found a green builder—Merton Construction—at a sustainable living fair in Fort Collins; Merton (which is no longer in business) worked with seasoned architect Mark Quéripel at MQ Architecture in Boulder to design a timber-frame cabin for their land.
“I’d say it’s more like a cabin on steroids,” says Morgan Cate of the 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom home. Cate was the construction manager with Merton who worked on the project alongside Merton’s architect, Robert Ross; today, Cate runs Adaptive Habitat, his own three-year-old firm that specializes in building green, custom homes. The Carpenter house remains one of his favorite projects, he says—and it’s easy to see why. The finished product is a stunner, featuring striking white fir beams that help frame the 900-square-foot loft area; warm terra-stained floors; custom everything (from the kitchen cabinets made to order out of Boulder to the tilework in the master bathroom, which contains an inlaid “creek” made from rounded river rock that Nancy Carpenter found at the property); and, of course, the sort of views you’d expect from that location: a 360-degree view of the prairie, the foothills, the Front Range. “We call the deck on top of the garage ‘The Lookout,’” Nancy Carpenter says, with a laugh. Cate agrees: “That panorama is the best view in Northern Colorado that I know of.”
In fact, it was the location of the house that dictated just about every detail of its construction and design, from the materials used (local white and Douglas firs, beetle-kill pine from up the hill, boulders and stones quarried from nearby Laporte or found on the property itself) to the timber frame itself, which was paired with structural insulation panels that would be sturdy enough to weather the constant exposure to the driving winds, the extreme cold and heat, the freezing and thawing of the Front Range. “We’d tossed around a lot of ideas, but I’m so glad we ended up with that timber frame,” Jim Carpenter says. “Even when the winds are howling, it’s so cozy and warm in there.”
“…that allows us to live in a real wild place, to really live in a green way and be part of an authentic Western community.”
Another important factor in the design was the Carpenters’ commitment to being as green and eco-conscious as possible. That translated to a whole series of cool features in the home that went beyond just the use of natural and local materials: The home features a passive solar design with solar radiant floor heating and a solar-powered back-up battery, as well as a roof made of entirely of tiles reclaimed from another building project and a natural ventilation system for cooling (including a whole-house fan).
“You don’t feel bad turning up the thermostat, because that energy is coming from the sun,” Carpenter says. “And the hot water, too.” In fact, not only was the house granted LEED Gold certification—a rarity in residential projects—but in 2012, a couple of years after the Carpenters moved in, it was honored by the American Institute of Architects as the region’s most sustainable single-residence custom home of its size.
“You know, it was a priority for us. We wanted to be green,” Carpenter says. “At the time, a lot of the technology was emerging and changing, and truthfully, it wasn’t necessarily the cheapest thing to do. But we felt like if it cost us a bit more, we would get it back over the years, not paying electricity costs. And also because we really wanted to help some of these great fledgling green businesses in the area.”
In the end, Jim Carpenter says, they couldn’t be happier with their mountain home and with the team they assembled to create it. They’ve since called Cate at Adaptive Habitat back to add on their two-car garage (and its beloved “lookout” perch), as well as a deck off the master bedroom. As for future projects, Carpenter says, they have no current plans to do anything else—though they did buy more land in Phantom Canyon, down in the valley, not to build on, but to preserve. (In fact, they did hire Cate to restore an early homestead cabin on the property—again, not to inhabit, just to preserve.) The rest of the land they lease to local cattle ranchers. They even bought a cow, a Scottish highland named Dolly, whom they visit from time to time. As Cate observes: “A big part of this is that the Carpenters are true stewards of the land.”
“We’ve just been so happy and thrilled with it all,” Nancy Carpenter says. Not only have they made a real home in the mountains, she says, meeting the neighbors, making friends, but “I’m just so grateful that we have a place like this, and a place like Phantom Canyon that allows us to live in a real wild place, to really live in a green way and be part of an authentic Western community. This is the real deal. And we just feel so lucky.”