Creative Crescendo: An Artistic Colorado Home

Within the spirals of its shell-shaped floor plan, this Rocky Mountain home unfurls artistic treasures at every turn.

| September/October 2007

If Alice and Karel Starek’s Colorado mountain home were music, it would be a Beethoven symphony. If it were a creature, it would be a snail. If it were a meal, it would be a slow-roasted feast. From its fairytale tower to its onion-shaped colored-glass windows, the Starek home is a magical place featuring dozens of artists’ creations. With delightful surprises in every nook and cranny, the home embodies the family’s values: Live artfully, play, develop your soul, connect to the earth.

Alice, an architect, designed the home to reflect her family’s interests. Her son Adam, 16, plays guitar and drums and sleeps in a loft bedroom in the tower. Peter, 14, is a budding naturalist and makes boomerangs. Emma, 10, plays piano and stages theatrical performances in her room. “In many ways, our house is a canvas for experimenting artistically and philosophically,” says Karel, an investor and stay-at-home dad. “We tailored its design around our lifestyle, interests and values. It has a playful quality, and we have fun living in it.”

Living lightly

Banked into the slope of an acre in the Gold Hill area west of Boulder, the home’s design takes advantage of the earth’s thermal mass and passive solar energy gain from the high-altitude sun. Solar panels provide hot water and in-floor radiant heat. Future plans call for a solar-electric grid-tied system.

The walls are constructed from energy-efficient Cempo, concrete forms made from Portland cement and recycled-polystyrene mixture. “Cempo,” short for CEMent POlystyrene, diverts Styrofoam from the landfill and creates highly insulated walls that are stronger than stick-frame construction, without using wood.

The Stareks used local yellow sandstone for many of the downstairs walls—including the living room, dining room and kitchen. Reclaimed wood (much of it from storm-felled or beetle-killed trees) shows up in the ceiling beams and furniture, including cabinets, bed platforms and shelves. The downstairs clay floors are made of local mud that cracked as it dried; finished with nontoxic linseed oil, it looks more like leather than dirt. Upstairs, the floors are covered with sound-absorbing, sustainable cork. “Natural materials and light bring life into a home,” Alice says.

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