Log Houses Of The World
The Gold Hill House
For Caroline and David Ashley, the purchase in 1990 of 155 acres of high-mountain land in the minuscule town of Gold Hill in Boulder County, Colorado, was the first in a series of steps towards realizing their dream of the ultimate log house for their young family. Firmly determined to raise their children in a small village, they had been looking for a house in Gold Hill, population 210, for many months before luck finally struck them. Land is seldom put up for sale in this unique little place, the site of the first major discovery of gold during the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush. Now that the Ashleys owned what may be the most picturesque plot of land, not just in Gold Hill but in the entire region, David, an architect and engineer, went about planning the house’s design. On every level – architectural design, choice of material, and log construction – he resolved that it would be a personal and finely crafted expression.
In addition to his professional training, David Ashley brought an unmistakable edge to the process of shaping Ashley House. The son of Bernard and Laura Ashley of the venerable apparel and home furnishings company, he had grown up surrounded by good design. His family’s rustic East Cottage at the Kent-Surrey border and later, more elaborate homes in Wales and France, would in many respects serve as Laura Ashley’s ultimate showrooms, each exemplifying an expression of her calculated design decisions. In the later houses, complemented by hard and soft furnishings produced under the Laura Ashley name, were pieces of his mother’s highly pedigreed (and at one time unparalleled) collection of antique furnishings, many of which date to the early days of England’s Arts and Crafts Movement. Some of these personalized design environments would end up serving as official images of the company brand, either in the capsule form as the design and decorations of its many retail boutiques around the world, or as models of good taste in the how-to decorating books published under the Laura Ashley name.
After completing his degree in engineering and then in architecture, David went to work as an architect and designer for the family business. Eventually, as senior vice president of Laura Ashley Inc., he would oversee the design and construction of some 150 Laura Ashley retail shops across the United States, Canada, and Japan. The experience would all play into his work on the big log house at Gold Hill.
Gold Hill is an exceptional American town in that it appears to have survived the last century with its nineteenth-century innocence intact. A number of its earliest buildings, each dating to the late 1800s and composed primarily of logs in a rough Rocky Mountain vernacular, still stand. There is not a single paved street in town.
Out beyond the town center, among the thick pines that surround the site on which the Ashley House now stands, it is common to receive wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour and enough snowfall to make the terrain impassable. As a place for a year-round home, it is not without its formidable challenges, yet the hurdles placed before the Ashleys by nature appeared minute by comparison to such rewards as the riveting panoramic vistas of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and the Continental Divide, each view obtained from a vantage point situated 8,300 feet closer to the heavens. And so the Ashleys began.
“At one point we had a few gigantic cranes working out here on the mountaintop. The winds would pick up just as they were attempting to lower the logs into place. It was quite a sight,” recalls the house’s builder, Ed Shure of Timmerhus, Inc. The successful completion of the house, as Ashley mad very clear during our interview, would not have happened without Shure’s log-crafting experties. Ed Shure is widely known in the world’s vast log-building industry, recognized as something of an eccentric genius and a master craftsman of the highest order. In 1984, on the heels of an extended working tour of Norway and its many historic log buildings, Shure founded the Boulder-based Timmerhus, Inc., a company that has so far completed more than 130 handcrafted log-and-timber structures, its specialty, in various countries. Shure’s innovative log-construction methods and frequent use of reclaimed salvage materials have resulted in his becoming influential throughout the log-building world. His unique talents have led to his position as editorial advisor to Log Home Guide magazine and made him a sought-after teacher and lecturer for trade groups, including the Timber Framers Guild of North America and the International Log Builders Association.
As is often the case when an architect who is new to log construction submits plans to the builder, Ashley found that certain adjustments had to be made to his design in order to accommodate the use of logs. “David had his drawings nearly done,” Shure remembers with a chuckle, “and then I came and sort of ripped them apart, saying, ‘this is what I can do with logs.’” Like a Welsh farmhouse inspired by the classicism of Palladio, Ashley’s design is characterized by the symmetrical arrangement of its simple tripartite plan: a full-depth central living hall flanked by equally proportioned bays containing the living room on one side of the ground floor and the kitchen and dining room on the other. On the second floor, the master suite is on one side of the cathedral-ceilinged stair landing and on the other side are the children’s bedrooms and bath and a study.
To construct the roughly 5,500-square-foot five-bedroom, three-bath house, which includes a full, finished basement, Shure and his team first had to excavate tons of rock with dynamite. They then laid the house’s concrete and native stone foundation, on which Shure crafted the house’s richly detailed log structure, using spruce taken from a site north of the Grand Canyon. Each massive tree was strategically dropped, often into deep snow, in order to avoid damaging its appearance. “The logs used,” says Shure, “were in their natural state from where we got them – they had been dead for at least thirty years – and in the construction of the house we went to great lengths to avoid altering that rick patina.”
Visitors to Ashley House, even through this book, can be easily caught up in Caroline Ashley’s highly sophisticated selections of furnishings and overall decorative scheme for the interiors. Seated in the living room, where the fireplace warms the Colorado bugg stone floor and casts a glow into each piece of antique qood furniture, the photographer and I found the setting completely enchanting. Nonetheless, one would be remiss not to take the time to admire the graceful architectural efforts and the superlative log work, each of which epitomizes high art.