When Henry David Thoreau wrote the immensely influential classic Walden; Or, Life in the Woods about simple living in natural surroundings, it’s safe to say he wasn’t envisioning a waterfront mansion. Completed in a small cabin of his own making on Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, the book uses the passage of the four seasons as a metaphor for human development. Today, it’s often associated with solitude, spiritual discovery, and self-sufficiency.
Though Thoreau’s original cabin no longer exists, an onsite replica memorializing the author consists of just a single room, giving us a vivid visual representation of his vision. When Selldorf Architects set out to capture its spirit for a $29 million Colorado mountain home, they knew their project would contrast sharply with the raw simplicity of Thoreau’s former residence.
Relating “Walden House” to the story that inspires it requires conjuring up its essence in the form of materials and mood. World-renowned architect Annabelle Selldorf has created a luxurious modern residence that would be completely foreign to Thoreau, but connection to nature is the real point she’s trying to make here.
“I loved the notion of making a connection to something that has such a strong association with the way that we relate to nature,” Selldorf told Architectural Digest. “I wanted the house to be situated in such a way to strengthen the connections between inside and outside, the built world and the natural world, as much as possible.”
Set on 70 acres across Whiskey Ridge in Vail, the 10,515-square-foot Walden House is designed to appreciate its surroundings from all angles. The facade is almost entirely clad in floor-to-ceiling windows, some looking out onto the pond, some the swimming pool, some an internal courtyard, and others the mountains beyond. Where it isn’t glass, it’s covered in log-pole siding and beetle kill pine arranged vertically for a contemporary look that still holds a dialogue with the nature around it.
The common spaces of the house are held within a ranch-style volume perched at the edge of the water, just a brief jaunt from a floating swimming dock. The home’s three nearly-identical bedrooms are stacked in a connected tower for privacy and separation from distractions, each with their own unique view.
The firm explains: “Designed as a series of smaller volumes organized around a central courtyard, the courtyard creates an intimate counterpoint to the grandeur and scale of the surrounding mountain landscape.”
“Internal circulation is organized along the perimeter of the courtyard, with the main living spaces opening directly from the corridor. The interpenetration of indoor and outdoor spaces fuses the architecture with its natural setting. Each volume has a distinct programmatic use and diverse material articulation. Local materials including copper, field rock, log-pole siding, and beetle kill pine wood reinforce the relationship between the building and its high mountain landscape.”
This mansion may be a far cry from what Thoreau initially imagined, but it certainly captured a little slice of that Walden feeling of communion with nature for whomever its lucky inhabitants end up being. The home is currently listed by Mark Rutstein and Adam Phebus of Iconic Homes.