Redoing the `dome’ |

Redoing the `dome’

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The thing Robert Cronenberg heard the most from visitors to the grass-covered “dome” house he’s remodeling above lower Maroon Creek Road was “I’ve always wanted to see this house.”

It is easy to be intrigued by the unique architectural creation, which sits just south of the tall spire of the Aspen Chapel. For starters, there is the lawn on the roof, which is actually not a dome but a huge triangular arc of concrete anchored to the ground on three corners.

Then there is the “front” of the house, a wall of windows that faces Golden Horn at Aspen Highlands and provides a wide view encompassing Shadow Mountain to the east and Tiehack to the west.

Many Aspenites have heard how the front left corner of the house rotates out and away from the living room so that a pink piano could be played outside in the high mountain air.

“I heard there were a lot of good parties here,” said Cronenberg, who used to co-manage the Merry-Go-Round restaurant at Highlands before he began remodeling high-end homes.

Well, the pink piano is gone, but the corner of the house still rotates like an old tank turret at the flip of a switch.

Thanks to a new owner, a landmark Aspen house has been fixed up and saved from the bulldozer. And as the renovation nears completion – with new sod on the roof – people can still walk into the house and say, “Wow.”

More than a few are also saying, “Whew,” because the house at 0051 Meadow Lane was designed in 1982 by John Lautner, who studied at Taliesin under Frank Lloyd Wright and designed a series of stunning, modernistic homes in Southern California.

Lautner was also well-known for working with concrete, which allowed him to create dramatic, curved living spaces. He died in 1994 at the age of 83.

The John Lautner Foundation was concerned that the Aspen house, known as the Turner Residence for its original owner, could be torn down.

The group, run by Lautner’s daughter, issued a “preservation alert,” saying the house was “threatened with extinction. Apparently, most realtors and potential buyers are unfamiliar with Lautner’s work. Most potential buyers are also looking for something different and larger.”

Indeed, the 3,000-square-foot house lingered on the market for a long time.

“People didn’t know if they were going to use the house or the lot,” Cronenberg said. “People needed to have some vision as to how they were going to use the house.”

Finally a buyer was found with an appreciation for modernistic architecture.

“He bought it because he wanted it to be saved,” said Cronenberg, who asked that the owner’s identity not be disclosed.

The new owner brought in another architect for advice on how to remodel the house, but many decisions were made on the phone by Cronenberg and the new owner. “He was as good a client as you could work with,” Cronenberg said. “But there were still a lot of sleepless nights on this one.”

All the glass in the front of the house was replaced, and a new kitchen was built, complete with a view downvalley that starts with the Moore Open Space and somehow reveals little but rolling green hills all the way to Basalt Mountain.

In addition, Cronenberg removed an interior concrete wall to add a third bedroom and sandblasted the original concrete ceiling to lighten the interior.

And he added many other touches to brighten and lighten the house.

“It’s all angles and little shelves and spaces,” Cronenberg said.

Except, of course, for the living room. The expansive glass wall and engulfing view of Highlands from the room are reminiscent of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Cronenberg said one subcontractor brought his young son into the house, and the boy immediately took a seat in the center of the room, looking out. The father told his wide-eyed boy, “That’s where you fly the house from.”

As for the corner of the living room that pivots into the open air, Cronenberg couldn’t help but say “only in Aspen” as he pressed the button and slid the room into a new position. As the room came slowly back together, the New Jersey native added that it reminded him of a docking ferry boat.

The new sod on the roof has been laid so that the building’s original ribs are still visible; the roof looks more like a series of garden plots instead of one expansive lawn. And, yes, there is a sprinkler system on the roof.

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