Aspen Princess: Thinking (and living) outside the box

Ali Margo
Aspen Princess

When we bought our house up the Fryingpan, it had been on the market for five years.

No one else wanted it; the ceilings are low, the layout makes no sense, and the ample decks are in need of maintenance and repair. The so-called fourth “bedroom” is accessed through a trap door in the ceiling. The only way to get upstairs is via a spiral staircase. The lower level, with two more bedrooms, is only accessible through a separate entrance because it’s been converted into a mother-in-law apartment. The half-bath in the master bedroom has saloon doors and the entrance to the master bedroom has been fashioned with a curtain because it’s too narrow and tall for an actual door.

But we fell in love with the place as soon as we walked in. I think we were both aghast at the possibility that this little slice of heaven with its mountain, river and Seven Castles views was even remotely in our price range.

I loved the house too. An old A-Frame, it’s full of crazy angles. Not a single square exists anywhere, and that appealed to my artistic sensibility and rebellious, anti-establishment nature. The house had only one previous owner, who’d bought the land in 1968 for $4,000 and built this house the year I was born, which I took as a good omen.

Even though the house had been updated as recently as 2007 with a decent, functional kitchen and a master bathroom with a sunken Jacuzzi tub (which is on an entirely different floor than the master bedroom), I still dream of renovating it every single day.

Everywhere I look, I see potential.

I dream about putting dormers in the bedroom with a big window that would open out to the view of a steep mountainside. I want to wrap the deck all the way around the house and replace the old railings with those modern wire ones.

I’d bump out the living room and put in a wall of doors to open up the space with light and the idyllic view.

The kitchen, while cozy and functional, bugs me the most because while halfway decent, it’s just so not my style. First I need to get rid of the fake greenish granite countertops and replace them with something clean and simple but quality, like gray quartz. I hate the paneling on the cupboards and toyed with the idea of painting them white and swapping out the hardware for something more modern, but decided it would be like shopping at Target; it looks good until you wash it a few times and then it becomes the cheap garment it really is.

I would rather start over with something flush and clean and modern. I’d do one wall with open shelves so I can display my Vietri plates and hang my coffee cups from hooks. Even though I resisted the subway tile trend at first, I can envision it for the backsplash, in a simple, clean white.

While we did tear out the carpet and replace it with plywood sheets we painted gray, I dream about hardwood floors, flip-flopping between something with character like beetle kill pine and something mid-century modern like Acacia. With 1,200 square feet on the main floor it would be a big commitment, and so it requires a lot of extra high-powered dreaming.

I’d also love to frame in the landing in the front entryway and create a proper mudroom, with built in shelves, benches and cubbies for all our gear. I’d tile the floors with slate and buy a cool front door, maybe find an expensive one someone from Aspen didn’t want, something custom and worth a lot more than I’d pay for it.

While I love that we’ve converted the upstairs bunkroom into a nursery for the babe that connects to our room through a hallway closet, we are in desperate need of more normalized bedrooms, preferably on the main floor where spiral staircases don’t pose a threat to curious toddlers. How cool would it be if we could expand the main floor and add on a large bedroom and playroom/sunroom and then build the master bath of my dreams above, one with a giant tub next to a big window with a view and of course a steam shower, because what Princess should be expected to live without that?

It would be really great if we could eventually build a garage, so that for the first time in our lives, our winter mornings don’t require frozen fingers from scraping snow and ice off our windshields and then shivering for the 10 minutes it takes for our cars to heat up?

Ryan says it would be easier to just tear the whole thing down and start over. He says we should just raze the place and build the house of our dreams, with everything nice and new.

I’m afraid we’d lose that character that comes from a house that’s been lived in and modified over time, all those odd angles and secret spaces and the life it’s gleaned from its inhabitants. A famous architect I once interviewed told me he loved the odd spaces that came from restoring an old house, its bones, those spaces that didn’t come from design but evolution, by an organic process that resulted from the life and the lives that grew inside of it.

But until I figure out how I’m going to pay for all this stuff, our house will remain as it is, and (let’s face it) might very likely stay that way for the next 30 years. There’s no denying that after four years, and the addition of a pug and the birth of our son, it’s where our heart is. Besides living in an A-Frame is perfect for me — always and forever thinking outside the box.

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