Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
June 7, 2012
The Aspen Princess has finally found her castle. There’s just one little thing: It’s in Basalt.
Yep, we bought a house in Seven Castles, five miles up the Fryingpan.
Like the best things in life, this all came about in a serendipitous way. The only thing we did know was that we couldn’t live in my one-bedroom condo forever.
So we started “kicking tires,” as Ryan would say, looking online at real estate listings with the seriousness one might have perusing a Victoria’s Secret catalog for bikinis in the middle of March.
Ryan would joke about us dropping out of society and moving to Redstone, where I might actually have a shot at finishing my novel and he could become a welder and make wrought-iron furniture.
“Come see us up at our cabin in Redstone,” he’d say, his lower jaw pressed forward in a rich-guy accent. “Come see my furniture. I’m a welder. I weld things.”
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I remember thinking, “Is there a yoga studio in Redstone?” and picturing myself in a closet with space heaters and a mirror and knowing that probably wasn’t going to cut it.
When Ryan started working in Carbondale and making noise about wanting to move there, I panicked. “I’m an upvalley girl,” I said, liking the way it sounded. I started looking into affordable housing, going so far as thinking I wanted a modular home in the Woody Creek trailer park – at least until I figured out that with the renovations I wanted to do, I’d be in for $450,000 on a deed-restricted house in a trailer park.
One day we saw a listing online that was categorized as “Frying Pan/Reudi Shores,” which might have normally deterred us, but the price was right, and it was on an acre and a half of land with amazing views of the Fryingpan Valley. We decided to go up and poke around.
We drove up to the house for the first time on a rainy Sunday afternoon in March, that time of year when the sky is gray and there are no leaves and everything is brown and dead, lifeless and ugly. We fell in love with the property – which, as it turns out, was only five miles from downtown Basalt – and called the number on the for-sale sign right then and there to arrange to see it.
“What’s up with the bedrooms?” I asked the listing broker. “How come there are no photos on the MLS?”
“Well,” she said with a pause, choosing her words a little too carefully, “the bedrooms are a little unusual.” She described them in a way that made me think the bedrooms might be a deal-breaker.
As soon as I walked in the door, I fell in love with the house. A 1970s A-frame that had been renovated in 2007, it had an open floor plan and modern kitchen, but the thing that grabbed me from the start was there was not a single square in the entire house. It’s all angles and a spiral staircase and lots of funky windows and steep rooflines, so everything is a little off-kilter. In the upstairs bathroom, the roofline is so steep that when you look in the mirror, all you see is your feet. There are trees growing right through the deck, and the lot is steep and terraced so the house is well hidden and tucked into the trees like, well, a treehouse.
It took all the self-control I had not to yell, “We’ll take it!” right there on the spot.
Never mind that the master bath is on the main level and not attached to any bedroom – it has a Jacuzzi tub with slate tiling. Who cares where it is? Forget the fact that one of the bedrooms is accessed by a trapdoor in the ceiling and a rickety old fold-out ladder that could possibly kill a sleepwalker. And for the life of me I don’t understand why people are so freaked out by the spiral staircase – we plan to paint it bright red and make it the centerpiece of our living room. It’s so cool!
There’s more than 1,000 feet of deck space, looking over the Fryingpan River out the front and the steep hillsides of the valley, and the red rock spires known as the Seven Castles can be seen from the deck on the side of the house. There’s a mother-in-law apartment downstairs with a separate entrance and kitchenette, so when it comes to having guests, we’re like, “Sure – anytime!”
There’s a patio off the master bedroom, but the only way to access it is through the half-bath. Because the previous owner didn’t want to obstruct the view, she put in curtains in lieu of a bathroom door. Despite whatever embarrassing implications this might have for a more uptight kind of couple, at least it means you don’t have to crawl down the spiral staircase to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
The coolest part is that there was only one previous owner in 40 years. The county assessor’s website revealed a short purchase history: purchased in 1969 for $2,500.
“Enjoy her, find her assets, those things that you love and begin there,” the seller wrote in one last farewell email. That spoke directly to me because I already had at least $25,000 worth of plans in my head.
When we spent our first night here, I knew she was right. The house is magical. I watched the full moon rise over the mountains through our skylight and felt the night breeze tickle my face as I lay under the covers. The first time I woke up to pee in the middle of the night, I realized that bathrooms with a view are seriously underrated.
My castle might not be in Aspen, but at least I have seven of them.
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