FAIRY TALES DO COME TRUE
It was 2000 when we noticed the top of our favorite hiking trail had been staked out for development. Plans called for forty-four houses on more than four hundred acres of land, terrain with the most stunning views in the Vail Valley, maybe in Colorado.
To us, this territory always had the feel of Tuscany. Rolling down from the top of a little mountain was three-hundred-sixty degrees of green hills, lush verdant valleys, and majestic, snow-capped mountains: New York Mountain and the rest of the Sawatch Range, the Gore Range or Castle Peak, depending on the direction of your gaze.
As good fortune would have it, these acres proved harder to reach by vehicle than the developer had surmised. So, an opportunity presented itself! We had the idea that at least half this acreage, the terrain with the most majestic views, could be reached by an entirely different route than the developer had envisioned. When the county engineer was asked about our idea, the topographical maps were pulled, and his answer was “No, a road along that route would not be feasible.” Disappointed, I headed for the door, when he added “But these maps are old, and possibly inaccurate. If you want a more definitive opinion, you can sponsor a “flyover” with modern, infrared radar.”
So we literally “took a flyer.” And, as fairytales go, the engineers magically changed their tune: our route, although it passed through some public land, was, in fact, feasible for a twenty-foot wide avenue rising nearly seven hundred feet through aspen and pines to where a house might be built. Our own stairway to heaven, where the views were optimal, would be one and one-half miles long.
So we went to extremes with this impossible dream. The negotiations commenced for two hundred forty acres for our house, a caretaker’s home (dubbed the “gamekeeper’s cottage”) and a barn. The counter-parties included the landowners for the title, the metro district for an easement, and the county for a re-plat so that the main house could be built in the optimal viewing location on the mountain. Two years and twenty-seven drafts later, the land, all permissions, and a rough plan for a road up the mystical, tree filled acres were ours.
The family collaborated to create a ten-page program for the house, and a collection of architects was enticed to hike up the mountain with us so that each could create his concept for our new home. Gordon Pierce had a vision for a noble, Tuscan-style home that would be the perfect, timeless legacy estate for our family. The design goal was to create an estate that would be comfortable and gorgeous today and many generations from now.
A villa complete with reclaimed, antique Italian materials required a builder who could focus his efforts on the myriad of specifications; someone skilled and experienced, but who builds only one house at a time. When we proposed to Joe Abbott that he build La Favorita for us, he took his little black book from his coverall pocket and laconically but positively informed us that he could be ready to begin two years hence. “You’re hired,” we replied, “But you have to travel with us to Italy before we begin.” For two weeks in Umbria and Tuscany, Joe shot hundreds of photos of our favorite features in ancient hilltop houses. He also helped to select antique building materials from reclamation yards in the area.
The road was completed in 2003. The barn, built from stone gathered at the site, went up first. The “gamekeeper’s cottage” became the test site for the building techniques Joe wanted to execute in the main structure and was completed the following year.
Joe moved into the gamekeeper’s cottage that year and stayed there for nearly four years while he and his crew, which included a team of six stonemasons who worked full time over two years on the project, completed the two-foot thick walls and the details on the main house.
In 2008, eight full years after the fairy tale we call La Favorita was conceived, we moved in. Today, we rarely leave this warm and friendly house with its miles of trails, dynamic natural surroundings, and, most importantly, with our friends and family including our dogs. This family homestead has truly become our ever-inspiring place.
The remaining two hundred acres were purchased by another family for their beautiful ranch house that is accessed from a different road. They, along with a family whose acreage lies directly below us in Lake Creek, have become great friends, adding to the pleasures of our fairytale and making the many miles of trails for walking, riding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ATV rides into our private “republic.”
But now we are ready for the next adventure. It’s time for us to build a new home closer to our children and grandchildren, but we feel certain that another wonderful family will soon begin the memories of a lifetime at La Favorita.