Triple Play

Written by Joy Overbeck

THE THREE FLAGS—AMERICAN, CANADIAN AND COLORADOAN—FLYING FROM RUDI AND JENNIFER FRONK’S MOUNTAIN HOME SAY IT ALL.

After 14 years in Toronto, raising their two kids while Rudi co-managed a gold mining company, the tug of home finally proved irresistible, pulling them back to Colorado where Jennifer grew up. The couple had toured every house listing in Steamboat Springs and nearly despaired at locating their ideal mountain getaway.

Then they walked into a spec house by builder Mark Arnold of New West Builders. Immediately they knew that here at last was someone who could give them the originality and level of detail they had been seeking. The homeowners worked with Arnold to find a spectacular lofty site overlooking the Sheraton Steamboat Golf Club and the ski area, with sweeping views across the Flat Tops and the Yampa Valley. At one of their first meetings, Jennifer Fronk handed the builder a maple leaf cookie cutter saying, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with this, but consider it a design inspiration.”

The Fronks were intent on their dream house, but Arnold had found his dream clients: “I knew these were people I could push,” he grins. “I wasn’t just handed a set of plans and told to build what was on the paper, but encouraged to invest in it creatively…to go for it.” Arnold conceived the reclaimed barn-wood exterior artfully inlaid with rusted metal, setting up a prep station on site where the sun, weather and his custom patina bath worked their magic on slabs of cold-rolled steel.

Architect Bill Rangitsch, of Steamboat Architectural Associates, was challenged by a very steep site flanked by solid bedrock impervious to excavation. “The trick was to put a three-story, 6,000-square-foot home on a long, narrow shelf without making it feel like a bowling alley,” says Rangitsch. The central structure is only 24-feet wide, its narrowness camouflaged by lots of windows and a great room cantilevered from the home’s main mass. The interior log post and beam framework came from a well-managed forest in British Columbia where trees are harvested and replanted with deliberate environmental sensitivity.

Communication helped the potentially dicey long-distance home building proceed harmoniously. Every Sunday night, the Fronks in Toronto and Arnold in Steamboat sat down for a conference-call “fireside chat” to review the latest computer images and discuss ideas. Faced with a big mountain home to outfit, Jennifer Fronk only knew she didn’t want any dead animal heads on the wall. She plotted how she would cajole her parents to part with their collection of magnificent museum-quality Navajo rugs (the oldest dating from 1905), which had graced her childhood home. Her dad acquired them in the 1960s from a Wyoming hotel that was closing. Negotiations took a happy turn with Fronk’s promise to her mom that the new house would sleep all nine of her grandkids. Indeed, the place can accommodate 25.

At the outset, Fronk feared her eclectic taste might erupt into design chaos: “I thought, ‘This is all over the map; it’ll never work. I should hire a designer!’” Boatie Ward of Irene Nelson Interiors in Steamboat helped initially with lighting and draperies, and later, Fronk worked with good high school friend, Nancy Holliday of NPH Designs, on tile and furnishings.

After moving in, the family found that Mark Arnold and his posse of craftsmen had used the maple leaf to create a playful scavenger hunt. Leaf shapes were hidden everywhere—as wood brackets for closet shelves, cut-outs in the built-in bookshelves, decorating the mud-room bench, or as forged-iron caps for the deck posts. The Fronks still haven’t discovered them all.