Tour a home in Fourmile Canyon that qualifies as one huge Mother of Invention.
It all began on a foggy day in 1994, with a 42-second series of painstakingly planned blasts using 80,000 pounds of explosives.
Just 60 feet from the excavation site, on a steep wooded hillside, a slightly eccentric inventor named Binx Selby stood looking on excitedly with his wife and newborn, witnessing the birth of what could very well be his most artful (and at times most controversial) creation.
It has probably come out a lot like I originally conceived it, says Selby, gazing up through thick spectacles at the three-story, 27,000-square-foot house that sprang from the crater. To me, its like a sculpture.
With nine bathrooms, seven bedrooms, a 30-car garage (yes, 30!), and a third-floor meditation hall large enough to house a small plane, Selbys home doesnt sound like much of a model for energy conservation. In fact, after Selby broke ground and carved a three-quarter-mile dirt driveway to access the home, the surrounding Fourmile Canyon neighborhood erupted in controversy, as some accused the inventor of creating a colossal resource-hogging eyesore.
But 13 years later, with the controversy long subsided and the house finished (save a few touches), a tour reveals a wholly unique structure that uses solar power, geothermal and an array of Selbys own inventions to create a home with an ecological footprint far smaller than those a fraction of its size.
We use less power, fuel and water than anyone else up here, says Selby, 64, of the entirely off-the-grid house. An entrepreneur-turned-devout Buddhist (see Father of Invention on page 44), Selby initially envisioned the place as both a workshop where he could prototype his inventions and a spiritual gathering place.
It ended up being neither. (Neighbors balked at the idea of a hillside Buddhist retreat, and after the birth of his daughter, Selby decided to take a break from entrepreneurial endeavors.) Instead, the place serves mostly as a home to their family of three and to artisan friends from the eclectic border town of Patagonia, Ariz., who live at the house while adorning it with artistic flourishes.
Thanks to their contributions, ranging from intricately hand-painted walls and handcrafted furniture to exquisite ironwork and authentic Mexican stucco and tile work, one thing is certain: There will never be another house quite like this one. From the outside, it looks like a simple, three-story box constructed with exposed steel beams, adobe walls and native sandstone accents. But enter the front door and youll discover a place that juxtaposes the industrial high-tech feel of an inventors workshop with the calming Asian influences of a student of Eastern philosophy. Case in point: the doorbella Zen-like gong crafted from a huge carved log that strikes a sawed-off high-pressure oxygen cylinder. I probably struck one in a junkyard once and it stuck with me, says Selby, admiring the cylinders eerie tone. Thats part of the inventors sponge syndromeyou pick up all of this stuff.
From the front door, thick sandstone steps surrounded by a circular wall with a hand-painted Japanese design lead to a vast open living room with floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows. Overhead is a ceiling of exposed steel beams; underfoot is a floor of stamped concrete that stretches for thousands of square feet. But delicate Asian artwork and an intricately painted teal-and-purple sideboard help soften the cavernous room. At one end, swaths of sheer pastel fabric serve as a room divider, providing privacy for what will one day become a tearoom and rock garden. At the other, an indoor courtyard, complete with a low flagstone wall, an iron gate and three hammocks, sets the tone for a house that consistently succeeds at breaking the barriers between indoors and outdoors.
In the kitchen, large windows offer views of the snowcapped Indian Peaks and bright yellow walls etched with swirling flowers frame an authentic wooden pizza oven. Canadian granite countertops sport tiny blue holograms that seem like tiny blue eyes following you around the room. In the evening, a Burmese Buddhist temple bell announces dinnertime.
Upstairs, the earthy Eastern design continues, with a sunset-colored music room scrawled with golden inscriptions the other arts persuade us, but music takes us by surprise music is an invisible dance. In the master bathroom, salmon and green Brazilian granite seems to perfectly match the boulders just outside the window. But one of the homes finest touches, Selby says, is the railing he crafted from stainless-steel piano wire. Surrounding the 7,000-square-foot exterior deck, the see-through rails allow you to bask in the mountain views surrounding the home.
While décor makes Selbys house interesting and livable, its the vast amounts of empty space that truly grab your attention.
People say, Why do you have all that open space in here? says Linda Fong, Selbys wife, as she looks out on the 5,200-square-foot third-floor room with little more than a trampoline in it. Over the years, the room has housed a labyrinth, a dance hall, a meditation area and a bike path for Selby and the couples daughter. Someday, they say, it could become an incredible greenhouse.
Its like bringing the outside in, Fong says.
That outside feel is enhanced by what is perhaps the homes most innovative featurea 30-by-40-foot atrium roof through which light streams to the indoor courtyard a level below. During winter an ultra-efficient fan forces hot air down from the roof into the house. On summer days, the roof automatically opens to vent hot air. Selbys precise initial blast also ensured the house was built deep enough into the hillside to minimize its visibility and maximize its geothermal potential. Where the structure meets granite, pipes pump the earths year-round 52-degree temperature upward, helping to naturally regulate the homes climate. On the roof, 32 photovoltaic panels generate solar power, which is harnessed in 12 red batteries stationed in the basement control room. Even the generator, which kicks on when solar isnt enough, is extremely low emission; Selby says he had to search far and wide to find it.
It has just been really fun using a lot of different techniques to make the house as energy efficient as possible, he says, seated beneath the atriums whirring fan with butterscotch sun pouring in. After 13 years, his sculpture is just about complete, he says.
We had to do some things a couple times to make them work, but it works now, and it works really well.
Lisa Marshall is a freelance writer and mother of four who lives in Lyons in an energy-efficient, work-in-progress home she shares with her amateur inventor husband, Ron.