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Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Sleeper House--Golden, Colorado

Perhaps we might call it "Deaton's Folly" (he ran out of money before he could finish it),                       
never more beautiful than at night.                         
Inspiring to look at or from.
Just outside Golden, Colorado, is arguably, the most beautiful piece of domestic architecture in the United States is. It sits high atop Genesee Mountain with a view to die for. It's far from the largest house in America and well short of the most expensive (a little over $1.5 million). And if you think Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater looks like a house out of some future era, you'll think this house looks like one out of this world. Designed by amateur architect, Charles Deaton in the early 1960s, it is so wondrously unique and simplistically exquisite that those like myself writing about it are at a loss of words as to what to even call it. I supposed officially it would be 24501 Ski Hill Drive, Golden, CO, but even here there's disagreement. Another source lists the address as 855 Visionary Trail, which is a little more inspiring perhaps, but still fairly meaningless. Some refer to Deaton's masterpiece as "The Clamshell House," which rather inelegantly describes it; but more often it's referred to simply as "The Sleeper House," based upon its use by Woody Allen in shooting his 1973 futuristic epic, titled The Sleeper. That title is, of course, anecdotal, having absolutely nothing to do with the house as an architectural monument--a harbinger of Postmodern architecture some two or three decades before its time. Others have called the house the "George Jetson House," "The Star Trek House," or "The Flying Saucer House," all quite descriptive, but vaguely derogatory at the same time.
Deaton's Genesee Mountain house is impressive from any angle.
Perhaps the best designation has been the "Sculptured House" but we might also term it "Deaton's Folly"--the white elephant on the hill. Technically, I guess you could call Charles Deaton an architect, though as the house might suggest, he was actually more of an engineer. He is credited with having designed several athletic stadiums, which are completely overshadowed by the "visionary trail" house he began in 1963 then never had money enough to finish and actually live there. In fact, except for Diane Keaton and her Woody Allen robot in the movie, no one lived there for some thirty years after it was built. It was only in 1999 when a wealthy Denver developer bought the property, then had a large, Deaton-designed addition added, that the place became habitable. It was sold again in 2006, for well over $3-million only to slip into foreclosure in 2010. It was sold at auction for $1,529,401. (a dollar more than the mortgage holder bid). By the way, if you're interested, the house (whatever you might want to name it) is again for sale, this time for a Rocky Mountain cool $4.85-million.
The Sculptured House is probably least impressive from it's entrance plaza.
Most of the structure seen here is part of the new addition.
The recent addition to the
house has changed the
lowest level somewhat.
I mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright a moment ago. One might say that Charles Deaton was Wright's flip-side, as different conceptually as one could imagine. Until very late in his career, Wright, despite what he may have claimed and written, was thoroughly devoted to the rectangle, or at least, angularity (to divorce the term from any reference to the box). Deaton reasoned, man was not rectangular, so why should he live in rectangular architecture. The Genesee Mountain house, while supported by verticals, is...well, it rather defies description as to shape in that it is much more irregular and randomly natural than it appears in most photos. The word "sculptured" is probably the best term--like a water-worn stone, sliced into, then hollowed out.

The house consists of four levels connected by curved stairs and a cylindrical elevator.
The sunken living room with the dining area to the left.
It's extremely difficult to grasp the carved stone nature of this house without looking at the floor plans. The lowest-level drawing (above, left) is now somewhat different with the expansive addition, designed by Deaton, but built only recently. The two levels above are part of the support structure for "the shape" and feature sleeping areas. It's only when we peer down at the main level (below) that we begin to grasp the expansive openness Deaton achieved in his "clamshell" design. The stairs from below rise into a sunken living room, and from there into a dining area and nearby kitchen to the left. Likewise, the cylindrical elevator rises just behind the living room into an open foyer (the elevator doubled as the famed "orgasmatron" in the movie, Sleeper). To the far right of the living room is the master bedroom through which one flows into a dressing area and the master bath. Another bathroom and storage closets make up the remainder of this level. Two windows puncture the shell looking into the dressing room and the master bath. On the dining room end of the shell there is access to a balcony overlooking the woodland landscape below.

The dotted lines indicate the extent of the roof overhang.
There seems not to be a 90 degree angle in the whole floor plan.
The master bedroom shares the wrap-around panorama of glass with the living area. In fact, the master bedroom suite occupies nearly half the floor space on this level. Inside and out, the decor is predominantly white with exciting bits of primary colors sparking excitement here and there. The entire house embraces the minimalist trend just starting to make itself felt in painting, sculpture, and architecture during the early sixties. Sorry, ladies, I could find no pictures of the kitchen. From all I can tell, based upon the floor plan, it would seem to be the most minimalist room in the house, to the point of being all but invisible.

The master bedroom.
The Master bedroom dressing area.

The end of the "Visionary Trail" up Genesee Mountain.

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