Aspen Extreme Home Makeover

Marshall Erb Design converts a ramshackle miner’s cottage from the 1880s in downtown Aspen into a luxe property for the modern family — and quadruples its square footage. 

By Elise Hofer Shaw

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Luxury materials were used throughout, including white oak hardwood floors from Signature Innovations, leathered quartzite countertops, handcrafted tile from Ann Sacks, and beautiful plumbing fixtures from Dornbracht, Waterworks and Brizo.

Turning a two-bed, one-bath, postage stamp of a home from the 1880s in downtown Aspen into a four-bed, five-bath luxury property presents more than a few design-build challenges. “We had to pick up the house, move it forward on the property, and dig out the majority of the site to make space for a garage, pantry, powder room, mudroom and master suite, as well as a connection element containing the dramatic three-story staircase and an intimate patio with snowmelt floors and infrared heaters, plus further excavate out to the property lines to add a third below-ground level, all the while preserving the context of the original home and the charm of the city itself,” says Marshall Erb, principal and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago, who approached the project much like the design of a luxury yacht. “Aspen has worked incredibly hard to preserve its history as a mining town, which includes maintaining a certain scale. It was our job to take this tiny house and retrofit it for a modern family who planned to live here full-time; to preserve its street presence while bringing it into its next chapter.” 

According to Drew Franzen, project manager at Koru, the luxury home builder based in Carbondale, Colo. who collaborated with Marshall Erb Design on the home, securing the permits in a timely manner was critical, but so was being quick with responsive design — and communicating any necessary adjustments in real time. “The original owners had bought this historic house in downtown Aspen and had already broken ground, but then they sold it to new owners from Chicago who had previously worked with Marshall on multiple projects,” shares Franzen. “It was really impressive to see how Marshall and his team were able to seamlessly transition in with the existing architect [Z Group] and pick up the ball. In addition to cataloging and sharing specs and costs for every fixture and finish for the design-build budget, Marshall also navigated and communicated the requirements of the Historic Preservation Commission with care and efficiency.”

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For the furniture and decor, Marshall Erb Design leaned into a color palette of warm neutrals that’s punctuated by moments of icy pastels.

In addition to being meticulous project librarians and collaborative communicators, high-end builders like Koru prefer working with interior designers who have the experience to approach their designs like a GC. “At Marshall Erb Design, we have 25 years of high-end building experience behind us,” says Erb. “We know what’s going on behind the walls and can anticipate construction site scenarios before they happen. This helps the general contractor price the job thoroughly and accurately without unexpected delays or mistakes. We go a step further and double check all orders that go through the GC to ensure that all of the model numbers are correct and that each and every item on order is as specified.”

Speaking of behind the walls… Before getting down to brass tacks for the interior design for this project, Erb collaborated with Paragon Systems Integration on a home automation plan that rivals any Ritz-Carlton. “Systems integration [often abbreviated as SI] is the process of connecting multiple systems and devices together to create a single integrated technology ecosystem that ultimately functions as one,” says Erb. “From cutting-edge AV, programmable lighting, radiant heat flooring and aroma/chromatherapy in the steam showers to a no muss, no fuss snowmelt system and a six-person jacuzzi on the roof for après-ski soaks, this home is state-of-the-art.”

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From cutting-edge AV, programmable lighting, radiant heat flooring and aroma/chromatherapy in the steam showers to a no muss, no fuss snowmelt system, this home is state-of-the-art.

In terms of material selection and decor, there were three primary considerations according to Erb: comfort, aesthetic beauty and durability. “In addition to having previously completed two projects for this particular client [in Chicago and on the North Shore], they are avid skiers who have been coming to Aspen for years, renting various luxury properties and making mental notes on likes and dislikes. It was easy for us to evolve their style for this project’s locale and optimize it for their active lifestyle,” says Erb. “The materials are luxury all the way — white oak hardwood floors from Signature Innovations, leathered Iceberg quartzite countertops that feel soft to the touch, handcrafted tile from Ann Sacks and Waterworks — as are the beautiful plumbing fixtures from Dornbracht, Waterworks and Brizo. And the lighting is predominantly custom. Today’s savvy homeowners not only want beautiful light fixtures, they want soft, nuanced illumination that’s preference-programmable, can simulate natural light, problem-solve, and think for itself.”

For the furniture and decor, Erb leaned into a color palette of warm neutrals that’s punctuated by moments of icy pastels. “The decor is clean, edited and modern, but not contemporary — and very, very comfortable. We sit-tested every sofa and chair for maximum coziness and sourced Hästens beds for every bedroom, and the rugs are all designed and made for this project with the majority made by Tai Ping, or real shearling for a fabulous touch,” says Erb. “Figuring out the design plan was straightforward. Getting everything to Aspen, on the other hand, required a particular set of logistical skills. I tip my hat to our project manager, Maisy Porter, for tracking and coordinating deliveries with the precision of a neurosurgeon. One road in and one road out, Aspen is a lot like designing a home on an island like Maui or Jamaica. Everything needs to be imported. And then you have to ship it all in from Glenwood Springs which is two hours roundtrip.” 

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Aspen has worked incredibly hard to preserve its history as a mining town, which includes maintaining a certain scale,” says Erb. “It was our job to take this tiny house and retrofit it for a modern family.

But there’s more… To uphold the Aspen City Council’s strict residential building codes, which include energy caps to align land use with a climate plan goal of being net zero by 2050, Erb’s design plan for the home also features solar panels, Tesla battery packs for reserve power, and a geothermal heating system. “It’s a benefit for Aspen and the globe, but it’s also a big benefit for our clients who can sleep soundly at night knowing that they are doing everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Erb. “Ultimately, the success of this project boiled down to the synergy we were able to create among the teams involved and among this home’s firstrate systems. It was built almost to a commercial standard — a level of quality that you don’t see in everyday construction — and checks every box.”

AT A GLANCE… 

LOCATION: Downtown Aspen, Colorado 

TYPE OF SPACE: Historic single-family home

PROJECT: Full home reno and buildout with the addition of a lower level while adhering to the Historic Preservation Commission’s strict guidelines

SQUARE FOOTAGE: 3,933 sq. ft. (4 bedrooms + 5 baths) 

DESIGN FIRM: Marshall Erb Design, Chicago, Illinois

LEAD DESIGNER: Marshall Erb, Principal and Lead Designer at Marshall Erb Design

PROJECT MANAGER: Maisy Porter, Interior Designer and Project Manager at Marshall Erb Design

MARSHALL ERB DESIGN SCOPE: Interior architecture, interior design, finishings and decor 

ARCHITECT: Z Group Architecture, Chicago, Illinois 

BUILDER: Koru, Carbondale, Colorado

SYSTEMS INTEGRATION: Paragon Systems Integration

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Today’s savvy homeowners not only want beautiful light fixtures, they want soft, nuanced illumination that’s preference-programmable and can simulate natural light.