by Jerry ElengicalFeb 28, 2023
Architects Keith Kelly and Tim Stone founded their firm, Kelly & Stone Architects in 2006 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. From the very beginning, the partners focused on designing single-family high-end houses in the area, and already by the following year started doing work outside of the immediate region. By 2010, they were getting commissions in other states and in 2012, Kelly moved to Truckee, California in the Lake Tahoe area to head the firm’s second office. Each partner leads their own projects, although there are lots of crossovers. Designs are often discussed and developed collectively. Architects constantly communicate with each other and their employees are regularly flown between the two offices to work on different projects, exchange skills, and enrich their experience, both professionally and culturally. In 16 years of practice, the architects designed several hundred houses. In addition to Colorado and California, they were built in Nevada, Texas, Montana, Iowa, Washington, and Hawaii in the United States; in Ontario and British Columbia in Canada; and in Quito, Ecuador.
Kelly earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture at Texas Tech University, after which he apprenticed in Dallas, Texas, and in various areas of Colorado. Stone has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from the University of Colorado Boulder and a Master of Architecture from the University of Colorado Denver. Before opening their office, the partners worked at the office of Charles Cunniffe Architects, headquartered in Aspen and operating several smaller locations in the Vail Valley, Colorado. Kelly started working there in 1999 and Stone in 2001. From 2003, both were running the firm’s Steamboat Springs office where they started bringing their own clients and executed projects from start to finish. Having accumulated their combined experience and clientele, the architects decided to buy out the Steamboat Spring location of their boss, which led to the emergence of Kelly & Stone Architects.
Why did the partners focus exclusively on designing houses? In our conversation over Zoom, the architects told me that they both started designing homes early on and it felt right. Stone said, “We decided to specialise in what we are good at, rather than try to diversify and maybe just be OK. And, honestly, we found so much freedom in it, much more than in bigger projects, which are typically limited by code constraints, budgets, construction quality, dealing with big committees and boards that oversee commercial projects, and other restrictions that may really stifle design. Keith and I enjoy the freedom that allows us to create much more sculptural architecture, even if on a smaller scale.” Kelly agreed by adding, “I also like the kinds of relationships we are able to build with our home-owner clients. With some, we keep in touch even ten years later. We cherish these relationships; they have become very personal.”
Going over Kelly & Stone Architects' portfolio, the common features that stand out most vividly include a keen focus on breaking large volumes into clusters of interconnected elements, expressing structural components, and a tendency to combine both traditional and contemporary aesthetics. There is also a persistent strategy of combining different materials such as steel, wood, stone, and extensive glazing to keep a balance and a sense of proportion. Stylistically, the partners' work can be summarised as mountain-contemporary architecture. Many of their houses have influenced the communities where they were built. The American architects told me that quite a few houses that are being built in the areas where their houses now stand, try to emulate their work, which has evolved over time by exploring different combinations of materials and more experimental geometry—going from mainly regional architecture to more contemporary.
Most Kelly & Stone Architects-designed houses are second homes and some of their clients own multiple homes in various parts of the world. Many are quite large—between five to ten thousand square feet and cost between five to ten million dollars. Some are under and some are over. The people who own them are tech industry innovators, executives in pharmaceutical companies, bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and business owners. Some are financial advisors for the ultra rich.
When I asked the architects to name their favourite house, Kelly could not limit himself to picking just one, preferring to rather talk about specific parts and details. He also pointed out that often it is a process or a relationship with one client or another, or a contractor that becomes most memorable and rewarding. Yet, when I asked Stone this question, he immediately said that he would rather name a project that Kelly designed—Carson Vista 581, in Truckee. He added, "I love those monster cantilevers. It feels almost Wrightian, both overall and in detail." This house stands out for its rigorous geometry and material palette, and the way it is integrated into its unusually steep two-acre site. The house was designed by Kelly in 2014, and it took three years to be built.
Carson Vista 581, is located along the wooded slopes of the Martis Camp, a private ski and golf community of luxury mountain homes just south of Truckee, California. Forbes once called this luxury mountain retreat, "Possibly the best four-season community in the US." Kelly designed a number of houses in this development. This particular design was driven by the site itself—its challenging topography alone would easily scare most homeowners. It provoked the architect to undertake a unique and, above all, disciplined response. The house, which is neatly organised along a series of ledges between the retaining walls at the bottom and at the top, is deeply cut into the hillside. There is something resolutely abstract about this project—an array of perfectly horizontal and vertical lines and planes intersecting each other in midair, evoking a mesmerising De Stijl painting. Projecting out in all directions, consistently at the right angle, these hefty orthogonal forms are clad predominantly in four contrasting materials: light-colour Quartzite ledge stone, all-natural redwood cedar, prefinished blackened steel panels, and large expanses of clear glass. The structure appears to be an assemblage of pure volumes and planes rather than facades, roofs, windows, chimneys, and other familiar domestic features. Nevertheless, the result is a well-balanced contemporary dwelling characterised by warm materiality and sleek geometry. This compelling combination makes the house appear simultaneously traditional and modern.
The house is owned by a repeat client who is open to innovative solutions and it was the architect who helped to find him an appropriate site. Curiously, the client owns a construction company that was responsible for building this and several other houses, also designed by Kelly, all in this part of the country. Architecturally, this project is inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style houses that proudly thrust forward their perfectly flat and lengthy cantilevers over extensive glazing; here cantilevers extend up to 18 feet. It should be pointed out that these dramatic overhangs are further exacerbated by the fact that snow in this area stays for at least six months every year before melting, accumulating for up to six-eight feet. Yet the real feat of engineering here is accomplished by concealing all structural elements into the walls. This means that the primary double roof structure is entirely supported by the central stone fireplace and cantilevered roofs are held in place by a system of stone walls. In fact, there are no free standing columns or braces, neither outside, nor inside.
The house is made up of four levels of orthogonal rooms and spaces. They are all staggered and shifted to take maximum advantage of the expansive mountain views on all sides. The six-bedroom, 8,230 square foot house includes a low-level three-car garage, media room, a gym, a home theatre, an office, a great room with a 14-foot high flat ceiling, and lots of terraces. But what makes this house quite unique spatially and experientially is its magical ability to open its many corners. This trick is achieved through the use of six sliding pocket corner door systems (three of them are employed in the great room alone) to bring unobstructed mountain and forest views right in and blend indoors and outdoors on every level. The effect makes the house appear boundless and weightless.
The same materials that distinguish this house from the outside are brought inside—Quartzite ledge stone wall accents, walnut floors, built-in custom cabinets, and cedar soffits that connect seemingly seamlessly with the cedar-clad roof overhangs to further fuse the indoor-outdoor spaces. The two-story entryway visually connects the lower and main levels. It conveys a sense of arrival and connection to the main level. All levels are linked by a floating steel staircase, a sculptural element that entices visitors upstairs. An elevator with windows and doors that open on different sides, provides an alternative means of vertical navigation. Finally, four structural-glass skylights built into the floor on the main level reveal spaces downstairs, a striking feature and a hint for those who just arrived that this house is more than a fancy dwelling but rather an inhabited sculpture. The house is an apt testimony to the architects' response when I asked them to share what their clients typically ask or expect from them. Their response was, “More than once, a client would exclaim—Design something magnificent!”