[Editor’s note: In the 1970s, there were several efforts to build air-formed structures before the South brothers hit on the right combination advocated by the Monolithic Dome Institute. This is one of the most interesting efforts we’ve come across and we love what they did.]
Rarely does a home with such a rich history and distinctive architecture become available. This extraordinary home — which sits on approximately 3 acres — was constructed in 1978 by the current, original owners. It was a time between two of the worst energy crises in the U.S. — 1973 and 1979 — caused by interruptions in petroleum exports from the Middle East. Oil prices skyrocketed, and many homeowners began to look for alternative energy sources to run their homes. Others decided the best solution was to use less energy.
Over the years, many have referred to this home as the “spaceship” house — ironic, given the multiple doorbell chimes that include the 2001: A Space Odyssey introduction. It may look unconventional, but few people realize the extreme energy efficiency of a monolithic dome house like this one, which may vary only a few degrees inside regardless of the outside temperature. This type of home is also virtually tornado, fire and earthquake proof and has the most wonderful acoustics inside because of its shape.
The architect, Mr. Jason Elliott Purdy of Boulder’s Community Architects, was a pioneer of monolithic dome construction, which combines air pressure and highly efficient insulation materials to form curvilinear shapes — similar to the famous Sculptured House in Genesee, dubbed the “Sleeper House” after Woody Allen’s 1973 movie of the same name. But, this home doesn’t need an elevator (and, thus, does not feature an Orgasmatron as the Sleeper House does).
For this home, the owners wanted 8-foot high side walls, so the process began with pouring a concrete floor (under which is the plumbing). The walls are supported with concrete pillars on 19-inch centers anchored to the floor system. Gunite (a sprayed concrete) was applied to the exterior and interior surface of the perimeter cylindrical wall structure. The concrete was then covered with insulative polyurethane structural foam. The resulting walls consist of an inch of concrete, four inches of hollow space, another inch of concrete, and about two inches of foam on the outside. A four-foot berm was then built along a portion of the structure.
Once the wall was in place, a tension ring was placed around the top perimeter with rebar that connects the walls to the roof. A hot air balloon — yes, a hot air balloon — was brought in through one of the windows (via a long line of people that took on a look of a Chinese dragon), to frame the ceiling. The balloon was secured in place and inflated to a desired size, then the interior of the balloon was coated in structural foam and Gunite with reinforcement mesh.
The roof membrane is an elastomeric product, and a new roof membrane was installed in 2015. The windows are double tinted panes with a reflective exterior surface for maximum privacy and energy efficiency. The second story dormers are unusual for these types of homes and bring more welcome light into the space.
As with all new concepts, there was also a learning curve. The interior concrete was at first very rough and dark. After 325 gallons of paint (because the first several coats of paint absorbed into the concrete), the interior is now a warm cream color and much smoother in texture.
Because there is no need for any load-bearing walls, partitions can be placed anywhere inside.
The energy bills are generally less than half what same size standard homes run. Originally, the home was on well and septic. In 2000, a new (permitted) deep well was dug to 1,158 feet. When the subdivision was annexed into the City of Arvada, public water and sewer were provided, and the deep well with ultra-soft water still remains.
Although by outside appearances it looks small, the home is quite spacious with over 2,500 square feet of living area and a very open concept layout. The circular windows and large skylight allow plenty of natural light. Although there isn’t a basement, the home features many custom storage areas: a nearly two-story built-in bookshelf with library ladder adorns the passage to the back bedrooms, and an entire wall of the second floor loft contains custom built-in storage cabinets. The custom-built curved family room sofa in the sunken family room even includes two built-in safes.
The foyer, kitchen, hall and family room floors are beautiful Dallas Ceramic Tile in Antique Gold. The living room floor is a plush cream-colored, very good quality carpet. Custom oak woodwork throughout and brass handrails are original to the home. From the living room window, the views are breathtaking — from the hot pink blossoming hibiscus in the foreground, across the fertile landscape to the creek, and beyond to the Rocky Mountains.
The kitchen, which includes a custom built-in granite eat-in area and original round tiles in navy blue and beige, is designed around a swooping curved wall. The white lacquer kitchen cabinets are Poggenpohl, the oldest and best-known maker of the finest kitchen cabinets in the world.
The sunken family room features a gorgeous copper and brass, wood-burning stove. For the first two years, the owners used only the wood stove for heat and were quite comfortable. For convenience they added an electric forced air furnace; however, the home has never needed air conditioning. Even on 100 degree days, the temperature in the home stays a pleasant 72-75 degrees or so. Because of the tight construction and concrete, unlike most homes in Colorado’s dry climate, the home requires a dehumidifier. You will feel the soft air and even temperature and light when you enter the home.
The loft includes its own mountain views, ample custom oak cabinets, and a swooping half-wall with oak cap rail. The two main floor bedrooms are quite spacious and private. One has been used as a study and has more custom oak storage cabinets and a large, glass enclosed wine rack. There are also one full and one 3⁄4 bath on the main floor; one still has the original round, burnt orange tiles in the shower and around the circular window that give the bath a truly retro look.
The Garage, Workshop & Studio
A 2-car plus workshop gambrel roof garage was built shortly after the home was built. More recently, a third garage bay was added. Over the garage is a bonus studio equipped with it’s own bath and kitchenette. The unit is heated and cooled with electric baseboard heat, an exhaust fan, and an evaporative cooler. Pure, soft water for the unit comes straight from the deep well.
The garage, which is extra deep and includes a workshop area and generator room, had a third bay added not long ago. The generator — which is circa 1936 — can run the entire home in the event of a power outage. There are also a shed, fabric Quonset and large greenhouse on the property.
The property is approximately 3 acres of lush grounds and mature landscaping. It is zoned for horses and other livestock. Leyden Creek traverses the back yard and there’s a wonderful pond (used for irrigation) on the site — but don’t worry, the home is not in the floodplain.
Unlike some neighboring communities, the City of Arvada has embraced its acreage properties and numerous equestrian trails can be immediately accessed from the rear of the property — literally miles of horse-friendly trails that can take you all the way up into the foothills and beyond — take a look at the Trail Map document for more information.
The secluded, stamped concrete patio off the entryway (La Terrazza de la Piccola Donna or “Terrace of the Little Woman”) was built in 2012 and is enjoyable year-round.
The grounds are amazing and offer plenty of room for tomatoes, corn and other produce — and there is a Cayuga vineyard and edible Kay Grey white grapes that surround the front patio.
The Original Owners
The home is being offered by its original owners — the same couple who dreamed of the concept, saw it to fruition, and ensured it has been well maintained over the years.
The home has been featured in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Arvada Sentinel, The Mother Earth News, Dome magazine, and Mechanix Illustrated. The owners have acquiesced to visitors simply stopping by over the years who just had to see the inside. Offers to purchase the home also came, but the owners were not ready to leave their architectural wonder.
The husband jokes he is really 96 years old (which he is not) — but, interestingly, both he and his wife actually do look years younger than they are, and they attribute it to the air quality in the home and spherical shape — similar in concept to the pyramid’s effect on overall health.
Your Next Home
This three-bedroom, two-bath home as been meticulously cared-for over the years. Though some updating has been done, such as new appliances and carpeting, the owners have retained nearly all of the original features.
A home like this needs a special buyer who will appreciate the rich architectural history and unique shape and features of the home; someone who will care for the home and ensure it is well-maintained for decades to come while enjoying all it (and the property) has to offer.
Jana Easley is a realtor with West Charter Real Estate. The property sold as is no longer available for tours.