ranch conversion

With its beautiful vistas, 300 days of sunshine each year and an abundance of possible outdoor pursuits, Colorado’s Front Range, home to Denver and Boulder, attracts thousands of new residents each year.

Ty Melton, owner of Melton Design Build, estimates that the red-brick 1975 ranch house his company recently remodeled in Boulder, near the foothills of the Flatiron mountains, originally sold for $30,000. Today, due to strong demand, its preremodel value was over $1 million and comfortably supports the $1 million whole-house redesign and construction completed by the Melton team.

The homeowners, two professionals with three kids, initially came to Melton seeking to add a second story. They sought more space, an update for entertaining and the creation of a large two-person office for working at home.

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

Local officials, however, did not budge on height restrictions. A second story would have blocked views of the mountains from the road. For Melton and his clients, the question became how they could build out, not up.

The original structure was quite conventional. It was a box with a rear deck and a walkout basement. The design and layout were very outdated. It was not functional for the size of the clients’ family. They wanted an open plan combining the kitchen, living and dining areas with enough space to feel together but not crowded.

From a design standpoint, the client wanted a contemporary look that made use of the exterior elements of the original structure.

“We had a really fantastic couple. One worked in marketing and the other in manufacturing,” Melton says. “They had a clear vision of what they wanted. They had spent some time in Spain and Mexico, and they wanted to create kind of a modern-feel ranch in Colorado and make it their home.”

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

As they sought to create a one-story plan, Melton and his in-house architect, Tom Catney, were guided by several programmatic goals. First, how best to configure the home to take advantage of the stunning views. Second, how to create outdoor spaces where eight to 10 could be seated comfortably. Third, was to create privacy for a first-floor master suite, while also including views from it. Fourth, they needed to add a detached garage on the nearly 20-acre site.

The solution was to create an L-shaped house, mixing old and new. The configuration lent privacy to the master suite while simultaneously creating an enclave-like outdoor venue for entertaining guests. Once the configuration decision was made, other decisions flowed more easily from there.

Planning, Capturing and Visualizing the Views

Melton and his team of 45 embrace the latest technology during the design phase of their projects. New plans become renderings, and renderings ultimately become 3-D virtual reality experiences.

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

“That is the fun thing about technology today. On this project, we actually drew it up with some 3-D rendering type software, and it looked almost exactly like how it finished at the end. It was fun to do. These days we are even working with goggles to give a virtual representation of what is possible,” Melton says.

The use of virtual reality technology was particularly helpful when it came to designing the window and door packages for the large, airy and open west-facing sections of the house. By adjusting the height settings on the VR goggles, each client was able to get a very accurate perspective on the design as planned.

“We set the husband’s height at 6 foot, 2 inches and the wife’s at 5 foot, 8 inches and gave a visual for what they will see as they look out the windows. This allowed us to play around with the transoms and the head heights and adjust them up or down,” he says. “You can adjust the widths of your glazing and the reveals so you can get a feel for how the divisions and the lites might block your view.

“The VR process really takes some of the apprehension and the worries from the client,” Melton continues. “[It] puts them at ease if you can demonstrate what it is going to look like, and helps them feel more comfortable with making a more substantial investment in home if they have that ability to visualize and kind of lower their guard that they are making the right decision.”

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

The project certainly benefited from these virtual reality iterations. Now when someone enters the house through the front door, they are doing so from the east. They pass through the older, low-ceiling portion of the home and emerge into a brighter, wide-open space with dramatic views.

“The east-facing entrance is in a portion of the original structure where the ceilings are lower and the spaces are smaller,” Melton notes. “This was designed intentionally to give visitors a sense of discovery and expansion as they enter the main living and addition area where 18-foot ceilings offer 200-degree views.”

Old vs. New

Connecting a large addition to an older existing structure offers a lot of contrasts, Melton says. First, construction practices today far exceed those in place 42 years ago. The new structure is simply built better.

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

“The difference in construction between a house built in the ’60s and a house built today is pretty amazing. The saying, ‘They don’t build ’em like they used to,’ is funny because we build them a lot better than they used to,” he says. “There is quite a bit of steel and moment framing in some of the exterior walls, particularly in the walls where you have a lot of glazing. We have TGIs instead of traditional trusses, and so on.”

Because of the very high potential wind loads, calculations were made that necessitated more steel framing in the building, particularly in the west-facing section with large expanses of glazing.

“Our window supplier and our structural engineer worked closely together. All of this faces west. We have a very high wind zone, so we had to choose some quality products. It is all welded steel framing back behind all those windows. They are embedded in the concrete and welded in place with tube steel to keep them from flexing and moving around in the wind, so that was kind of fun. We even included a NanaWall system that kind of opens things up to the outdoors.”

Located in a semi-arid, high plains climate, the framing and joist in the original structure were all bone dry and slightly shrunken from their original dimensions. The trick for Melton’s design and construction staff was how best to anticipate and plan for the same effect to occur in the framing of the new addition.

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

“There is always a challenge when you are trying to marry a house in Colorado where the wood has dropped to a 4 or 5 percent moisture content,” Melton explains. “At the same time, you are trying to marry a new structure with the supplied wood that comes in and is maybe 30 percent moisture content. You try to dry it out as much as you can, but you are also on schedule to get the house built.

“A good example is trying to apply hardwood flooring in a great room where half the room is 50 years old and is all fully cured. The other part of room is all brand-new trusses and joists, where you know you are going to have an 1/8 to a 1/4 of an inch of shrinkage in your plywood sheets and your joist materials. You try to figure out a way to have joints where you will have some separation. That is always a challenge. I would imagine that builders and remodelers all over the country are facing that, not just us.”

Outdoor Living

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

One of the most successful elements of the project is a moderately sized and understated outdoor living program. The decision to moderate on size was driven mostly by local, floor-area ratio considerations. Having to build out and not up left them with only so much remaining space to build on. According to Melton, the goal was to establish a strong connection with the new indoor living spaces and to keep the outdoor spaces more open to the majestic surroundings.

Noteworthy is that the original deck behind the existing structure stayed in place. So too did the walkout basement. The new outdoor living space is up a level and on the same plane as the old deck, tucked between the great room and the master suite portion of the home.

Mark Quentin, StudioQPhoto.com

“We were fortunate enough to get invited to an end-of-summer party there,” Melton says, “and the space really flows well and entertains well. You can roll out into the grass, and the kids can play. You can barbecue and open the doors and just enjoy the space. So that part really worked out well.” | QR

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