Many people dream of retiring to a quiet cabin in the mountains. Images swirl of a peaceful place where one can breathe the crisp air and commune with nature.
A successful doctor eyeing retirement was able to bring that dream to reality for himself and his family. An ambitious project would take a remote, overgrown property in the San Juan Mountain Range of Colorado between Telluride and Dolores—a neglected place near a river, dotted with small, outdated, rustic cabins—and transform it into an inviting, spa-like getaway. The whole thing began as a conversation between friends.
“I became great friends with these clients after building their house in Durango in 2003,” recalls Troy Dyer, founder/owner of Veritas Fine Homes. “In 2017, they asked me if I’d consider going to Rico, which is almost to Telluride, because they bought 35-plus acres with a series of dated cabins and structures on the Dolores River. The cabins were neglected and the property needed a lot of work, but they wanted to renovate and make it something special.”
Dyer agreed and soon found himself on a whirlwind of a project. The property had previously been owned by a family from California, who visited it less and less over time. Other than a caretaker that looked in on it occasionally, the land and buildings were pretty much left to the elements and weren’t well maintained.
“The first order of business was to clean up the property,” Dyer says. “The grounds itself encompass about 35 acres—about 14 acres of which is usable. The rest goes up the mountainside. There was river mitigation and the Army Corps of Engineers was involved with permitting to build a fish habitat and reclaim some parts of the river.”
It wasn’t just the land that needed some major work and reclamation. The five original buildings on the property had history but were certainly showing their age. They had to be gutted; old fixtures and materials were donated to Habitat for Humanity. By the time the project was completed, there were eight buildings on the property.
“The main cabin was about 1,500 square feet, had two bedrooms and was cute but very kitschy,” Dyer says. “It looked like it came out of a time capsule straight from the 1980s. Everything about it was dated, even the dishes. We took the bedrooms out and gutted it entirely except for the log structure, and that became the living/ family room. The kitchen, dining and living space we kept in that main cabin.”
A huge deck was built off that main structure, complete with fire pits and coverings. A folding patio door system was used to allow the occupants to open up the space and give it a true indoor/outdoor experience.
“The cabin just next door to the main cabin, about 12 feet away, became the primary suite and the one next to that—a building that was once a tractor garage—became the guest primary suite,” Dyer explains. “The bigger barn structure became a 2-story quarters that we dubbed the kids dorm. It has a spiral staircase going up to sleeping areas, couches that fold out and a bathroom with two showers. There’s a big covered deck on that building with a hammock and another bifold wall system.”
The private porch on the kids dorm overlooks a stocked pond and beach area. An old garage about 900 feet away from the other buildings, near the entrance to the property, was converted to a maintenance shed and fly shop, where a tractor and other caretaker and property-management equipment are stored.
“The owner’s original intention was to detach,” Dyer recalls. “He didn’t really want to have any technology but just wanted to make it functional and energy efficient. But the more he was out there, the more he got to love it and started thinking things like, ‘well, I do need Wi-Fi.’ Getting internet out there was a feat, but we got it done.”
As the project went on, there were additions to the scope here and there to make the place more luxurious and inviting. There is even a small yoga studio on the property.
“When the owner asked about putting in a yoga studio, I thought about the little cabin I used to see driving past a dilapidated lumberyard,” Dyer says. “I’d seen it for years with a for-sale sign out front. I pulled up one day and asked what they wanted for it, and the person said if I could come up with $3,000 and take it off his yard, I could have it. I inspected the moisture content to make sure it wasn’t dry rotted, then rented an 18-wheeler, drove it out and set it in place. We put in another folding patio door system and installed a deck so you can face the river and get your yoga on.”
There were many expected challenges on a project like this. The buildings themselves were built in very different ways in very different time periods, so achieving a sense of unity was difficult enough, and sometimes it was a challenge just to bring these old cabins up to basic standards.
“They were all constructed at different times, some in the 1950s, some in the 1960s and some in the 1980s,” Dyer says. “One building was stacked on rocks, so that foundation was trash and it needed different attention than the others. Structurally, there were parts that needed attention. We were undermining foundations to get structural point loads. Like, oh, I can’t believe that log held a roof up for 60 years! In that case, we had to put a steel column in and put a log wrap around it to maintain the aesthetic but make it work.”
PHOTOS: Meagan Larsen Photography