Home Design: Full (Midcentury Modern) Circle

Uncovering the experimental architectural legacy of Don Price, whose former personal home in Skyway still pushes the boundaries of design.

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In 1970, as the Colorado Springs housing market was becoming saturated with ranch-style and split-level suburban homes, one local architect was using the city’s southwest side as a laboratory for the modern residential form.

Between the early 1950s and his death in 1977, Colorado Springs home designer and builder Don Price concentrated much of his work in Skyway, where he was responsible for creating more than 100 homes. The neighborhood sandwiched between the Broadmoor to the south and Bear Creek Regional Park to the north contains many of the city’s finest examples of midcentury modern style.

Little is known about Price’s life, but his work paints a picture of his professional persona. He specialized in sprawling ranchers with sweeping rooflines, abundant windows and materials emblematic of midcentury modernism: green and black slate, rich walnut and mahogany, angular ironwork and statement pieces such as grand entryways and hearths. But near the end of his life, Price’s design became increasingly experimental.

Abandoning linear forms pioneered by influential architects such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, Price began to explore a circular aesthetic that reached its peak in 1970 with the construction of a private residence for himself, his wife and two children.

midcentury modern home exterior
The popularity of midcentury modern style has made it easier to decorate authentically. “West Elm has been phenomenal,” Heather Gray says. “Most of their things in the last five or six years have had that influence.” Photo by Virtuance, courtesy of Janna Mulder, Broadmoor Bluffs Realty.

The three-bedroom home still stands at 830 Lyra Drive in Upper Skyway and is a 4,858-square-foot curvilinear, raised rancher based loosely on a home he completed in the Broadmoor area two years earlier. The home’s floor plan is reminiscent of “Chemosphere,” the John Lautner-designed home that famously hovers over Los Angeles like a UFO. Price’s home consists of three circular pods and two stories fused together by an elegant, iron-railed spiral staircase, but it’s grounded in place among its natural mountain surroundings with the help of hardwoods and black lava rock.

The house’s orientation away from the road requires visitors to approach the entryway by following a semicircular path leading to an ornate pair of double-glazed front doors featuring round walnut inlay. The unique effect serves to drive home Price’s motif before even crossing the threshold.

Once inside, the gentle curvature of the walls and ceilings is accented by warm walnut paneling and built-in cabinetry, two large fireplaces built with black lava rock and banks of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook dense pine groves.

midcentury modern home
Built-in walnut headboard and master bedroom views. Photo by Virtuance, courtesy of Janna Mulder, Broadmoor Bluffs Realty.

midcentury modern home spiral staircase
The iron-railed circular staircase connects lower level and foyer. Photo by Virtuance, courtesy of Janna Mulder, Broadmoor Bluffs Realty.

midcentury modern home
An artistic entry. Photo by Virtuance, courtesy of Janna Mulder, Broadmoor Bluffs Realty.

“The seasons in this house are phenomenal,” says Heather Gray, who currently owns the house with her husband, Clint, though the couple is selling. “[Price] did a really great job of building this house like it belongs here in the trees.”

The home included all of Price’s signature style elements, as well as the best of 1970 home technology. There’s a Finnish sauna, a central vacuum system, radiant floor heating, a home hi-fi stereo and intercom system, and a master bedroom headboard outfitted with a control panel for security, lights and other elements throughout the house.

“It’s like something out of an old James Bond movie,” Gray says. “[Price’s] way of designing was definitely futuristic. He was ahead of his time.”

The Grays purchased the home from the Price estate in 2011. Since then, they have undertaken an ambitious yet tasteful renovation that has conserved much of its original integrity while updating many features with contemporary style. Out went aged cedar siding, shag carpeting and dated gold fixtures; in came steel, porcelain, quartz and brushed nickel.

“I think Don Price would be OK with most of the work we’ve done,” Gray says. “We really just wanted to tone down some of the ’70s funk to give more attention to the structure itself.”

midcentury modern home
“I watched a deer birth two fawns while I drank coffee,” Heather Gray says. “Watching the wildlife is like Colorado happening all around you.” Photo by Virtuance, courtesy of Janna Mulder, Broadmoor Bluffs Realty.

Her favorite update was adding white tile in the main living space to replace the dingy, shag carpet, and she says it had an unexpected effect. “After putting the floor in, the light reflects on it. You can see the trees [reflected],” Gray says. “It brought more of the outside into the house. I didn’t plan it. It just happened, and it was cool.”

Although its futurism is undeniable for a home built in 1970, its flowing curves and use of natural materials create an organic aesthetic right at home in the Colorado foothills. Price’s spacious Lyra Drive home retains the comfort and charm of a mountain cabin while exhibiting a Space Age elegance.

Regardless of Price’s obscurity as an architect, it is work such as this that has helped to secure Skyway as one of the region’s greatest bastions of midcentury style.

“I hope there will be people who continue to appreciate him,” Gray says. “Even if he isn’t in architecture or history books.”

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