After a couple lost their daugther to a distracted driver, reviving a mountain home helped them cope with their loss.
By Lisa Marshall
Photos by Iman Woods, imanwoods.com
Take a seat in the living room of Joel Feldman and Dianne Anderson’s rustic mountain retreat, and the first thing to catch your eye is a large photo of the young woman who inspired it. With long blond hair, hazel eyes and a warm smile, she lights up the room from her central perch on the mantel above the massive stone hearth.
“She’s everywhere,” says Dianne, referring to the snapshots of her daughter that cover the cabin walls—and the memories and missions that now reside within them.
Four years after 21-year-old Casey Feldman was struck and killed by a distracted driver while crossing an intersection near their former summer home on the Jersey shore, Feldman and Anderson renovated a mountain retreat near Nederland to serve as a family sanctuary and healing ground—and to signify a new chapter in their lives. The home is a hub for the couple’s nationwide efforts to end distracted driving, and for a family foundation honoring Casey’s memory. Someday, Joel and Dianne, who live in Philadelphia, hope to retire there.
“As part of our grieving process, we wanted to have a place where we could be closer to our son (Brett, a student at CU-Boulder),” explains Dianne, a retired attorney. “We were no longer interested in the Jersey shore. Too many sad memories.”
“We needed a place to reflect and adapt,” adds Joel, also an attorney.
Boring to Beautiful
To create such a place, the two put together a dream team of local talent to transform a soulless, ’70s-era split-level into a history-infused mountain retreat that blends early-American charm with modern architectural techniques.
When they first saw the 2,460-square-foot home on 10 acres in the summer of 2010, they fell in love with its sweeping views of Mount Thorodin and James Peak. But the green siding, choppy floor plan and small windows hardly fit their architectural tastes (their stone home in Pennsylvania was built in 1709). So they opted to retain the foundation, garage and two walls, and erect a log cabin. They soon learned full logs would be too heavy for the foundation, and when they looked into reclaimed wood siding, they got sticker shock.
“We found out it was so expensive because it had to be shipped in from Amish take-down barns in Pennsylvania,” Joel says. So Joel and Dianne took a road trip to neighboring Peach Bottom in their home state and knocked on the door of Tindall’s Virgin Timbers. Soon they were sorting through reclaimed granary floors and barn walls from days past, and making arrangements to ship trailer-loads to Nederland. The savings were huge, in both dollars and trees. “Virtually all of the wood in this house has been reclaimed,” Dianne says.
To provide inspiration to Nederland architect Debbie Davenport and Boulder general contractor Keenan Tompkins of Cornerstone Contracting and Colorado Timberframe, which supplied all the home’s reclaimed heavy timbers, the couple emailed photos from Pennsylvania of century-old log cabins they liked. “Some of these old pictures they sent were absolutely amazing,” recalls Davenport, of the weathered siding, covered porches, simple square-top windows and massive stone fireplaces. “You’d just look at them and start dreaming.”
Joel and Dianne purchased a trailer to park under an aspen grove on the property, and visited more frequently when the walls went up. “It was like the job of a lifetime,” Davenport says. “The communication between all of us was just amazing, and it was an honor to be with them through this whole process and see them healing.”
“It was a pleasure,” Tompkins agrees. “When Joel and Dianne approached us about building their home in honor of Casey, I was humbled and honored to take on the project. Little did I know that this project would go so much deeper than building a reclaimed cabin in the mountains; it created a bond that will last a lifetime.”
End & Beginning
The new home took roughly a year to complete, and in compliance with Boulder County regulations, is only slightly larger than the original. But the transformation is dramatic. Rustic white oak siding, punctuated with rusted corrugated-steel sheets, makes the home appear completely at ease in its mountain setting. The custom front door features an antique window from Denver’s El Paso Imports (where the couple got many of their historic pieces), embedded in a stout slab of reclaimed pine.
Step inside and you find a charming vestibule, where you can imagine kicking off muddy cowboy boots and hanging a hat on the hook (a recycled barn-door hinge) before passing through the antique Dutch door (a salvaged treasure Tindall’s threw in for free).
The cozy living room is sided in the same white oak, complete with adze marks from the rudimentary edge tool homebuilders once used to shape wood. Scuffed floorboards from an Amish granary are underfoot. In the kitchen, stout reclaimed-oak cabinets crafted by Louisville-based Kitchens by Wedgewood, pine-legged stools, granite countertops and a deep stone sink complete the ambience.
At the heart of the house is a 24-foot-tall open-faced masonry fireplace—a rare work of art at a time when convenience and regulations prompt many to use a simple fireplace insert instead. But Joel and Dianne opted for an 1800s-era Rumford fireplace (tall and shallow, with angled sides and a streamlined throat to draw up smoke). To create the towering chimney, Estes Park mason Alex Kostadinov hauled in 20,000 pounds of buff sandstone from Colorado ranches, painstakingly piecing them together atop a unique architectural framework designed to hold the massive weight. “It’s a treat for a mason to get to do something like this these days,” Kostadinov says. “It’s a tradition.”
The upstairs bedroom also exudes tradition. The walls are lined with vertical wood siding in deep burnt-red hues—a delightful remnant of the way farmers used to color their barns by letting rusted nails soak in milk and painting it on. “This was the cheapest paneling you could find anywhere,” Joel observes. Another bonus: no lead paint.
But the upstairs loft/office, with glorious views and comforting stillness, is where Casey’s memory is honored most. “It’s so quiet. I have done a ton of my work sitting right here,” says Joel, whose wrists sport pink “End Distracted Driving” bracelets.
In recent years Joel cut back on lawyering to devote more time to the crusade against distracted driving (www.enddd.org). He’s created public-service announcements for the Department of Transportation, trained trial lawyers and health professionals to give presentations, and personally spoken to 17,000 kids at schools and driver’s-education classes nationwide. Meanwhile, Dianne runs the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation, which sponsors university students to perform public-service projects and promotes awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
When will this couple get to retire to their mountain lodge? It could be a while, says Joel, but he’s hopeful: “I’ll retire when distracted driving is no longer socially acceptable, the way drunk driving is no longer socially acceptable.