4 Things You Need to Know Before Designing Your Mountain Home

Building a mountain home is a dream for many, yet getting started on the design process can be confusing and overwhelming – especially if you are new to the mountains. We’re breaking it down with four things you need to know, from choosing the right team to navigating high altitude challenges, to set you up for success. This is the introduction to a new educational blog series breaking down the process of designing your mountain home step-by-step.


Vertical Arts’ full-service team of architects and landscape architects brought this client’s Grand Lake home from Pinterest board to inception to life with ultimate collaboration in design. 

1. Assemble the right team.

Building your dream home in the mountains takes a team of skilled professionals from start to finish. First, you need to hire the right real estate agent to find the perfect lot for your home and negotiate the purchase. This is also the time to hire an architect who can guide you through the possibilities of any given lot.

“With the rise of Houzz and Pinterest, many people assume it’s as easy as buying floor plans online, but those generic plans don’t take into account the site, or your lifestyle and personality” said Vertical Arts Partner Sarah Tiedeken O’Brien. “Our clients hire us to envision their personalized big picture, piece together thousands of small decisions made in microcosms along the way, and create an end product that feels magical, cohesive and whole.”

Designing a custom home from the ground up is best suited for a full-service (and fully trained) architecture, landscape and interior design firm that can collaborate on all aspects of the project to bring your dream to life.

“Clients come to us for much more than a shelter. Homeowners hire us because they want their home designed with every detail in mind to integrate with the land, be sustainable and incorporate technology,” said Vertical Arts Principal and Founder Brandt Vanderbosch.

Next, you’ll need to partner with a builder you trust and that can execute the design with proficiency. In the next part of our educational series, we’ll break down the pros and cons of working with a design/build team as well as how to hire an architect that will advocate for you throughout the construction process, making sure permits, licenses, fees and HOA requirements are met by the builder.

Using the same stone material naturally draws your eye from indoors to outdoors.

2. Planning ahead is critical.

The many things we love about the mountains – rugged natural beauty, four illustrious seasons, laid back lifestyle, remote location, etc. – are the same things that require planning a new construction project months, and even years, in advance. 

“Timing is everything,” noted Tiedeken O’Brien. “Unlike somewhere like Arizona where the weather is consistent, weather in Rocky Mountain communities varies day to day and year to year, and we need to be prepared to be flexible on schedule due to weather.”

Consider that the ground is covered in feet of snow for several months of the year, followed by the melting run-off and mud season. Summer presents the ideal time to break ground, and that requires planning ahead to hire the right team, purchase the property, finalize designs, get proper approvals, procure materials, etc. Speaking of materials, due to the remote location of many mountain communities like the iconic ski towns of Steamboat, Vail or Aspen, materials are often ordered from the Front Range or out-of-state and require extra time. 

“A good team will help you navigate through construction to meet your project needs and schedule,” said Vanderbosch. “If you want to plow ahead (and are willing to pay more), we can work through winter and keep things moving. If you want to maximize efficiency and avoid peak winter seasons, we can navigate that as well.”

A good rule of thumb, according to Vanderbosch, is to plan four to six months for the design process and a year to 16 months for construction. Larger homes and estates could take up to two years.


Vertical Arts worked closely with the builder for this Castle Pines, Colorado estate on site planning to situate the house in front of this iconic landmark, which was integral to the design process.

3. Location is everything.

Within your ideal mountain community there are a variety of factors to consider when deciding where to put down roots.

Create a list of nonnegotiables and nice-to-haves including your desired lot size, views, proximity to town, neighbors, lifestyle and other factors that are important to you. From there, your architect can help you vet the lot and neighborhood, including conducting land use and code studies or navigating a design review board process, so you know what you’re getting into before you finalize your purchase.

“What we often see,” Vanderbosch said, is that “a client goes out with a Realtor and is wowed by the exhilaration of the views on a rugged and steep mountain site.” He advises that clients should engage an architect up front to think through the implications including site access, solar orientation, wind patterns and construction costs before purchasing the land.


This home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado was designed to make the most of stunning mountain vistas in all four seasons.

4. Expect the unexpected.

With any big project, there are bound to be unexpected challenges along the way. But, with the right, experienced architect on your side, you’ll be equipped to resolve those challenges with ease. 

Based on Vertical Arts’ experience designing homes in mountain communities like Steamboat, Vail and Winter Park and Front Range communities like Denver, Castle Pines and Ft. Collins over the past 15 years, the team has developed best practices for leading clients through challenges from increased costs to project delays, and everything in between. 

“We build their home virtually from the inside out before we ever put a shovel in the ground. Seeing how the home works within the environment helps the owners, builders, subcontractors – everyone – visualize the end product and ensures shared expectations from the onset,” said Vanderbosch. 

According to Tiedeken O’Brien, Vertical Arts’ processes for planning, design and implementation have been honed over the years. “We do our best to educate our clients up front and every step along the way so that small hurdles don’t trip up the entire project,” she said. “We get a lot of questions and understand this can be a confusing process. We’ve created this educational series to pull back the curtain and illuminate how we work and what clients can expect from our partnership.”

This article is the first in the educational series designed to guide readers through the process of designing a mountain home. Stay tuned for more on this topic and be sure to follow the latest Vertical Arts updates on our website, Houzz, Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram. To learn more about how we can help you design your dream mountain home, contact us.