Grant and Ayse McCracken spent 20 hot and humid Texas summers dreaming about owning a second home somewhere with a more hospitable climate. Last year, finally committed to buying the kind of house they both wanted, the Houston couple decided to start looking. The only problem? For Grant that “somewhere” was the Vail Valley, while for Ayse (pronounced EYE-sha) it was Tiburon on San Francisco Bay.
Debate got them nowhere. Eventually they realized their only option was to let fate settle it. “We decided, Let’s have a vacation home throwdown,” Grant says.
First up: Vail. They arrived in June and rented a home in Cordillera, high above Edwards. By the time they started looking at houses to buy, Ayse was sold on the valley. They never made it to Tiburon.
The McCrackens—he an energy executive, she a healthcare executive—looked at 20 homes in three days, including a dozen in Cordillera, but one, on Black Bear Trail in the heart of the Ranch, emerged as the favorite. It was the third house they visited. “I said, ‘I’ll know when I see it,’ and after I walked in the house, I couldn’t imagine not buying it,” Grant says during a tour of the home. “We just fell in love with it, from the beams to the fireplace to everything. All the others were a comparison to this.”
They soon learned it literally had a story to tell. Owned by Vail Valley socialite Priscilla O’Neil, the 5,223-square-foot house was built around a fictional, Disney-esque narrative. “The story,” Grant says, “was she was looking for property in Cordillera and came across this land with an old dilapidated house and barn beside it that had fallen down. She decided, Let’s build a new house but use as much of the original dwellings as possible.”
That inspiration explains why, when the McCrackens first walked in, they saw that the home’s open kitchen occupied the (faux) crumbling remains of a stone farmhouse. But the unique structure, designed by architect Kirk Aker and completed in 1998, attracted them more than it deterred them.
“What we inherited was a really creative space that we both connected with immediately,” Ayse says. “What we wanted from that was something that was comfortable, inviting, open, and probably a little more eclectic and personal.”
They closed on the property on Sept. 30, 2014, and targeted a move-in date six weeks later, enlisting longtime Vail Valley designer Patti Dixon to execute their vision. The deadline left scant time for Dixon and a handpicked crew from Minturn’s SRE Building Associates to achieve everything the McCrackens wanted, especially considering that all coordination with the new owners, from selecting light fixtures to choosing between slightly different hues of blue paint, was done from their distant home state of Texas, where the couple met in April 1982 and have lived ever since.
But their union itself, as they like to say, got off to a fiery start. Grant, a Canadian who grew up in Montreal then lived in Toronto for 10 years (you can still hear it in his “outs” and “abouts”), had moved to Houston when he was 25. He was living in a condo complex when he noticed a pretty young woman regularly coming and going to and from a place near his. It was Ayse, of course. Born in Istanbul, she had lived in Vancouver, B.C., and Lafayette, Louisiana, before moving to Houston less than a year prior.
They finally met one night when someone set fire to a unit in their complex. Alarmed at the smoke billowing from the ventilation ducts, Ayse ran outside and waited for the fire department to arrive. Grant looked out his window and saw Ayse standing there with her dog. “I thought, Ah, here’s my chance!” Grant recalls. He ran downstairs and introduced himself. “Looks like you’re burned out of your place,” he said. “If you need somewhere to stay, I’ve got a couch that I can sleep on, and you can sleep in my bed.”
The offer broke the ice. “She gave me a plant to take care of,” Grant chuckles. They went on their first date that weekend and were engaged four months later, marrying in the spring of 1983.
The McCrackens had vacationed in Vail for 10 years before they bought their home, usually staying at the Sonnenalp or at a rented home in Arrowhead during their son’s spring break. Now, because they have dogs, they often drive the 17.5 hours from Houston to Cordillera, or they leave the dogs at home and fly into Eagle. They spend about six weeks in Cordillera in the winter, skiing every day. Whereas the prior owners lived in the house full time, the McCrackens view it as a getaway from a full-time residence elsewhere.
“It’s a gathering place we enjoy with our friends and family, and an escape hatch for us,” Ayse says.
Aside from its occupancy, the biggest shift in the home’s renovated aesthetic came in the colors. They replaced beiges and yellows with blues, grays, and browns. The passé adobe fireplace motif was updated to blend in with the mountain-modern finishings elsewhere. The faux farmhouse upstairs became a study. They brought in English antique chests for the guest rooms, placed Italian antique tables in the hallways and breakfast nook, hung abstract art throughout, and added a signature Afghan rug to the dining room. The only structural change occurred in the master bedroom, where they had a partition wall removed to make the space more functional. (The previous owner, who had added the wall as a headboard for a bed oriented to maximize the view, was aghast.) All told, the updates complemented the features the owners initially felt drawn to: 24-foot vaulted ceilings, gorgeous metal support arches high in the great room, and a glass bar area in the kitchen that becomes a main attraction whenever they host friends from home.
Instead of a farmhouse fantasy, the McCrackens’ home now best reflects their own story—and their family’s. Two of the three ground-floor guest rooms (all of which include full baths) were tailored to the preferences of their son, Grant II, and Ayse’s 87-year-old mother, who always wanted a canopy bed. “When you’re 87 years old, you can ask for those things,” Ayse says, standing next to said canopy bed and a door leading to a grassy mound in the middle of their 1.2-acre paradise.
And as it happens, everything came together on schedule: the McCrackens moved into their long-awaited second home exactly one week before Thanksgiving. Escaping the Houston heat this past July, Ayse gazes out the sprawling great-room windows at the 200-degree vista afforded by their perch high above Edwards town center. The stunning view stretches from the toothy Gore Range skyline 20 miles east to rolling aspen ridges downvalley. The span is most visible in winter, when the aspen forest surrounding the house sheds its canopy. Not that the McCrackens mind the quaking peace the rest of the year.
“I love being able to look out, and the tree is just right there,” Ayse says. “It makes you feel like you’re nested in the mountains.
“And if you wake up in the middle of the night and it’s really dark,” she adds, evoking some fairy-tale magic, “you feel like you’re sleeping among the stars.”
Creative Floors, Edwards
Patti Dixon Design, Edwards
Rocky Mountain Custom Landscapes, Gypsum
SRE Building Associates, Minturn
Ruggs Benedict, Avon
The Scarab, Minturn