Three years ago, Tom and Heidi Havenstrite were packing up their Vail Village timeshare and preparing to return home to Oklahoma after yet another heavenly family spring-break ski vacation when their daughter made a canny observation.
“She said, ‘You know, there’s a town here, which means there’s a school here,’” recalls Heidi of Erin, then a fifth-grader. “‘I don’t understand why we’re living in Oklahoma when we could be living here.’”
“The kids were both motivated that we should live here, and I told Tom I couldn’t think of a reason why we couldn’t make it work,” Heidi explains. “I call myself the CEO of the Havenstrite household; that’s my job, and I can do that from anywhere.”
As could Tom, who owns an oil and gas lease brokerage firm and traveled so frequently that he was rarely home every day of an entire week; since he planned to retire at the end of 2021 anyway, and they really could live anywhere, why not change the Havenstrite home address from the plains of Oklahoma to the mountains of Colorado?
So a few weeks later, the whole family boarded a plane and returned to Eagle County. While Erin and her younger brother Tanner shadowed students on the campus of Vail Mountain School, Tom and Heidi went shopping for real estate, touring seven listings from East Vail to Cordillera the first day and another nine (with kids in tow) the next.
“The goal was: Let’s find somewhere to live for a year and see what that feels like,” says Heidi. “I rejected living in Vail immediately not because I don’t like Vail, but my experience there was vacationing, and I didn’t want a seasonal life: I wanted to be in a neighborhood with other kids and families.”
They settled on Singletree, a master-planned community on the north side of Edwards with more than a thousand homes (half occupied full time), oriented around the Sonnenalp Club’s manicured 18-hole golf course and miles of hiking and mountain biking trails snaking across thousands of acres of open space. Their real estate agent showed them a pied-à-terre on June Creek Road owned by friends from Boulder; although the owners definitely weren’t interested in selling, the agent said, they might be persuaded to rent it for a year, since they hadn’t been using the property much due to their son’s involvement with sports on the Front Range. They called it Vailhalla, a 4,556-square-foot, fully furnished bilevel backing onto the golf course, built in 2005 with an open-plan great room/den/dining room/kitchen. The master suite boasted vaulted ceilings and plate glass offering southern views of Arrowhead mountain, and out back the Sonnenalp Clubhouse stood just across the ninth fairway to the north. Two bedrooms and a rec room/guest suite nestled below grade downstairs.
“We walked inside and immediately felt that this was it; Tom had been pretty noncommittal, but walking out the door, he said, ‘Let’s find out how much they’re asking, and if it fits our budget, it’s a deal,’” recalls Heidi. “I called [the owners] and said, ‘Look, we are not party people, we are a family of five with one dog looking for a place to land for one year to determine if this is where we want to live our lives.’ They said, ‘That’s our dream home, we’ll never sell, but you can have it for a year.’”
After a summer of packing and saying goodbye to friends and family in Norman, the Havenstrites became full-time residents of Singletree that August. The kids found neighborhood friends, walked across the fairway in the morning for smoothies at Harvest (the Sonnenalp clubhouse restaurant), rode their bikes to the Edwards Riverwalk, and hiked the June Creek drainage with Charlie Vail, the Havenstrites’ gregarious German wirehaired pointer; in the winter, the whole family skied Arrowhead and Beaver Creek (sometimes with the owners of Vailhalla, who became friends).
“The longer we lived here, it became our home,” Heidi says. “We started our life in Vail in this house, we always knew it was theirs, but this became our space: our routines were rooted here. I started calling in January, saying, ‘I’d love you to consider selling to us.’”
They did just that in July 2019, 11 months into the Havenstrites’ one-year mountain living experiment.
Then came the makeover.
A friend from the neighborhood referred Heidi to Patti Dixon, an interior designer who has overseen the makeover of more than a few Singletree homes. Six years after establishing a boutique interior design firm in Dallas that drew on a worldwide network of exotic textile purveyors and innovative lighting designers, sculptors, and other artisans, Dixon relocated her atelier to the valley in the early 1980s, not long after Bob Cupp and Jay Morrish finished carving Singletree’s championship course and neighborhood from 160 acres of high-desert scrub 15 miles west of Vail. Dixon was in high demand as Edwards blossomed into the resort bedroom community it is today, overseeing a staff of 10 that could barely keep up with the commissions. After the 2008 real estate bubble burst, with a slimmed-down staff of two, Dixon resumed a more hands-on approach with clients that she missed from her Dallas days, from screening prospects with an initial three-page questionnaire to pulling samples of rugs and fabric and wallpaper swatches and creating idea boards with looks for every room.
“I wish I had slimmed down years ago,” she says of her firm, now based in the Diamond Building at the Riverwalk in Edwards. “I lost and missed that one-on-one contact, meeting with clients, which is the funnest part.”
Since the pandemic real estate gold rush began last summer—as urban professionals untethered from office towers in Oklahoma and Texas and Florida began relocating their families to mountain towns like Vail—homes, says Dixon, have been changing owners like musical chairs. Deluged with requests to transform vacation properties into permanent residences, Dixon maintains a long waiting list of clients and can afford to be selective about which projects warrant her time and talent.
“I should be retiring, but I’m not, because I love it,” she says. “If I can work with clients where I can make a big difference for them and have a great relationship, those are the projects I am going to take.”
Starting with a customary three-page client questionnaire—Name and profession: Heidi Havenstrite, CEO/COO Havenstrite Household; Favorite color & why: Navy, pink, gold—love how they look in a room and in what I wear; Should impact be subtle or stunning?: Stunning!”—the Havenstrites established a new benchmark for the client-designer relationship that Dixon strives for with every new project.
“It was a gift working with them; they were fantastic, really fun and optimistic and all good energy,” Dixon says of the Havenstrites.
The challenge with Vailhalla, Dixon says, was creating a verve befitting its new occupants, Heidi in particular. “Throughout our journey, my goal was to create a sophisticated home a family can live in,” Heidi explains. “I don’t want to have to worry about the kids or the dog ruining the couch or the carpet. I wanted a home that my kids can enjoy and when we entertain, it’s a beautiful space. Patti really got me immediately.... She already had ideas, I loved her energy, we had a great rapport, and together I knew we would accomplish something.”
The journey that began in July 2019 continued throughout 2020, with the last touches completed in December. And it all started with Vailhalla’s great-room rug.
If the clients are collectors, Dixon typically orchestrates an interior makeover around a room’s artwork, selecting furniture fabrics and accents, throw pillows, and wall coverings that echo or amplify the accents and hues of whatever is hanging on the walls. Since the Havenstrites only had a few cherished works (most created by their children), Dixon grounded the decor of each room by first selecting what would be on the floor.
“If they don’t have any important art, most of the time we start with the rug, which gives character, color, and patterns,” Dixon says. “When I show them rugs, I can tell how blasé or bold they want to be. Heidi was bold.”
That much was obvious after they met and spent the better part of a day flipping through samples at the Ruggs Benedict showroom in Avon.
“I have a hard time going into a design store; I get overwhelmed, because there are so many choices,” says Heidi. “I prefer to say, ‘Here’s the style I like, the colors I like, now give me choices.’ I want to be presented with three choices, and I pick the one I want.”
The selection that grounded Vailhalla’s nexus—its cavernous great room—was a hand-knotted Nepalese wool rug with a vivacious sunburst pattern of muted browns, golds, grays, yellows, blues, and oranges from Tufenkian Artisan Carpets.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I would never walk in and pick that out on my own, but now that it’s here in front of me, I love it!” Heidi says. “And when she put it in my home, I loved it 10 times more.”
In the great room’s den, Dixon added vibrant Lee Jofa throw pillows (echoing subursts from the rug) to accent the earth-toned sectional arranged around a horse stall door with wrought-iron bars repurposed as a coffee table. She also commissioned Gypsum woodworker Tim O’Brien to restore and rework a vintage armoire that stood beside the floor-to-ceiling fireplace with starburst patterns that echoed the rug, and above the mantel she hung a painting in aqua hues by Robin Hazard, a Texas artist who specializes in colorful abstract landscapes. “With art, I don’t want you to go into a store and just slap anything on the walls,” Heidi recalls telling Dixon. “I prefer it to be an original piece, and the more abstract the better, because everyone sees something different. She really hit it out of the park.” For a corner near one of the many plate-glass windows, the pièce de résistance: a bronze tree with fused glass leaves by Denver sculptor Sandy Jackson that mirrors the aspens in the front yard and the mountains beyond.
“Patti and I were both willing to take a chance here and there,” explains Heidi, of the statue, an almost budget-breaking splurge. “I told her, ‘I don’t want a cookie-cutter home. I want unique pieces. I want something you don’t see in other homes.’”
Dixon certainly accomplished that with her redesign of the dining room, a U-shaped alcove off of the great room. For the floor, she started with another Tufenkian knotted rug of beige wool and bamboo silk from Nepal; she replaced the existing store-bought dining table with an original work by Tim O’Brien, and for seating she chose six round-back chairs (complementing the curvature of O’Brien’s oval table) upholstered in leather and marbled blue Hespera velvet sourced from London-based Osborne & Little. Hanging from the vaulted rafters, reflecting the shape of the room, Dixon chose a square chandelier by Hubbardton Forge, a commercial foundry in Vermont that manufactures custom light fixtures. On a blank wall facing two windows, Dixon installed bronze-trimmed panels of paper fiber sandwiched between layers of translucent resin by 3form (a design firm that manufactures acoustic and acrylic panels used in lighting installations) that emit an ethereal glow when backlit.
“When people walk in and look at the dining room and go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is beautiful,’ that makes me feel so good,” says Heidi.
That creativity extends to Vailhalla’s second floor. Down a flight of stairs—illuminated by sconces Dixon created by backlighting rusty oil-drum lids the previous owners had used as wall hangings—the Havenstrites’ Oklahoma heritage is honored with a longhorn trophy mounted in a hallway, a framed poster of Sooner State fauna in a powder room wallpapered with nose-to-nose orange foxes, and antelope hide-hued carpeting in the hall and rec room. “At Ruggs Benedict, I asked Patti if we could use antelope somewhere, and she stared at me and started laughing: ‘I picked that out for the downstairs!’ The carpet is the focal point,” Heidi says.
Even the Havenstrite kids had a say in the decor of their spaces, with 12-year-old Erin initially vetoing Patti’s first-draft pink-and-purple-themed idea board for her bedroom. Dixon parried with a burnt-orange velvet headboard and a hanging chair where she can relax and read. For 9-year-old Tanner, a Bigfoot fan, Dixon requisitioned a Bigfoot bedspread, racing stripes in greens and browns for the walls, a beanbag chair, and block-print-treed wallpaper above the washbasin in the bathroom. (When Tanner saw it, he asked her also to wallpaper the toilet area with trees, so he could feel like he was peeing in the woods.)
Then there’s Heidi’s favorite room: the master suite. They replaced the previous owners’ bed with their own bed and nightstands and the carpet with the same brand from their old bedroom. Dixon brighted up the spa-like, marble-tiled bathroom with mirrors, eye-level sconces and a chandelier. She also added a practical luxury: remote-controlled electric blinds for the wall of glass doors overlooking Arrowhead Mountain.
“We open the shades, and when we look out onto the mountain covered in snow in the winter and the beautiful blooming aspens in the summer, we honestly go, ‘How lucky are we to live here?’” Heidi says. “This house was always meant to be ours. Going through this transformation with Patti, we put so much of ourselves into this project. It is reflective of who we are. It makes me really happy, the sense of satisfaction that this is our home completely.”
Ruggs Benedict, Avon
Native Electric, Eagle
Patti Dixon Design, Edwards
Alyssa Serpentini Custom Finishes & Fine Art, Fairplay
Silver Scissors Upholstery, Gypsum
O’Brien Woodworks, Gypsum