The Sculptured House was designed by modernist architect Charles Deaton and built in 1963–66 on Genesee Mountain west of Denver. Deaton’s only house design, the building is distinctive for its clamshell shape, which can be seen rising above Interstate 70 and was featured in Woody Allen’s 1973 comedy Sleeper. The house was expanded in 2000 using plans drawn up by Deaton before his death, and today it still serves as a private single-family residence.
Sculpture as Architecture
Born in New Mexico in 1921, Charles Deaton became an architect after World War II despite having no formal training. In contrast to most modern architecture at the time, which emphasized straight lines and rectangular forms, Deaton preferred an Expressionist style using organic shapes based on non-Euclidean geometry. Also in contrast to standard architectural practice, he initially conceived his buildings as sculptures and then drew up blueprints based on his models.
Deaton moved to Denver in 1955. At the time, the Front Range was gaining a reputation for landmark modernist designs such as the US Air Force Academy Cadet Area in Colorado Springs, Mesa Laboratory in Boulder, and Zeckendorf Plaza in Denver, and Deaton soon thrived in a region open to architectural experimentation. His Central Bank and Trust (1959–60) in downtown Denver was his first sculptural building, and his Wyoming National Bank (1961–64) in Casper gained considerable attention for its petal-shaped concrete wedges around a central dome. His Key Savings and Loan (1965–67) in Englewood featured an elliptical concrete shell sitting atop a small pedestal.
As Deaton’s practice grew in prominence, he began to plan a sculptured house for his family. In 1960 he built his first plaster model for the house, a seventy-five-pound ellipsoidal double shell measuring about two feet wide, three feet long, and one foot deep. Deaton later said that the curving clamshell design had been inspired in part by the “great curving rooms” at Carlsbad Caverns. He sliced the model, measured the pieces, and sketched blueprints for the full-size building. An amateur pilot, he also started flying around the foothills west of Denver to find a site where the house would appear to hang or levitate off the side of a mountain. He selected a fifteen-acre site near the top of Genesee Mountain, and construction started in 1963. “On Genesee Mountain,” he wrote, “I have found a high point of land where I can stand and feel the great reaches of the earth.”
Deaton closely supervised the construction of the building’s exterior, which took three years to complete. Because of the house’s odd shape and dimensions, few precut or premeasured materials could be used. An elliptical pedestal base made of concrete piers rose two stories from the ground to support the distinctive clamshell third floor. The shell itself was made of a steel skeleton coated in concrete and covered with a mixture of white pigment, Hypalon (an adhesive rubber coating), and crushed walnut shells, which provided texture and hardness. Costs climbed to more than $100,000 by the time the exterior was finished in 1966.
Inside, the house’s lower two floors were housed in its elliptical pedestal base. The bottom floor, which contained a single room with a bathroom, was intended as Deaton’s studio. The second floor had a utility room and a painting studio for Deaton’s wife and daughters. The third floor lay within the house’s distinctive clamshell, which had a glass curtain wall facing north and east to capture sweeping views of Denver and the Continental Divide. A master bedroom, living room, and dining room stretched along the glass wall, with a partition separating those areas from a kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms on the west side of the floor. The only place in the house that had straight lines was the kitchen, which needed to fit standard rectangular appliances. Throughout the rest of the house, walls and floors met at sloped angles, and Deaton planned to furnish the rooms with his own custom-designed curved sofas and seed-shaped beds.
The house quickly attained national and even international fame because of its futuristic design and highly visible location over Interstate 70 west of Denver. It was featured on the Today show in 1966, and in 1973 Woody Allen used it as a filming location for his comedy Sleeper, set 200 years in the future. As a result, the house is sometimes known as “the Sleeper house,” and it has also been called the flying saucer. Deaton himself named the building the Sculptured House because it was intended as a demonstration of his fundamental architectural principles. “In building this house,” he wrote in 1966, “I believe I have committed an act of freedom.”
Unfortunately for Deaton, he soon became embroiled in a costly lawsuit with the architectural firm Kivett & Myers over credit for the design of the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, Missouri, on which they collaborated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With legal costs mounting, Deaton never fully finished the interior of the Sculptured House, and his family never lived there. By the late 1980s, he decided to list the house for sale, and at the same time he sketched plans for an addition that would be built southwest of the residence.
In 1991 Deaton sold the property to a California-based investor named Larry Polhill for $800,000. Polhill hoped to build an addition based on Deaton’s plans, but he only got as far as demolishing some of the interior before he abandoned the project, leaving plywood over smashed windows. Meanwhile, Deaton died in 1996, and at his memorial service the original model of the Sculptured House was accidentally knocked over and broken.
The vacant house deteriorated until it was sold in 1999 to Denver entrepreneur John Huggins for $1.3 million. Huggins invested at least $2 million to get Deaton’s daughter Charlee and her husband, Nicholas Antonopoulos, who was Deaton’s architectural partner, to complete the house’s interior and build the Deaton-designed addition. The addition, which was built into the side of the mountain, more than doubled the living space to nearly 8,000 square feet without altering the look of the house.
In 2002 Huggins listed the Sculptured House for sale. In 2004 he got it added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2006 he sold it to Denver businessman Michael Dunahay for $3.4 million. Dunahay became the first full-time resident in the house’s history and enjoyed using it to host Sleeper watch parties to raise money for charity. By 2010, however, he could no longer keep up with his loan payments, and the house went into foreclosure.
In November 2010, Denver real-estate investor John Dilday bought the property for $1.5 million at a foreclosure auction. He soon resold it to longtime friends Larry and Toni Winkler, owners of WL Contractors in Arvada. The Winklers planned to renovate the house to make it more energy efficient and redecorate it for use as a primary residence. They planned to put Deaton’s custom-designed furniture in storage for future owners to use.