Missing Middle Housing Projects Sustainability

Missing Middle Implementation: The Selby Live/Work Building in Buena Vista, CO

Siblings Jed Selby and Kate Selby Urban envisioned a more thoughtful way of living when they decided to develop the community of South Main in Buena Vista, CO. They envisioned a town that celebrated and preserved the landscape, a place where you could walk everywhere you needed to go, and meet your neighbors on the way. And looking gleefully at the adjacent Arkansas River, they envisioned kayaking. Lots of kayaking.

It was in his quest to unite these enthusiasms that Jed Selby asked Opticos Design to create a house for him in the new community. Selby and Urban, who had originally hired Opticos to design live/work units for South Main, were attracted by the firm’s green credentials and adherence to the principles of New Urbanism. The resulting design was compact, adaptable, and attractive—and Selby liked it so much, he wanted one for himself. Opticos obliged, designing a striking tailor-made version of the building that was to become a focal point of the growing town.

The Selby residence is a microcosm of South Main’s aims as a whole. It unites traditional design with modern technique, and allows for the kind of personalization that makes a house into a home worth preserving for generations. In Jed Selby’s case, this personalization came in the form of Jim Butler’s beautiful metalwork on the house’s gallery, balcony, door and window headers, and cornice. Designed by Opticos, the wave pattern of the metalwork evokes Selby’s passion for kayaking.

The flexible two-part layout of the building adds to its adaptability and lasting power. The two upper floors form a 1400-square-foot residential unit featuring two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, a living room, a den, and a kitchen. The ground floor consists of a 900-square-foot flex space, which can house a small business, an office, or a studio apartment. The two components have separate entrances, making it possible for the ground floor to be used together with or independently of the upper floors. Currently, the flex space serves as the South Main real estate office, Selby’s workplace and a hub of the growing community.

Architecturally, the house draws upon the area’s Gold Rush history, employing a simple, vertically-oriented form with details including deep-punched windows and a gallery that extends over the sidewalk outside. It’s a thoughtful design which complements its environment—and not only aesthetically. All of the building’s exterior walls are made of ICF (or insulating concrete forms), a material with green credentials to spare: It’s recyclable, extremely durable, and dramatically reduces the need for heating and cooling. The building not only meets Colorado’s statewide Built Green requirements, but substantially exceeds them.

But the greenest thing about the Selby residence may be that it is cared for. Already, the house has become an integral part of South Main both visually and functionally. Opticos’s design blends the personal and the purposeful, the timeless and the timely, to ensure that the house can be appreciated and put to good use not only by its current owner, but by later generations. With an ecological footprint as small as its physical one, the Selby residence demonstrates New Urbanism’s potential for revitalizing the way we think about our homes as well as our towns.


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