It was the realization of a childhood dream, says Telluride native Shari Hirsch of her move four years ago into the white clapboard farmhouse on Montrose’s Spring Creek Mesa. In fact, as a child she spotted this exact house while traveling with her grandparents to nearby Shavano Valley, where they often visited family friends.
“I remember the trees, and the house, and the property. I was probably 10 or 12 years old,” says Hirsch, sitting at a long, antique Asian wooden table that fills one side of her comfortable yet eclectic country kitchen, which, along with the rest of the house, is filled with beautifully aged furniture and collectibles acquired during Hirsch’s many years as a designer and antique buyer.
Next to the table, built-in whitewashed cabinets cover the wall; the kitchen work area contains a well-used butcher block island and a traditional wood dish-cupboard. Fiber storage baskets, wooden shelving and a vintage sink blend well with modern, stainless steel appliances. It’s the kind of kitchen where you can imagine preparing a homegrown meal to be savored with friends and family, along with deep, meaningful conversation.
It may have taken Hirsch 20 years to acquire her country home, but it suits her as if she’s lived there for many years. And while touches of her previous mountain lifestyle are evident throughout, what she has created in Montrose is an exquisite pastoral retreat.
An Inspired Journey
Hirsch’s connection to Telluride goes back several generations. Both her parents were born in Telluride, in the former miners’ hospital that now houses the Telluride Historical Museum. Hirsch was the only girl in the family, oldest sibling to brothers Jamey, Joe and Fletcher Schuler. Her dad, “Bucky” Schuler – “because he was born on the first day of deer season,” forcing grandpa “Babe” Schuler to stay home with his wife, Jennie Belle – owned Telluride Transfer, selling coal and hauling goods into Telluride for the miners. The business was housed in the vacant stone warehouse building across the street from Village Market, where Bucky had a garage for repairing vehicles. “It was a very cool building,” says Hirsch. Bucky also picked up mail and stored Jeeps for summer residents.
In the mid-70s, Bucky leased his business and sold his properties to real-estate developer and Telluride Ski Resort founder Joe Zoline. He then went into the hotel business, purchasing ten cinderblock buildings to open the Valley View Motel, which later became Tomboy Inn.
Up to that point, the Schuler family was living in a simple saltbox house next to the Telluride Elementary School on Townsend St. Hirsch was a teenager when they moved into a house attached to the motel – “It was pretty small quarters,” she recalls.
During her childhood, Hirsch fondly remembers the time she spent with her grandmothers, including great-grandmother Cassie Dill, who spent time in Denver working as a seamstress for the governor of Colorado. In Telluride, she had trunks full of fine fabrics, buttons and remnants from her sewing days in Denver. “I had exposure to that when I was really little,” says Hirsch. “I would also visit Jennie Belle, who lived in the Zia Sun building, and she had an entire dresser full of paints and white pillow cases. We would apply embroidery paints to scraps of fabric, and make clothespin dolls.”
Hirsch’s maternal grandparents, Ruth and Louie Grosso, were potato and hay farmers on Hastings Mesa. They started the Sawpit Store – today’s Sawpit Mercantile.
Although Hirsch’s dad was allergic to horses – his mom blamed it on the fact that their home, once a livery, was always full of hay dust and horse hair – Hirsch remembers always having horses as a little girl.
“There were times I’d spend all day on the Valley Floor trying to catch someone’s horse to ride.” Friends who kept their horses there would say, “If you can catch them, you can ride them,” Hirsch recalls, noting that during that time “the Valley Floor was just a huge playground. There were no no-trespassing signs then.”
Hirsch would quietly hide behind a tree, patiently waiting for a horse to get close enough for her to bridle. Then she would find Valley Floor caretaker Alley Oop, and borrow a saddle.
When she was 21 Hirsch got her first horse – “a seasoned Anglo Arab mare” she boarded in Fall Creek. She’s had horses ever since, mostly boarding them in Ridgway or Montrose.
A 1975 graduate of Telluride High School, Hirsch attended Mesa State College in Grand Junction, where she received an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Returning to Telluride, she moved into her parent’s cabin at Trout Lake. She got a job at Whispering Eagle Trading Company, working for Helen Forester of “E-Town” fame. “We sold artifacts from around the world – jewelry, vintage textiles – unusually odd pieces for Telluride,” says Hirsch.
She later worked for local chef Monika Callard, going on to become a private chef for Jerry and Sue Wexler at their second home in the Ski Ranches.
“I always loved to cook. I read cookbooks like a lot of kids read novels. Living in small-town Telluride, it was sort of like the world came to you” through the cookbooks.
Hirsch married Telluride realtor Danny Hirsch in 1987; their son, Connor, was born the next year, followed by daughter Griffin, in 1995. After the marriage broke up in 1998, Hirsch made her way to Ridgway, where she bought an historic 1889 Cape Cod/Colonial style house she had admired for years. With her horses close by, she settled into Ridgway’s slower-pace lifestyle and began her business, Cow Creek Collection.
“I’ve always been a collector,” she says. “I used to rent space at Treasures of Time,” an antique co-op in the Nugget Building. “I had the largest space there,” filling it with items acquired at estate auctions in Durango and the Santa Fe Flea Market. “I liked to shop,” then as now, and “put things together. I had an eye, and a good price point. I’d fill my horse trailer to the brim and just go for it.”
It was at Treasures of Time that Hirsch’s talent was discovered by Paige Smith of the design firm A.J. Smith Collection. “Paige would come in and buy up my whole little vignettes,” says Hirsch. Shortly thereafter she became a buyer for A.J. Smith.
For Hirsch, the ability to find pieces to furnish a client’s home came naturally.
“I think I was just born with it. My mom and dad used to let me paint my room and move the furniture around – which was often. I just always had a real interest in design. I never collected thinking I’d make it a business,” she allows, however. “It just evolved.”
The results of Hirsch’s years of collecting can be seen throughout her Montrose farmhouse.
“I never really bought something that couldn’t live in every room of my house,” she explains. But “my collections have shifted over time. I’m not one of those people who keeps the same thing on the mantle for 30 years.”
Hirsch’s journey toward owning the house of her dreams is an interesting one. While still married, she discovered the house was for sale and convinced her husband to try to buy it. That contract fell through, but an old friend of Hirsch’s did end up buying the house – “that was a bit of a stinger, but I got over it,” she says. That same friend put the house on the market in 2005 – an opportunity that Hirsch could not pass up. She scrambled together whatever she could to buy the house, packed her bags and her horses and made the move to Montrose without once looking back.
“I put it all on the line to be here, because I believe you have to follow your dreams,” she says. “When I was a little girl, I used to always pretend I was a horse, a horse caregiver, defining my property with a toy fence. This property represented that to me. I was always in awe of farmland while growing up in Telluride. Here it was always warmer – green, lush and productive.”
Round Tree Ranch
Hirsch’s house sits on 10.5 acres surrounded by 100-year old Eastern cottonwood trees that tower overhead. “They are all male, so they don’t shed any cotton,” she says.
“I’ve met at least four previous owners,” she continues, but it wasn’t until this summer that she was informed by a neighbor that the property was originally named Round Tree Ranch, and its trees intentionally planted in the shape of the letter R. (A search on Google Earth does indeed reveal a vague R pattern, she says.)
The plain exterior of the house masks the well-preserved historic richness inside. The utilitarian kitchen leads into a more formal dining room, a glass-door cabinet providing a peek at the wonderfully aged wooden table at its center, acquired from the old Telluride Antique Market.
The living room is around the corner, comfortably furnished with leather chairs (Marco the cat comfortably sleeping on a fuzzy throw placed on one). A Mitchell Gold couch faces the fireplace, and thoughtfully selected wooden furniture pieces line the room. Steep, narrow wooden stairs lead to a comfortable seating area (another cat, Bella, has made a nest on the back of a stuffed chair), complete with an antique desk and natural fiber rug; 14-year-old Griffin’s room is small but comfortable and features an impeccably dressed antique iron bed given to her by her grandparents. Another bedroom, for 21-year-old Connor, when he visits from Durango, is furnished with two extra tall twin beds (picked up on a buying trip in Texas) and fine linens. A small bathroom leads into a “secret” room accessed by an undersized door – perfect for sewing, or a young child’s hidden play space.
Back downstairs, there’s a cozily furnished den – the perfect place to sit and read, or take in an old movie. The master bedroom is spacious and well adorned; the fireplace mantle displays Hirsch’s first pair of cowboy boots. The adjoining bath is authentic, yet well-appointed, with a vintage white sink set atop a rustic armoire and a well-preserved clawfoot bathtub surrounded by a plush shower curtain.
Back through the den and into a small laundry room leading back to the kitchen is a small powder room, furnished with an old ironstone bowl made into a sink and a period faucet.
There are wood floors throughout the house, and painted tin lines the living room ceiling. Reminders of the true age of this well-lived-in home are everywhere, from small, significant details like a sandstone windowsill to the two black push buttons on the stair handrail – the original off-on switch to the hanging lamp above.
“It still works,” says Hirsch, flicking on the light.
All-white walls make the space bright and cheery, while providing a perfect backdrop to Hirsch’s sophisticated arrangement of primitive furniture and collectibles. “I had always meant to paint them, because I love working with rich colors, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to it,” says Hirsch.
The home does not feel staged or overly designed, but more like all of the furnishings fell right into place as Hirsch settled into each room.
Back outside, her two dogs bound underfoot as we tour the grounds. A stable houses two horses, next to a five-acre section cordoned off for growing hay. The front yard rolls out like the yard of a manor estate; cottonwood trees define the parameters.
“To me the trees represent calmness and safety,” says Hirsch. “They’ve seen so much. They help ground me.”
There’s a substantial fruit orchard on the property, as well, bringing an annual harvest of peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears, plums, cherries, apples (three kinds), and grapes. This year was an especially good year, Hirsch says, providing her with more fruit than she knew what to do with.
“I asked the universe for abundance, and it came in fruit,” she says with a smile.
Having settled into such an idyllic existence, Hirsch is now pondering her next life change. She recently closed down her business of three years, an antique shop called Clementine on the Boardwalk south of Montrose, where one could find treasures from her years collecting. That behind her, she says, “I would like to get back into the cooking venue” – perhaps something involving sustainable agriculture. That could mean raising chickens or goats, or maybe creating a specialty food item to sell at local markets.
“For now, I’m still sorting through stuff,” says Hirsch.
And still putting up bushels of fruit.
Shari Hirsch gets ready for the holidays.
Molly the dog keeps watch over the house at Round Tree Ranch on Spring Creek mesa.