Kristian and Jaenette Coyne are self-described Parade of Homes buffs.
The Black Forest couple travels to Summit County and Denver to get their fix. This August, they’ll need only roll out of bed to begin touring one of this year’s Housing and Building Association’s annual parade homes.
“I never thought we would be rebuilding a house, let alone building a house to showcase in the parade,” Kristian Coyne said.
This time last year, the Coynes were navigating the world of homeowners insurance and transitioning into a new apartment just weeks after losing their home at the start of the Black Forest fire.
“We were, I think, the fourth house to burn down,” Coyne said. “I had gotten a call from my wife, who had just gotten home from a video conference. The fire started on her birthday. Any other day, she would have been at work in her home office, engrossed in her monitor and wouldn’t have been paying attention.”
Jaenette Coyne called her husband, who was in Colorado Springs, and told him she could see and smell smoke.
“I raced home at 80 miles an hour,” he said. “We grabbed some pictures, the baby book, our home computer and a few other things. Then we put out a bowl of food for the cats.”
The Coynes ran to their neighbors’ homes to be sure everyone was out and then drove to the Black Forest Fire Department where, via a projector and an online feed from a local news station, the Coynes watched their house burn.
“We were one gust of wind away from making it,” Coyne said. “We were hopeful. The wind was blowing south to north and the fire had gone up the valley behind our house and we thought we had a fighting chance. When it went up, it was devastating. But knowing it was gone right away gave us closure.”
Third time’s a charm
The Coynes purchased the home off Peregrine Way in 2009. It had been built in 1968 and had one owner, who died in 2007.
According to Coyne, the owner’s son went to a real estate agent who said no one would consider buying the home because of its condition. The owner gutted it, installed new bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets, new carpet and painted everything before the Coynes put in a bid.
“It had a dirt driveway with steep ruts,” Coyne said. “It was tough to navigate in the rain. There wasn’t any outdoor space. The first thing we did was put in a patio and repaved the driveway. We worked with [builder Andy Stauffer of Stauffer & Sons Construction] and had a master suite put on. Then we added another level and that got us a view of Pikes Peak. We finally had enough space to start a family.”
In November 2012, Coyne said, they completely redid the kitchen.
“It was our dream kitchen,” he said. “We got to enjoy it for six months.”
Coyne said, after two overhauls, the fire presented them with an opportunity to build a home in which they would grow old together.
A fresh start
Stauffer knows firsthand what it’s like to pull out of his garage, not knowing if it will be there the next day.
The owner of Stauffer & Sons Construction lives in Black Forest and was evacuated last year. He spent much of the summer of 2012 helping rebuild the Mountain Shadows community following the Waldo Canyon fire. Stauffer said his company has rebuilt 11 homes in Mountain Shadows and completed one in Black Forest to date. Four others in the forest are under construction.
“We did a lot of rebuilds [in Mountain Shadows] and took what we learned when, unfortunately, we were called upon to shift gears to handle the aftermath of the Black Forest fire,” Stauffer said.
Stauffer & Sons Construction is a residential single-family homebuilder and, according to Stauffer, over the past two summers, has acquired the unofficial title of fire-rebuild specialists.
“We’re keenly specialized in the insurance component now,” Stauffer said. “We help clients navigate that process. We have a leg up to talk shop and understand the rebuilding and claims process.”
Stauffer’s run his business for 15 years, 11 of which while living in Black Forest. The fire stopped a half-mile from his home.
Because his home was spared, he says it has put him in a “more focused position” to help his neighbors, rather than on rebuilding his own life.
Along with architect Larry Gilland of LGA Studios, the Coynes and Stauffer sat down to begin to brainstorm what the Coynes’ new home would look like.
“My wife and I are fans of prairie architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright,” Coyne said. “We wanted something to represent the arts and crafts movement, but also wanted something modern and updated.
“Larry came up with the basics of what things inside would look like,” he said. “We played around with every aspect of what we wanted inside and out and how to best use that space. We went through lots of white-out and beer.”
Stauffer said features intended for the long-term played a prominent role in the rebuild strategy.
“They want to grow old and gray on the property on which they live,” Stauffer said. That meant rebuilding with a $35,000 six-ton geothermal unit that, in 10-15 years, will provide a return on investment.
“From the time they’re 50 until their 80s or 90s, they’ll enjoy the benefit of that investment,” Stauffer said.
“The geothermal unit is huge for us,” Coyne said. “It’s something that always interested me, but it’s not feasible to retrofit one in an existing house.”
In addition, the Coynes are adding an unfinished basement where only a crawl space existed before, and they’re going from a two-car to a three-car garage.
They are rebuilding their dream kitchen for a second time, but with custom cabinets and the kitchen nook will feature wood scarred by the fire.
Can’t see the forest …
According to Stauffer, if one hadn’t known about the Waldo Canyon fire and its impact on the Mountain Shadows community, it would be hard to discern the difference between the neighborhood now and what it looked like before the summer of 2012. He said that is not the case with Black Forest.
“There’s a sense of rebirth and the new opportunities are palpable.”
– Andy Stauffer
Today, areas once peppered with trees and vegetation have been clear-cut, leaving vast meadows.
He said the new landscape is easier to digest for those moving to the forest for the first time, compared to those who are faced with the decision to rebuild.
“We’re starting to see heavy growth and seedlings,” Stauffer said. “It’s nice for folks considering living here to see green shoots of grass. There’s a sense of rebirth and the new opportunities are palpable.”
The Coynes said walking away never crossed their minds.
“We really love where we live,” Kristian Coyne said. “Black Forest in general is a great community. And we didn’t lose all of our trees. We had some left and that was another thing that reinforced our decision. It’s still beautiful here. We intend to live out our days here.”
Rest another day
“This is the busiest we’ve been in a decade,” Stauffer said. “Smart subcontractors and tradespeople have hired new people. The economy had a lot of subcontractors in incubation mode. A lot of businesses scaled down to just the boss and a few key guys. Now there are new faces on every job site.”
Stauffer said one unintended benefit of the Black Forest fire is that many of those working in the community also live there.
“There are young people who’ve grown up in Black Forest who are getting into the construction trade,” he said. “Workers are tight. Gone are the days when you could call a subcontractor and say ‘I have work, can you start next week?’ I have to be sensitive in scheduling workloads. The important thing is developing relationships over the years. My loyal subcontractors are coming through.”
Stauffer said he expects the current pace to continue for at least the next year.
“It gives us reason to hope the building economy, totally aside from the fire rebuilds, is coming along nicely. Banks are lending. Builders are building spec homes. That was unheard of three years ago. The lion’s share [of construction is] fire rebuilds, but if you take that away, contractors will still be busy.” nCSBJ