For a streamlined design that is the epitome of slick Ikea digs, Bart Laemmel’s home is surprisingly warm with deep grey walls and tall ceilings braced by steel beams. Panels of expressionist art splash the room in syncopated color. It’s not the cliché Colorado rustic that seems to plague the representation of western living, yet the contrast of towering vertical mountains and dramatic skies works exquisitely well framed from his minimalistic windows.
With her legs draped over the arm of the couch, Bart’s daughter, Ruby, is deftly navigating some social task on her iPad before she has to scurry off to bed since the first day of school is in the morning. There’s been much prepping and finally, the lists of school supplies mastered and any possible last-minute disasters averted, Bart relaxes a bit and says with relief, “We did everything today. We packed her bag and she’s got a ton of stuff… binders and pencils and papers and erasers and folders and notebooks…”
The inventory continues. When asked what her favorite school subject is, Ruby doesn’t even miss a beat when she quips, “Lunch.” Her dad will ensure she’s on that 7:40 a.m. bus, lunch in bag and in hand.
Bart was born and raised in Westchester County, N.Y., a stone’s throw from the city by train but still qualifiable country with its lush woodlands. His dad was a Wall Street market analyst, and according to Bart, “Mom was Mom. She was the glue, the enforcer. We were pretty much the Beaver Cleaver family,” Bart, the youngest of four children, laughs.
The Laemmel name is Bavarian. “It actually means, in a loose translation, ‘sheep herder,’ so we were very nomadic in that sense, or least this is what I’ve been told. I had an awesome childhood. We lived in possibly one of the best places to grow up. There was the reservoir and bass fishing,” Bart says but adds with a sly grin, “It was a great place to grow up and a better place to leave.”
After his high school graduation in 1988, Bart headed straight to Western State College (WSC, now WSCU). “From sixth grade on I knew I was going to live in Colorado,” and it wasn’t intuition—it was the visit west to his sister’s graduation from D.U. that made a believer out of him.
“I applied to every college out here, visiting Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley,” he says, making the “icky-face” at the latter and thinking, “Where’s the skiing?” Bart had his priorities and found the perfect combination of education and potential fun in their sojourn to the Gunnison Valley. “We came to WSC and Dad and I both said, ‘Oh Yeah!’ and mom said ‘Oh No.”
Obviously the boys won out and Bart moved to where the shoe fit. “It was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better school for someone like me. I skied four days a week and it was a great school. It felt like it was a bigger version of my high school. The teachers all knew you, they wanted to know you.” He graduated in 1992 with a degree in graphic design, which somehow didn’t play any part whatsoever when he went in with friends and opened the snowboard shop, Colorado Boarder.
“It was the only one, and one of the few, snowboard shops anywhere because the sport had just started. It was the equivalent of my grad school. I didn’t get paid a whole lot but I had a blast hanging out with my friends and I learned a ton about business and life.” With no sales in the summer months, Bart worked construction and raft guiding. “Raft guiding was the best job ever. I learned to kayak in ‘90 and then that’s all I did.” He spent his summer days on the river working and playing. “We liked it when it snowed but all we were really worried about was more water,” he says of his obsession.
Bart sold his partnership in the store in 1997. “Once I sold the shop, I moved to Pompano Beach, Florida.” Snowboarder boy morphed into surfer boy. “I had surfer friends down there so I learned how to surf and learned all about boats,” he says of working on the Intracoastal Waterway at a boat rental and fuel dock.
However, the snowbird was not all that keen on hot humid weather and he confesses, “I lasted six months. Once it started getting really hot in May, I was out. In a perfect world for me, I would be leaving here [Crested Butte] at the end of October and then come back the end of May. I don’t mind winter, I just don’t like it during spring,” he chuckles. “Most people say if you live long enough you get used to it but I think you just get over it.”
Back in the Butte Bart happily worked construction that summer in North Pole Basin, and he delights, “I was basically living up there. It was a heck of a lot of fun. We did the whole thing [construction job] with a chainsaw and two skill saws!”
In the summer of 1998 he met Jen Nolan and the two decided to explore other areas of Colorado together. “When I told my friend I was moving to Fort Collins for the winter he said, ‘Who is she?’” Bart states the obvious about why anyone would ever leave the Crested Butte area. While Jen was finishing her master’s degree in nutrition, Bart dove deeper into every facet of construction. “It was the technology boom and everything was going stupid crazy with the dotcom stuff and the construction went crazy,” he says, adding that he feels construction is an extension of art.
“After Jen finished school we moved to Denver. It was so cool, everything was up and coming,” he says.
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“I was the superintendent for Richmond American Homes and I built 90 houses in nine months… I’m not saying we built them right. I knew we were screwing things up at an alarming rate and I was asked to take over the project of a huge subdivision. I was like… NO. I’m 28 years old and I can’t be the boss of people who have been there for five or six years when I had only been there for nine months,” he remembers.
But logic ruled and Bart laughs that it was, by far, “The easiest job I’ve ever done. They have a full system and all you have to do is follow that system. But, there was no attention to proper building detail. I learned exactly how build in a systematic way, how to plan a job from top to bottom, start to finish and I decided to go out on my own.”
Bulldog Remodeling entered into the Denver scene and there was plenty of work right in their own neighborhood of Northwest Denver. “It was an old neighborhood and I rarely commuted because there was a lot of work in the neighborhood.” Bart remembers that it was a great education in old buildings and it launched him into his admiration and quest for building greener, more efficient structures. It was one of his busiest years ever and he recalls that in 2001/02, Jen and he started two businesses (a construction company and a retail store) and they bought their store property, put an addition on their Denver house, had their daughter, Ruby, and got Albert the pooch all in a 12-month period. “It was busy,” he understates but reasons, “We were young. That’s what you do at that age, you have unbound energy.”
He was certified in the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) and LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design.) “It was all about durability, occupant safety and energy. To build Energy Star homes you needed somebody to certify the home, and that would be a RESNET person. I got qualified to be the inspector in 2004. What it did was open up a world of immense knowledge in the building industry that at this point, ten years later in my lifetime, I will be able to comprehend a quarter of the knowledge out there when it comes to building science.”
Motivated by parenthood and wanting the Crested Butte kind of community to raise their daughter in, they returned in early 2005. Bart started teaching building science courses in special seminars and he began doing energy audits for the Office of Resource Efficiency (ORE). “I took over for Fritz and quickly learned that I knew absolutely nothing about doing energy audits,” he laughs. “It’s one thing to get trained in it and quite another to do it.”
By 2008, the bottom had fallen out of the market and Bart decided that commuting to Denver for work was more desirable than moving. “I had a lot of clients who really loved their old houses and wanted to stay in them and remodel. That’s what kept things going. In 2010 I was offered the job with ORE to run their Energy Smart program.”
Now he’s executive director at ORE, once again honing his skills and knowledge in sustainability, “Working for ORE is right up my alley as far as the mission goes.”
In whatever free time he has, he paints or goes biking, skiing, surfing, building furniture and playing music. “I started drumming in high school and played in several local bands [Daddy Likes Men, Uncle Daddy and the Mex Pistols]. I still play drums but being in the band is like the biggest dysfunctional family ever,” he laughs, but admits that when it does click, it’s phenomenal.
Very amicably divorced now, Bart emphasizes that he and Jen are definitely a team for their pre-teen daughter. “Ruby and I try to paint as much as possible together. We built a coffee table today…she did a lot of sanding. Some day I’d love to do artistic stuff from furniture to art paintings.”
“He’s also a very good dancer.” Ruby chirps in.
“I do yoga every morning at home. I’m really not a religious person at all. I believe we’re just balls of energy and energy itself can’t be created or destroyed, just transformed, so we’re just constantly in a state of transformation, everything,” Bart says.
But the energy that keeps him here in the valley is the people. “It’s the whole community. It’s hard to replace. There are a lot better places you can go to make more money but there’s a simplicity to this place that you can’t buy.”