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Take a peek inside the Shea Design Studio

by | March 23rd, 2015

When it comes to making a house feel like a home, it’s all in the details. The little touches that express your unique individuality can make two homes with the same floor plan feel wonderfully, beautifully different.

In Shea communities, you can enjoy a dinner party at any neighbor’s home without that awkward sense of déjà vu, thanks partly to the unusually large amount of choices available in the Design Studio. Located in Highlands Ranch (and with a smaller studio in Erie), the Shea Design Studio is where buyers meet with designers to create their home’s unique style.

Shea’s studio is more comprehensive than many other builders’, notes Senior Interior Designer Melanie Best. For instance, other builders might offer just one national brand of tile, granite, and natural stone. But Shea offers selections from Dal, Arizona, Emzer, Capco, and Glenrock.

A sample of many available choices at the Shea Design Studio

A sample of many available choices at the Shea Design Studio

“We like to give our clients lots of choices,” Melanie says. And that’s what she and Shea’s other six highly experienced and educated designers love about their work. “With so many kinds of materials, we can get very creative.”

Which leads to this question: Can the design process feel a little overwhelming? “Even if it doesn’t start out fun, it ends up fun,” Melanie laughs. “We really try to minimize that overwhelmed feeling. We all have design backgrounds, so people don’t have to go through every single tile—unless they want to. Once we nail down the buyer’s style, we can just bring out things we think they will like.”

Figuring out your style is just part of the process, which breaks down like this:

Preview Meeting
Before you sign a contract, you can catch a one-hour group meeting at the Design Studio to see what selections come standard and what upgrades you might decide to include. A designer will answer questions and give you a tour of each section of the studio, including four completely decorated kitchens; tile and carpet; wood for flooring and trim; natural stone; cabinetry; and a granite room.

First Meeting
This two-hour meeting will be one-on-one with your designer. First up: getting clear on your tastes. Through a series of questions and looking at samples together, you’ll clarify your style. (Feel free to bring ideas, though. See the tips below.) You’ll start with cabinetry to set the tone of the house, then move onto kitchen and floor choices. A spreadsheet of your picks will help you keep track of your budget.

Second Meeting
At this two-hour meeting with your designer, you’ll move on to choices for your master bathroom, laundry room, and secondary bathrooms. Samples are portable, so each time you meet, you’ll see all your choices assembled on one of the kitchen islands like an inspiration board. This way, you can make sure you’re still loving everything you’ve chosen and see how it’s working together.

An interior designer and a new homeowner choose samples

An interior designer and a new homeowner choose samples

Subsequent Meetings
While some owners will complete the process in one or two sessions, others may take five to seven. No pressure—the pace is really up to you.

Once you’re comfortable with the plan, you’ll sign off on final selections. But do consider the Design Studio as a lasting resource. Long after closing, many homeowners email the staff for design insights—which Shea designers don’t mind at all—and provide feedback about how much they love their new homes.

“When it’s a year later and we hear how happy people are in their home, with the design and function of it, that’s a great feeling,” says Melanie. “It’s where you come home every day, so it’s important to have everything just the way you like it.”

Melanie’s tips for prospective buyers:
While Shea’s staff of designers is experienced enough to sleuth out anyone’s style, you can speed up the process by doing a little homework before your first Design Studio appointment. Spend some time on design websites like where, perusing their 5+ million photos, you can create idea folders of your own. Buy some home decorating magazines and dog-ear your favorite photos of kitchens and master baths. Just defining those two areas can help drive the design of the entire house. And finally, watch some HGTV. Melanie says just spending an hour a day thinking about design can make a huge difference in choosing something you’ll love for the long run.

A professionally designed kitchen showcases many available options

A professionally designed kitchen showcases many available options

Save the date—July 19th—for the Shea Design Studio annual fundraiser for the Inner Circle Foundation, which supports those diagnosed with rare-aggressive cancers and their caregivers. This silent auction offers hourly giveaways and the chance to take home items like tile, area rugs, signed footballs, spa gift certificates, and more.

BackCountry’s Luck of the Irish Event

by | March 20th, 2015

The Luck of the Irish rubbed off onto the children of BackCountry during the Kids St. Patrick’s Day Event.

On everyone’s honor roll: ThunderRidge High School

by | March 16th, 2015

Ask your Realtor, your neighbors, your hairdresser about ThunderRidge High School and more than likely, you’ll get a very enthusiastic thumbs up. But the stellar reputation of BackCountry’s nearest high school actually extends to the national scene. The school appears regularly on the Newsweek annual list of America’s Best High Schools, and in The Washington Post’s list of the Most Challenging High Schools in America. That storied track record adds to the list of smart reasons to live in BackCountry—whether for your own children or the lasting value associated with top-rate neighborhood schools.

Just a six-minute drive away, ThunderRidge High School serves 9th-12th grades. And serves them well, maintaining a 94% graduation rate and a 91% pass rate for International Baccalaureate exams. Yes, besides offering a robust education to the general student, including plenty of Advanced Placement classes, the school also offers the rigorous IB program. Like AP classwork, IB classwork can earn your student hours of college credit, along with solid college prep and a larger worldview of education.

Photo courtesy of ThunderRidge High School Facebook page

Photo courtesy of ThunderRidge High School Facebook page

Need even more convincing? ACT scores average 23.0, while Douglas County earns 21.8 and the US averages 20.7. In 2011, 30 ThunderRidge kids earned perfect ACT scores!

It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg relationship, but, not surprisingly, this kind of school retains top teachers. About 70% have earned their master’s or doctorate degree, and 83% of them step outside the classroom to help with extracurricular and leadership activities. For example, librarian Paula Busey brought a Maasai warrior she met on safari in Tanzania to ThunderRidge to broaden the minds of her students. Read about it in this National Geographic article.

As Busey demonstrated to her students, there’s more to life than studying and Snapchat. At ThunderRidge, students get involved. Last year, 386 students devoted more than 20,000 hours to community service. And then there are the 45 clubs and activities and 29 athletic pursuits to choose from. The arts makes a strong showing too, with theater, band, orchestra, fine art (that seems to win lots of awards), and more.

Image courtesy of ThunderRidge High School Facebook page

Beyond the physical beauty of BackCountry, isn’t it a comfort to know that our nearest schools are good ones, meaning your kids can grow up with their neighborhood pals from preschool through senior year?

Curious about the elementary and middle schools? Read past blogs posts about them here and here.

Seven years. No itch.

by | March 9th, 2015

It’s been seven years since Roxie Mountain-Weed and Rick Weed moved into what was then a brand new community named BackCountry. And back then, in the days before the Sundial House, Discovery Center, or even a single model home, when all there was to see was a trailer and some drawings, this was a leap of faith.

But when they saw the views of the Front Range and downtown Denver and understood the vision for the community, they both instantly agreed: “This is it,” Roxie recalls saying. “It was kind of wild. But because of Rick’s work in land development, we knew Shea’s reputation. We wanted a Shea home, and we loved all the open space that was going to be attached to the community.”

new homes oudoor space colorado

Over the years, Rick, Roxie, and their three children (now in college) have logged quite a few miles on those trails in the 8,200-acre Backcountry Wilderness Area. Still do. One of Roxie’s favorite activities is taking a walk at sunset with her walking stick, “Moab,” and watching the deer and other wildlife come out. Other tried-and-true favorites include concerts and movie nights.

“There’s something wonderful about lying on the grass, under the stars, and watching a fun movie with all the little kids running around. And now you can run into Indulge [at the Sundial House] and grab something to drink. It’s just so cool here. Sometimes I just think…‘pinch me’!”

Seven years later, Roxie still speaks enthusiastically about their decision, noting how well the community has evolved. “We’ve lived here long enough to know that Shea keeps its promises and does everything well. The Sundial House turned out so beautiful and high-end, so far beyond our expectations. And I can’t say enough about the landscaping.” Their home still makes them happy, too. It feels a little big with the kids gone, but Roxie says she can’t see herself moving. “Actually, I should probably get out more, but I just love to be home!” The indoor-outdoor living features are among her favorites, with a wrap-around deck that can handle a party of 50, plus French doors off the morning room that create a huge extension of the house. Perfect for the Colorado lifestyle.

So, no, they don’t plan on leaving BackCountry any time soon. “I am so happy that I live here,” says Roxie. “Even after all this time, I still feel like I’m on vacation. It’s like I have a mountain home, but in the city. I just can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Here’s a video of Roxie and Rick sharing their thoughts on BackCountry back in 2012.

Foodies, this month’s for you.

by | March 5th, 2015

If there’s one thing everyone can rally around, it’s a good meal. Sure, preferences will vary, but that’s the beauty of this month’s bounty of culinary events, ranging from swanky Broadmoor cuisine to St. Patty’s Day comfort food. Bon appétit, BackCountry!

Broadmoor Taste & Savor
-March 5-8
What better place to sample ambrosial delights than The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs’ iconic, five-star resort, framed by the majestic Rockies? At this inaugural Taste & Savor epicurean weekend, you’ll rub elbows with acclaimed chefs and beverage experts from around the country, savor gourmet dishes, world-class wine and craft cocktails, and attend seminars and panel discussions. Two- and three-night packages include events, a gala, and brunch starting at $750 per person. Learn more.

Cooking Class with Chef Leah
-March 10, 6-8pm
Not long ago, local Philippines-born Chef Leah Eveleigh sliced and diced the competition on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen. Now this winning chef will be on your team, teaching you to make this Taste of Asia menu: miso soup, shrimp and vegetable tempura, Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, and sticky rice with mango. Best of all, you’ll sit down together and enjoy the delicious fruits of your labors. Feel free to bring your own bottle of wine. $50 per person at the BackCountry Sundial House, 6 – 8pm, Residents only; minimum of 12, maximum of 16. RSVP by March 9 through ActiveNet or at the Sundial House.

Adult St. Patrick’s Day Event
-March 13, 7-10pm
Lucky you, there’s a fun St. Patty’s Day party right in your neighborhood at the Sundial House. Join the gang for Irish-inspired food, drink, and toe-tapping music from Ruby Rakes. Don’t forget to wear green for a session in the photobooth! Menu includes mixed field greens with fresh vegetables and balsamic vinaigrette; chicken breast in Jameson Irish whisky cream sauce; colcannon potatoes; Irish heritage cabbage with Irish bacon, nutmeg, and red wine vinegar; and dinner rolls. $15 per person before March 1. After March 1, $17. RSVP through ActiveNet or at the Sundial House.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade
-Mar. 14, 9:30am
This year’s theme, “Emerald Mile,” captures the close ties Colorado maintains with its Irish heritage. After all, Denver’s parade is the largest this side of the Mississippi, attracting more than 350,000 cheering wearers o’ the green. Enjoy the floats, bagpipers, marching bands, dancers, horses and stagecoaches, and more Irish-themed fun with Western flair. Learn more.

Annual Easter Egg Hunt
-March 28, 10am
Sweet surprises lay hidden for this year’s roving band of Easter egg gatherers, but no hunting is required for the doughnuts and other refreshments kindly provided by Royal Crest Dairy. Beyond enjoying all the tasty treats, children can hobnob with the Easter Bunny and Little Bo Peep, and ooh and ahh over a petting zoo full of furry animals such as rabbits, chickens, sheep, goats, donkeys, and a miniature horse. To keep things fun and fair, The Easter Egg Hunt will be broken into three age groups: 3 and under, 4-6, and 7 and up. Children MUST bring their own baskets to collect eggs. RSVP through ActiveNet no later than March 21.

The Quintessential Coloradan’s Bucket List

by | February 23rd, 2015

Our thriving economy is one logical explanation of why people keep moving to Colorado. But really, how many people do we know who came here on vacation… to college… to visit friends and family… and got hopelessly hooked on the state? It’s the natural beauty—and the endlessly fun, associated activities—that just keeps ‘em coming, year after year.

So as a welcome to all the newbies and a refresher course for you natives and long-timers, here’s a selection of “must-do” Colorado activities that capture the flavor of our state across the seasons. If you’ve already checked these ideas off your list, explore a more fine-grained rundown of ideas published in last month’s article in 5280 magazine. And be sure to share your bucket list with us on our Facebook page.

Ski at Telluride

Ranked the best overall ski resort in the US by, Telluride Ski Resort Colorado Telluride offers stellar skiing and snowboarding far from the maddening weekend pilgrimage on I-70. That’s the beauty and curse of Telluride, of course, as its southwest Colorado location makes it a bit of a hike from metro Denver. But the rewards, beyond the powder, are a unique town with an extra-laidback vibe, colorful mining history, and its awe-inspiring canyon setting with steep mountain vistas. Learn more.

Bike on Independence Pass
Jaw-dropping gorgeous and a wee bit harrowing, thanks to narrow lanes, hairpin turns and dramatic drop-offs, traversing Independence Pass is truly a Colorado rite of passage. Driving the road is a badge of honor all by itself, but biking can take your Colorado cred to a whole new level. Start at Aspen and end at Twin Lakes, and in between, log 37.6 miles and gain 4,187 feet—while taking in magnificent, jagged vistas thick with aspen and evergreen. Open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, due to high altitude and winter road conditions. Check for road closures here.

Soak at Strawberry Springs

This destination is the perfect complement to your ski trip or summer vacation in Steamboat Springs, another must-see destination. Just outside of town, these hot springs clock in at about 104 degrees—a perfect contrast with the literally adjacent, frigid river. (One favorite diversion is to dip, courageously, from one to the other.) These mineral pools are of the more naturalistic type, with rocky, tree-filled surroundings, but there are private massage huts if you want to glam up the experience. Be warned: come evening, clothing is optional. Learn more.

Ogle at Bridal Veil Falls
Let’s say you went skiing at Telluride and fell in love with that charming town. Be sure to go back in summer and explore its many warm-weather pleasures, including Bridal Veil Falls. With a 365-foot drop, these are the tallest free-falling falls in Colorado. It’s a 4.2 mile trek to the top of the falls with a gain of 1,650 feet, so let that inform your decision whether to hike, bike, or four-wheel drive up the road. Learn more.

Quiver on the Manitou Incline

Rare is the hiker whose thighs will not jellify on this incline, the former site of a cable car ride. After a rockslide in 1990, the Manitou Incline was closed and locals started (illegally) hiking up the remaining ties for a lung-searing workout. The incline was officially opened to the public in 2013 and is a popular, challenging hike of 2,741 steps—a one-mile ascent with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet. Good luck! Learn more.

Learn at Mesa Verde
While Mesa Verde National Park is open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, warmer months are a better bet for fully enjoying this national treasure. This park was once the home of ancestral Pueblo people from 600-1300 A.D. who lived both on the mesa tops and in dwellings carved into the rock below. These cliff dwellings are some of the country’s best-preserved. While you’re there, you can explore a variety of cliff dwellings and learn about the Puebloans’ way of life from well-informed park rangers. Nearby camping is also available. Learn more.

Time Travel on the Georgetown Loop

This one’s an idyllic way to spend an afternoon with everyone from kids to grandparents. Nose around Georgetown, with its charming historic buildings, and then hop a classic train on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, built in 1884. This three-mile, 1-1/2 hour loop takes you through the mountainous terrain between Georgetown and Silver Plume, another quaint mining town. Options include mine tours, dinner, wine and hors d’oeuvres, and “ales on rails.” Learn more.

Ghosts? Maybe. Energy? Definitely, at the Highlands Ranch Mansion.

by | February 20th, 2015

Feel like dancing? Then boogie on down at our town’s historic, 1891 mansion on Feb. 26 for a Mansion Dancin’ Night. And be sure to keep your eyes on the mansion’s calendar year-round for events like Mother’s Day Brunches and Moonlight Movies. You can always find something going on, from free bi-weekly tours to grand weddings and holiday, graduation, birthday, and retirement parties. And maybe, just maybe, even a little spectral activity, too.

So how did Highlands Ranch come to have this 22,000-square-foot attraction? For nearly a century, the historic Mansion was home to some of Denver’s more notable families: Long, Springer, Hughes, Phillips, Kistler, and Phipps—cattle barons, oil tycoons, socialites, and other political and business bigwigs. During the Phillips years, the estate became the Phillips Highland Ranch, named for the Highland Hereford cattle raised there. And this name would later extend to the entire Highlands Ranch community, which came into being in the late 1970s under the ownership of Mission Viejo Corporation, later bought by Shea Homes. In 2010, Shea gave the mansion to the Highlands Ranch Metro District, along with $6 million for renovation and a $4 million endowment for future needs and programming.

Susie Appleby, a Highlands Ranch historian (and now on the Shea team) who is writing a book about the mansion, has been a docent there for 19 years.

“Shea is a hero to me,” she says. “Before the renovation, touring the mansion made me sad. Walls were falling in. Parts of it had to be closed and locked off for safety.” Now the mansion is a beautiful community centerpiece that residents can enjoy without paying a penny of taxation for its upkeep.

With its 121-year history, the mansion inevitably comes along with a ghost story or two. In the 1970s, estate landscapers were said to have seen a little girl in a white dress walking the upstairs hallway and looking outside the west bedroom. The story went that it was Julia, daughter of Frank Kistler, neglected after her father remarried and adopted two stepsons. Julia would wistfully watch him ride off from her bedroom window. Another theory is that the specter might be a child of a servant, or a little girl who did actually die in the house while her family visited.

More recently, a docent was standing by herself in the solarium and was hit by a strong smell of perfume. Several paranormal groups have visited, recording voices and a random door banging in the night. That said, in all her years wandering alone through the mansion, Susie hasn’t seen anything spooky herself.

“I’m a buzzkill,” she laughs. “I’ve been looking, but I’ve never had anything happen to me.”

Spirits or not, the Highlands Ranch Mansion is arguably the soul of the Highlands Ranch community—beautiful, historic, and full of life. If you’d like to take a tour (and keep an eye out for things supernatural), the Mansion is open to the public every Tuesday and Thursday from 9am-2pm.

Image courtesy Highlands Ranch Mansion Facebook page.

Image courtesy Highlands Ranch Mansion Facebook page.

BackCountry Featured Home – Paragon Homes

by | February 18th, 2015

Paragon Homes
Sanctuary Collection
Priced from $1 millions
Contact: 303-945-3567

Paragon Homes offers five semi-custom floor plans at BackCountry, including this popular ranch-style home. With only four lots remaining, all with mountain and lake vistas, these homesites won’t last long. View floor plans and home tours at

View the BackCountry Featured Home

*Price, specifications and availability are subject to change without notice. Square footage is approximate. Actual homes as constructed may not contain the features and layouts depicted and may vary from photo.

They came back to the Ranch.

by | February 11th, 2015

But this time, to BackCountry.

When Sadrian and David Alderson found out they were moving back from Arkansas to Colorado, choosing Highlands Ranch was a no-brainer.

“There was no question,” recalls Sadrian. “I love Highlands Ranch. The four state-of-the-art rec centers, activities, safety, and the strong community feel make it a wonderful place to raise kids.”

And Sadrian’s hardly a newbie at evaluating communities. Although they are a young family, the Aldersons have lived in Louisiana, Illinois, Arkansas, and now twice in Highlands Ranch. But this time around, they discovered BackCountry and instantly fell in love with it. “Lured in,” Sadrian says, by the 8,200 acres of protected open space behind the community.

“We love to hike and mountain bike with the kids,” who are ages 6 and 1, explains Sadrian. “With small children it can be hard to drive the two hours into the mountains, but here we can just walk to a trailhead and hike as much as the kids can handle.”

The Alderson family exploring their home during construction.

The Alderson family exploring their home during construction.

After moving into their new home in August, Sadrian found even more confirmation of the smart decision they made. They love Stone Mountain Elementary, where their older daughter attends, citing its excellent instruction, administration, active parent support, and enriching curriculum.

“While other schools are cutting back, ours gets lots of support from BackCountry,” says Sadrian. “So they can provide lower student-teacher ratios and extras like choir, band, a STEM lab, and Creativity and Tinker Labs, which my daughter loves.”

Sadrian finds her connections growing, meeting other families at school, in the neighborhood, and at the Sundial House. “The Halloween party was fabulous,” she says. “We’ve also gone to the Sundial House for drinks. It makes a lovely date night to sit outside next to the roaring fire pit, looking out at the Backcountry.” Even closer to home are her neighbors, some of whom she describes as “almost instant best friends.” Out of every family on her block, only one came from in-state; the others moved here from Georgia, Texas, California, and Montreal, Canada. “It’s very friendly here,” she reveals. “Everyone’s excited to live in Colorado. It’s nice to have a team of people who are all discovering the area together.”

The Alderson children pose in their new home at Christmas.

The Alderson children pose in their new home at Christmas.

But a simple day at home can be very sweet, too. The Aldersons live in the Somerset model from the Shadow Walk Collection, chosen for its open flow. Upstairs, the bedrooms open up to a loft, so there’s no place in the house where the girls are out of earshot. That’s important when you have little ones, and to keep everyone connected as the kids grow older.

The Aldersons are pleased with the quality of their home. While it can be daunting to buy a brand new home, she points out, “We’ve been so happy with Shea. They don’t skimp on quality.” In fact, Sadrian says that they hired a certified electrician to come double-check the work. She notes, “He said the work was flawless, couldn’t be better. We feel that Shea’s quality of construction is outstanding.”

That’s a good feeling, once you’ve put down roots and plan to stay a while. And with so much of Colorado to explore—starting with the wilderness just beyond BackCountry—the Aldersons plan on doing just that.

So much to love in February.

by | February 3rd, 2015

There’s a lot more to February than Valentine’s Day. And we’re not just talking about Groundhog Day. Thankfully, we found plenty of delightful diversions to get you through this hunkered-down, not-yet-spring stretch, especially if you live in BackCountry. Here are our sweetest suggestions for all: singles, couples, families.

Highlands Ranch Mansion Valentines Day
Father & Daughter Sweetheart Ball
-Feb. 6, 6:30-8:30pm; Feb. 7, 1:30-3:30 p.m. and 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Daddies, you may think this ball is all for your girl, but you’ll actually be making some of your favorite, heart-tugging memories. (Sadly, dancing with Dad seems to lose its luster during the teen years.) Choose from two nights of dancing and dining at the elegant Highlands Ranch Mansion, where each girl will receive a corsage, a father-daughter photo, refreshments and a special gift. $25 per person; $33 per person at the door, if not sold out. Learn more about 2/6.
Learn more about 2/7.

BackCountry Sundae Lovin Party
Sundae Lovin’ Ice Cream Bar
-Feb. 9
Hey BackCountry tweens, this one’s for you—and your sweet tooth. Head over to the Sundial House and concoct your tastiest-ever ice cream sundae. We’ll provide the goodies; you provide the creativity. Kids ages 9-13 are welcome from 5:15-6:15pm. Open to the first 40 kids. In order to have enough ice cream, residents please register at by Friday, February 6.

Denver Restaurant Week 2015
Denver Restaurant Week
-Feb. 20-March 1
Why fight the perennial Valentine’s Day crowd? If you just wait a week, you’ll have a whole city of restaurants to explore for the tasty price of $30 per person. Make your reservations now for the 11th annual Denver Restaurant Week, when local (and traveling) foodies enjoy multi-course dinners at a pain-free price. It’s a fabulous way to explore some of Denver’s top restaurants or revisit your favorites. Hundreds of restaurants participate each year. Learn more.

Highlands Ranch Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year
-Feb. 21, 12pm-5pm
Happy New Year—again! This celebration may be even more memorable, thanks to dazzling stage performances that include lion dances, folk dances, traditional music, martial arts, and a children’s chorus. An all-afternoon cultural fair will showcase traditional Chinese folk art displays, costumes, crafts, calligraphy and brush paintings, shops and refreshments including dumplings, noodles, and more. Cultural fair 12-5pm and stage performances 1-2pm and 4-5pm. Tickets $7 in advance and $10 day of event, if not sold out. Children ages 0-2 are free on parent’s lap. Held at the Recreation Center at Southridge, Debus Wildcat Mountain Auditorium (map) Learn more.

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