From treehouses to spaces for entertainment, Summit County locals build their dream homes |

From treehouses to spaces for entertainment, Summit County locals build their dream homes

Ernie Schindler styled his home, located just outside of Blue River, after an "enchanted tree house."
Photo from Ernie Schindler

BRECKENRIDGE — Since he was a kid, Ernie Schindler dreamed of building a treehouse. In June, he was able to make that dream a reality.

“It was always my childhood dream to build a treehouse in New Zealand,” Schindler said. “So I got 50% of it. I got the treehouse. It’s not New Zealand, but it’s in Breckenridge, which some people might say, ‘Oh, we like that even better.’”

Schindler spent 4 1/2 years designing and building the house, which he plans to use as a second home and short-term rental. What started as more of a traditional treehouse morphed into an “enchanted” home with spiraling staircases, twisted branches and a view of Quandary Peak. 

“As I sat down with the architect, and we started developing and developing and developing, it just started morphing into this enchanted-looking house, which it really is enchanted,” Schindler said. 

Schindler isn’t the only person to build their own home in Summit County. When Betsy Repaske and her husband Tim Lacy decided to move from Wisconsin to Summit County, they knew they wanted to build rather than buy. 

While Schindler’s home was a way for him to turn a childhood dream into a reality, Repaske and Lacy were able to use their expertise in the design and construction industries to create their own custom dream home, which they plan to complete by February. 

Unlike Schindler, who used a contractor to help him build his home, Repaske and Lacy are embarking on the project themselves, with the help of subcontractors. Lacy’s family has been building homes for 20 years in Wisconsin, and his brother owns Aspect Mountain Homes in Summit County. Repaske, who is a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in Breckenridge, has a background in design.

“We will do all of the construction ourselves — from selection to floor plan through light fixtures, we do it all ourselves,” Repaske said. 

Repaske and Lacy designed their home around a grand living room with plenty of space for entertaining.

“Entertaining space is the biggest (factor in design),” Repaske said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted in a house.”

Even with expertise behind them, Repaske and Lacy said building a dream home is no easy task.

Most of the challenges for Lacy and Repaske were a result of the pandemic. While the pandemic did not heavily impact building in places like Summit County, it did contribute to an already established labor shortage.

The couple also has had to deal with fluctuating prices on all sorts of building materials, especially lumber. 

One of Ernie Schindler’s favorite features on his Breckenridge treehouse is the spiral staircase leading to his deck.
Photo from Ernie Schindler

“Supply shortages have been tough, time delays in getting it — a lot of stuff is backordered with everything,” Lacy said. “That has kind of thrown an extra time frame into it and made it more frustrating, but that’s part of building. … There’s always going to be surprises.”

Pandemic or not, people should expect the unexpected when it comes to building their own home. Repaske said that people, no matter their budget, should always go into a project ready to make some compromises. 

“At a certain point, money does run out, and there is a compromise that has to be made,” Repaske said. “Sometimes those compromises aren’t budgetary: They’re because that house plan doesn’t fit on this lot or the window just isn’t made bigger than that.”

While Repaske originally wanted to use varied siding types on the house and a $20,000 patio door, she realized those things weren’t going to fit in the budget. However, Repaske has used her design skills to come up with solutions to many of the problems that come with building. 

“I’m used to being like, ‘I want this look, and this is how much money I have. How close can I get to this with the materials I have?’” Repaske said.

Schindler, Repaske and Lacy all said that people who are planning to build their own home should do research on the front end. That means finding and vetting architects, builders and designers. 

“Do your due diligence when you get a contractor,” Schindler said. “Get references. Go out and see the places that they built. Ask the people how long it took them to build it. What the problems were with the builder. That’s No. 1.”

While the stress and complications that come with building a home can be daunting, it doesn’t mean the process can’t be fun, Schindler said. 

“Have fun,” he said. “That’s the most important thing when you’re building it. Don’t stress out, have patience, but (have) fun because you know at the end what you’re going to have is going to be what you wanted.”

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