A FLAIR FOR THE FAR EAST

By Jan Sheehan
Photography by J. Curtis

Boulder couple rises to remodel challenge with mountains of Asian charm.

Pluck the Orient from its East Pacific setting, drop it at the edge of Colorado’s mountains, add sleek contemporary touches --- and you’ll have the essence of Budd and Pamela Zuckerman’s home.

A visit to their freshly remodeled Boulder residence is akin to a visit to the Orient --- with one exception: that incredible Colorado view. Lofty windows frame the soaring Rocky Mountains, the twinkling lights of Boulder and --- something hard to come by in landlocked Colorado --- shimmering water vistas.

Perched atop a mesa 100 feet above Baseline Lake and just a stone’s throw from downtown Boulder, the airy, sun-splashed home seems custom-made for a fancier of awe-inspiring views…and the bane of those charged with window-washing duties. Large expanses of glass provide sweeping water, mountain and city scenes from virtually every room. Dainty furnishings and exotic collectibles culled from the couple’s world travels counterpoint the majestic Colorado scenery.

Indeed, a stroll through the 5,400-square-foot house resembles a journey to a faraway world. Close encounters of the Asian kind are everywhere: An ornate bed from Bali, an ancient urn from Sumatra, hand-beaded tapestry from Thailand, antique trunks from China and Oriental rugs from India.

Yet, the home is far from an Asian art museum. “Everything in the house is functional,” says Budd, an investment banker for Hanifen Imhoff. “We wanted a home that reflects our passion for Asian art, but has a purpose. Nothing comes with a sign that says ‘Do Not Sit Here.’”

Complementing the Old World furnishings are modern touches: sleek white walls, angular lines, soaring ceilings and long spans of shelves filled with vibrantly colored Oriental umbrellas and oversized straw baskets. Colorado’s mountain mural provides the setting.

But the light, bright house was not always such a beautiful swan. In fact, it began as something of an ugly duckling.

When the couple found the unassuming house in a secluded 1950s subdivision and embarked on a massive 11-month remodel, “It was a plain ranch house with almost no insulation, an old iron staircase and six tiny bedrooms,” replied Pamela. “The rooms were so small I don’t even think they were legal bedroom size.” But the soon-to-be-married couple couldn’t walk away from the scenic site. “So we thought, ‘Buy the view; level the house.’”

Architect Sears Barrett thought better. “Some old homes are so cobbed up and complicated, you’re better off rebuilding. This house was not,” he remarks.

Though the windows were too small to showcase the lake view and the house did not face the western mountains, adding a wing and floor-to-ceiling windows solved both problems. A windowless garage was reshaped into a dreamy master-bedroom-and-bath suite that overlooks the mountain-fringed lake.

“The structure was sound enough that it made economic sense to use it,” notes the Denver architect. “Then we did a complete makeover that opened up the views, making it look like a new house.”

And new was what Budd was going for. After scouring the canyons around Boulder for months in search of the perfect site, lack of affordable land overlooking Boulder set Plan B into action: The purchase of an existing house. Though he preferred a contemporary-style home, panoramic views were also high on his wish list.

The little ranch house above Baseline Lake fits that requirement. “I was sold when I saw the view,” says Budd. The final --- and very important --- step was for his California fiancée, who had not yet seen the house, to give her approval. Pamela arrived and loved the site (if not the old house). “So we remodel,” she remarked cheerily, upon viewing the dreary 1953 structure and consulting with their architect. “Of course, our friends thought we were buying The Money Pit,” she says.

As is the case with many remodels, a modest fix-up project took on a life of its own. Architect Barrett suggested they live in the house in its pre-renovated state to get a feel for the space. That’s when grand plans for the redesign took shape. “At first, we were just going to do a little bit,” says Pamela. “Just the upstairs. But we ended up transforming the whole house.”

Since Budd loves to cook, the kitchen redesign took top billing. What was once a tiny, dark space isolated from the dining area by shutters and two narrow doors was opened out and spruced up with black Oriental accents. Barrett suggested Japanese shoji screens that serve two purposes. “Ideally, when I cook I make a mess,” laughs Budd. “We can close the screens to hide the cooking area, and they give a neat Asian effect.”

Other rooms received equal attention. Five bathrooms became dramatic spaces. In the master bath the eye is immediately drawn to the tub set beneath a wall of glass that links the soaking space with a view of the glistening lake below.

Boulder interior designer Sally Curtis Starr, ASID, had a hand in much of the contemporary detail and design. “The house is very daring,” says Starr. “It’s not shy.” The owners knew they wanted a clean, contemporary look. Starr helped their dreams take shape. “The reason people hire an interior designer is not because they don’t know what they want,” she explains. “It’s because they want to make sure they get it.”

Even the selection of carpet color was a precise process. The jade tones complement the home’s Asian art while mirroring the color of Baseline Lake. “On Boulder’s high-wind days, the lake turns turquoise-jade and seems to flow right into our living room carpet,” says Budd.

The master bedroom’s jungle theme continues to bring the outdoors in. Serving as a focal point is the massive headboard --- originally doors --- found in a small village in Bali during one of their backpacking trips. Originally planned as the home’s front door, size and weather factors rendered the plan impractical, so the wood was reworked and recarved by Boulder woodworker Ben Oliver to fit the bed.

The Zuckermans now count among their circle of friends the myriad subcontractors and craftspeople who worked together during the lengthy remodel. “With this kind of project, either you become very close or you don’t speak except through lawyers,” chuckles Budd. Fortunately, lawyers never entered this picture and the renovation went smoothly.

In addition to the formidable undertaking that undoubtedly tests the most steadfast relationships, Budd and Pamela added another factor to the equation: They were planning a wedding. “We were building a house and planning our wedding at the same time,” explains Pamela. “Our friends thought we were crazy.” But both went off without a hitch. The reception was held in the couple’s new home just days after the workmen left.

However, the road leading to that joyous day was anything but smooth. The Zuckermans’ courtship dates to 1988, when the then 24-year-old Pamela was working as a Nordstrom’s salesclerk in California. Budd, 30 at the time and preparing for an around-the-world trip, walked into the men’s department seeking a sweater to go with everything in his backpack. He never forgot who sold him a peach sweater that day.

Letters, gifts, phone calls and occasional lunch dates followed for years. Though “just friends” in Pamela’s mind, her future husband never gave up on the woman he was convinced was his soul mate. On Pamela’s birthday, Budd asked her to divulge her dearest wish. Her answer: A trip to Japan. Since he was considering a trip to Bali, Budd invited Pamela to accompany him to Japan, as well.

“I went with him and had a wonderful time,” she recalls. The trip opened her eyes to the simple pleasures of Bali and other Indonesian islands. And something else happened. “I fell madly in love with Budd,” she says. Three years and one house remodel later, the couple is married and still traveling the world together.

“We travel with backpacks and stay in little villages,” Pamela explains. “Then, before we leave, we go on a massive shopping spree and ship everything home.”

But some things are too large to ship. While in Turkey, the couple found a must-have Oriental rug and carried the 100-pound parcel on slow-moving ships, dusty buses, and transcontinental planes to its final destination. It now graces their dining room floor.

“It’s no fun going to a store in Boulder,” says Budd, as he flips on a light inside a silver pitcher they discovered in an underground market in Turkey.

A South American / African theme is planned for the downstairs level. African masks already dot the walls of the media room, with more to be gathered on future forays.

“Everything in this house has a story behind it,” Budd says, pausing to dust off the ancient urns from Bali they plan to transform into lamps. “This is probably not your typical Colorado home.”

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