One of the things we admire most in older homes is craftsmanship.
Most people no longer go to that level of thinking in what they build.
That’s where a talented design/build team can make a huge contribution to a new house.
ON A GRACIOUS STREET JUST NORTH OF CRAMNER PARK, SHADE TREES TOWER OVER HOUSES that add character and definition to one of Denver’s most desirable residential areas. Renovated sites blend with originalstructures. And where many vintage homes have been done away with to allow for the new, a sense of harmonyprevails—no small feat for the architects and builders whose work is displayed in this corner of Hilltop. When Steve and JoEllen Cohen were ready to build their new home, they decided to purchase the house next door and tear down the existing structure to make way for an Italian Renaissance residence. “They wanted their new home to feel as if it was part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” says Sears Barrett, president of Sears Barrett Architects, Englewood. “They wanted a house that had the flavor of one built about a hundred years ago.” It was paramount that the home convey a sense of refinement. The loggia on the front of the house makes just such a statement. It is constructed of Haddonstone, an intricately detailed blend of concrete and limestone. Carved Douglas fir corbels are noticeable just below the concrete tile roof, which rests on the exterior, honey-color, brick walls. One of the beauties of this house is that it is understated: simple in form, but built with materials carefully used to project a concern with finer things. The loggia is the first layer of the house that meets the street. Then come the front doors. Three sets of custom mahogany doors, rounded at the tops, echo the gracious curves of the loggia and provide an intriguing depth and inner dimension to the archways. “It is the kind of thing you don’t see everyday,” explains Barrett. “In design, they call it ‘a gift to the street.’ If we detail it out with beautiful materials and make it an inviting place, then it is really a gift to the neighborhood and the people passing by, as well as to the occupants of the house.” The Cohens were most concerned with fine finishes and spacious interiors—all on a narrow, 50-foot wide lot.As he began to lay out the plans, the architect couldn’t quite shoehorn in extensive square footage on such a small city lot.Taking some excess property from the existing house and moving the property line gave some land to the new house. The trim, moldings, floors, staircase and other design features in this house are all very custom. Though Steve actually owns a building company himself, he chose Amadeus Builders, Denver, known for top-drawer finishes and quality, to build the house. “We picked a first-class architect,” says Steve. “I interviewed a half-dozen renowned architects and selected Sears. We hit it off with Mark Booren of Amadeus at our very first meeting.” JoEllen, who handled most of the projectcoordination, followed a similar path, conferring with a number of interior designers. “The minute I met Judy and Colleen I knew it would be a good fit,” says JoEllen of Judy Gubner and Colleen Johnson, the owners of In-Site Design Group, Denver. Award winners Barrett, Booren, Gubner and Johnson have collaborated many times throughout their careers. A cohesive, like-thinking team brings positive energy to a project.
“We all know our strengths and can quickly jump on board. It bringsefficiency to a project that doesn’t exist if the team has never workedtogether,” says Johnson.
Much of what interior designers and architects do is to help clients visualize a space and understand the aesthetic, structural and cost issues.From these discussions come the decisions.
“There will always be some surprises,” says Booren, “but you canminimize them, and therefore you can manage them.”
The Cohen home is a masterful example of meticulously planned features that bring interest and personality to every room. In the entry, a handknotted custom rug warms the striking Brazilian cherry flooring that covers the gallery and most of the main level. A series of custom-lit,rectangular ceiling coves cast a soft wash of light from the front door to
the opposite end of the gallery. There, a sculpted niche showcases a console table with a marble top and wrought-iron base fashioned from a French balcony railing. Just in front of the niche, an octagonal cove appears above.
“The octagon is a stopping point and turns you toward the family room in back,” explains Barrett. “We were thinking about ways to shift lines of sight and how you can do that with light.”
Loveseats covered in sumptuous damask create an intimate conversation area near the living-room fireplace. Hand-beaded blue and gold silk pillows are the spark of life in the seating group.The coffee table is based on one JoEllen encountered in a hotel suite while traveling. The leather finish, with antique gold touches, adds elegance and age to the piece.
Unique accents in shades of blue—JoEllen’s favorite color—are displayed throughout the room.Armchairs finished in a satiny woven textile and mahogany relate to the arched doors that open onto the loggia.
Steve’s study is fitted with built-ins made by local craftsmen. Detailed inlay on the cabinetry echoes the intricacies of 1930’s-era woodwork. It is pure art, as is the open staircase further down the hallway.
“It’s always tough in a city house to get sunlight in,” says Barrett. “We designed a three-story stairwell, facing south, in the form of a floating spiral that joins all three levels.” A wall of windows parallels the staircase, allowing natural light to fill the space. A piece of steel concealed in the window mullions stabilizes the spiral.
The staircase was installed at a very early stage of construction,Booren remembers. “We were craning it in, with all these huge trees on the parkway, power lines in the back, and the neighbor’s house only 15 feet away…,” his voice trails off as he shakes his head, recalling the challenge. “I had to get the stairs in before we put on the roof.”
These are the types of issues a good contractor anticipates.And, they ultimately result in features that become the real standouts in the finished project.
The muted, faux-finished walls of the powder room resemble aged plaster.A Sherle Wagner 14-carat gold-plated sink is set in snowy marble. Wall sconces finished in old gold provide dramatic uplighting.
The kitchen opens to a comfortable family room, where the ceilings climb to story-and-a-half height. It was JoEllen’s idea that the kitchen and family room blend. “Cooking can be a communal thing,” she says. “I wanted the cooking area to face out to include everyone.”
The cabinetry is a mellow shade of crème with a glazed finish. In contrast, the work island is painted “JoEllen blue” and topped with granite veined in black, white and caramel. The backsplash of blue and white handmade tiles leads the eye to a trompe l’oeil painting centered over the double sinks. The artist has depicted a tranquil Tuscan scene, replicating the tile pattern of the backsplash in the windowsill.
In one corner of the upstairs, the master bedroom faces the quiet street.The hip-vaulted ceiling adds surprising height and dimension to the room. The suite has his-and-her closets, and separate master bathrooms. Steve’s is modeled after a 1920’s-style hotel bath, with Carrara marble walls, white fixtures and an oversize steam shower. An entirely different
feel and color scheme is used in JoEllen’s bath. The floors are slab marble, as are the counters, jetted tub deck and shower walls.
“I had a little, tiny, awful bath for so long, I really enjoy my new bathroom,” she says. An en-suite guest room shares the upper story.
The lowest level of the home is light and bright, with 11-foot ceilings and tall windows at garden height. Two additional bedrooms, a large recreation room and an exercise room fill this space.
The structure stretches back to encompass most of the site. A spacious stone courtyard offers conversation and dining areas, a fountain, flower-filled beds and a built-in barbeque.
Barrett likens designing and building a home to looking through the viewfinder of a camera. As one move through the process, things come into sharper focus. “Design is about evolution,” he explains.
“It’s managing expectations,” adds Booren.
Having a strong, focused team is critical. “We picked first-class people to build what we wanted,” declares Steve. “If you don’t do that, you won’t be effective in achieving a high level of quality.”
Sears Barrett Architects and Amadeus Builders are in complete agreement with In-Site Design Group’s mission for each project: to translate a client’s personality into a safe, comfortable, physical space that promotes healthy, happy living.
This exceptional team of professionals delivered timeless quality in a custom home that met the owners’ every expectation.
Marge D. Hansen is the freelance managing editor of Colorado Expression. She is the author of An English Experience— Exploring the Backroads and Byways of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Hampshire, and her design articles appear in IIDA’s Perspective, Museum Store, and Buzz in the ’Burbs magazine.