2012 Home of the Year
It’s a design lover’s fairytale: Once upon a time, the home on this lush three-acre site in Castle Pines was the indifferent stepsister to its beautifully cultivated gardens. With help from Martin Mosko of Boulder-based Marpa Landscape Design Studio, the owners had spent years tending to the landscape—but their home didn’t live up to its setting. One day, they decided to remedy that problem.
But like all good stories, this one had a twist. There is a full-story drop in the site’s grade, which meant that visitors would have to walk down to the front door—not exactly the most inviting way to approach a home.
Enter the magic-makers: architects from Denver-based Semple Brown Design, Sarah Brown and Chris Davis (who is now a principal at BOSS Architecture in Denver). “The first goal was to flip the house around so that the home’s public spaces had a relationship to this amazing site,” Davis says. The 12,000-square-foot design relocated the living spaces to the bottom floor and moved the bedrooms upstairs.
Initially, the architects considered putting the entry at the upper level and allowing visitors to descend to the main level inside the house, but the owners had their own vision for the space. “They wanted guests to arrive and experience the outdoors from the very first moment,” Brown says. “They had a very sharp sense of this space. We listened.”
So Davis, Mosko and New York-based interior designer Richard Lee created an outdoor entry room that guides guests to the front door or, at the final turn, out to the gardens. The team created an eight-foot water wall beside a stairway that descends through a grove of chanticleer pear trees. A glass railing and floating stone steps “give you the feeling of being suspended as you descend,” Mosko says. The “floor” of the outdoor room is a shallow water pool, cut by a stone bridge.
“You descend [through the outdoor room] in a very sculptural way,” Davis says. “It feels like an experience, a procession to the front door.” The pathway alters direction frequently to give visitors new sensory experiences, Mosko says: “It changes what you’re seeing as you walk.”
Not surprisingly, the home’s contemporary design is an attractive complement to the landscape. “We wanted the architecture to relate to the site and grow out of it,” Davis says. He chose a palette of natural materials: board-form concrete for the home’s vertical elements, cedar (for its durability in the hot Colorado sun) and cementicious stucco (rather than a synthetic version).
What’s more, “we wanted the architecture to be ambient, like a museum’s,” Davis adds. “[The owners] have a collection of amazing period pieces they’ve collected over the years. We couldn’t let the architecture compete.” Many of the furnishings come from early-to-mid-20th-century modern design icons, including Jean-Michel Frank and André Sornay. Against a textured background of neutral materials—floors of stone or oak, walls of cement or stucco, clean-lined, steel Hope’s Windows—the pieces stand out beautifully. “The interiors have a lovely layered look,” Lee says. “I love using really fine objects against these materials; it’s about the contrast, about Art Deco sconces in a house that’s built in the early 21st century. You wouldn’t expect it, but somehow, it works.”
And so we come to the moral of this story, and all tales of exquisite design: “Good things,” says Lee, “well made things, just go together”—happily ever after.
Two-Minute Design History
The owners’ handsome collection of 20th-century furnishings celebrates some of the finest European designers of the last century. Here’s a quick tutorial on the names behind the designs:
André Sornay The French designer inherited his father’s furniture business in 1919 and revolutionized it, kicking classical forms to the curb and creating modern furniture that married art and architecture. He loved geometric shapes, pleasing proportions and clear functionality.
Mouseman Furniture Englishman Robert Thompson flourished in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century. Legend says he once claimed to be “poor as a church mouse” and would surreptitiously carve a mouse into each piece of furniture he made. His descendants still run his business in the UK.
Jean-Michel Frank Often characterized as a minimalist, the French interior designer was in fact an early proponent of mixing styles—glitter and glam paired with clean lines and surprising materials. While teaching a course at the famous Ecole Parsons à Paris in the ’30s, Frank gave his students an assignment: design a table so basic that it would retain its integrity whether elaborately finished or left unvarnished. The result, known as the Parsons table, has been replicated by high-brow design houses and mass-production furniture stores ever since.
Jules LeLeu Another Frenchman, LeLeu thrived in the modernist movement, following—and influencing—the trajectory of design from Art Nouveau’s decorative style to Art Deco’s sleek look. He was a stickler for luxurious details—like mother-of-pearl, ivory and exotic woods—and top-notch craftsmanship.