Like countless families before them, these homeowners—a globetrotting New York-based couple with three small children—came to Aspen to ski. But after spending several winters visiting, they decided to commit full time. The only thing about the town they didn’t love? The five-bedroom, 3,800-square-foot house they purchased in 2008.
“It was sort of a Santa Fe log cabin,” remembers Rich Carr, principal of Basalt-based Cottle Carr Yaw Architects, a personal friend of the couple who oversaw the renovation. Built into a hill, the home was a mishmash of levels—two stories, in effect, with a lot of mini-steps to accommodate the changing elevation. And the overbearing cabin-style details only added to the dissonance.
The couple, meanwhile, had lived on the opposite end of the design spectrum in New York—“a penthouse in Tribeca that was a very open, very contemporary loft space,” Carr explains.
So, with the help of Snowmass-based contractor Woodstone Inc., Carr set about transforming the cabin into a sleek, understated home that could serve as a backdrop for the couple’s extensive art collection—and some bold furnishings. He removed the logs that crisscrossed the ceiling, replacing them with steel columns, and knocked down a wall to double the living room’s size and evoke a light-filled, loft-style space. The old-fashioned fireplace also received a facelift in the form of a simple black slate hearth and glass-and-steel grate.
Presented with this new, understated canvas, interior designer Barbara Mullen of Aspen-based Caroline-Edwards Interior Design created a design scheme that balanced elegant minimalism with the couple’s colorful, genre-busting art collection.
The homeowners wanted to keep much of their existing furniture, including four George Smith armchairs scattered throughout the living room, family room and master bedroom. Smith, a 19th-century cabinetmaker and upholsterer, is today the namesake of a line of high-quality, handmade classic furniture sold from a handful of showrooms across the country. To modernize the oversized chairs and complement the home’s artwork, Mullen chose to reupholster them in bright, graphic fabrics by Jasper, Zoffany and Dedar.
In the living room, Mullen brought in a low-slung, custom sofa and chair by Mike Ragan, a designer out of Los Angeles; a Holly Hunt coffee table; and a beehive-patterned rug by New York-based Mark Nelson Designs. The neutral sofa and rug serve as a backdrop for the blue and orange upholstery, creating a warm aesthetic that manages to feel modern without being clinical.
A bookshelf behind the sofa divides the living room to create an intimate reading area that takes full advantage of the room’s huge windows. There, Mullen placed two green club chairs in the style of iconic 20th-century Hollywood designer William Haines, purchased on 1stdibs.com, an online treasure trove of antique, vintage and modern furniture. The bold chairs are offset by a custom, white vinyl-covered ottoman and a neutral striped Mark Nelson rug.
Though the living room contains upholstery in no fewer than five different colors and patterns, the overall result is balanced—not frenetic. By tying together colors and themes, Mullen creates visual interest without overload. Case in point: the Robert Kime ikat throw pillows on the sofa tie in with the green club chairs.
That theme continues in the family room, where the couple’s vibrant blue-and-orange rug anchors the orange Zoffany-fabric-covered George Smith chair and teal sofa.
When presented with such a colorful rug, “we could either go really, really neutral with the furniture—or really, really embrace the colors,” Mullen said. “Obviously we decided on the latter.”
The kitchen, however, sticks closer to the neutral palette and clean lines of true modernism. Mullen selected white CaesarStone quartz counters and a wood butcher block-topped island in lieu of dark granite. The dazzling finishes contrast nicely with the wood floors and black barstools. In the eating nook, an iconic white pedestal table by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen engages in a similar relationship with black Donghia chairs.
In the end, working with so much existing furniture proved trickier than starting from scratch, but for Mullen, it was a welcome challenge.
“As designers, we’re seeing that people want to make do with what they already have and love,” she says. “It adds a nice sense of individuality and a slightly lived-in feeling that’s so welcoming.”
Redoing a room doesn’t have to mean buying lots of new furniture. Designer Barbara Mullen explains how to breathe new life into the pieces you already own.
Find a good upholsterer. Recovering furniture—including the expense of fabric—will generally cost 50 percent less than buying new, Mullen says. She relies on J. Lawrence Upholsterers in Denver, (303) 446-9133.
Scour the web for accent pieces to complement what you already have. Mullen recommends mixing and matching eras and styles. “1stdibs.com has changed the way our industry works,” she says. Sort of like an Ebay for the discerning buyer of home furnishings and other fine items, the site is open to everyone, not just the trade. But beware: With thousands of pieces ranging from antique carpets to Arne Jacobsen chairs, plus Parisian flea market finds—the site may just swallow your whole afternoon.
Don’t be shy. “I love mixing patterns and colors to create a really rich look,” Mullen says. Look at what you own and try combining unexpected colors and textures.