A cosmopolitan city, Denver is full of varied architectural styles, and it has no shortage of large and impressive homes, both contemporary and historic. But this one, with its classic good looks, captured the attention of interior designer Toni Palmer and her partner, architect Alex Orkow.
The couple—both well-known in their fields—have always shied away from trends that inevitably date a home, preferring instead the fundamentals of timeless design. So when they attended a friend’s elegant wedding reception at a 1937 French Provincial home on 7th Avenue Parkway, they were captivated. “When we walked in, I instantly fell in love with the place,” Palmer says. “I told Alex, ‘If it ever comes on the market, I’m going to buy it.’”
And that’s exactly what she did. After waiting nearly five years—and keeping a vigilant eye on the European home from their residence in the Cherry Creek area—Palmer was rewarded for her patience. “One afternoon,” Orkow recalls, “I was working at home when Toni burst through the front doors, grabbed my hand and said ‘Come on, there’s something I have to show you.’” Their dream home was finally on the market.
The couple signed a contract that very evening, and began drawing up plans for the necessary renovations on their new digs. Although the home was nearly 70 years old, they were pleased to learn that it had only had three previous owners—“so we didn’t have to pay to undo any bad design decisions,” Palmer says.
Their first order of business: remove the corridor that ran through the center of the home, which blocked the southern light, obstructed their view of the parkway and interrupted the natural flow of the first floor.
The new space was large enough for the open area that now houses the great room and kitchen, and provides views of the natural beauty beyond the home’s walls. “When we removed the corridor, we finished the walls with the same exquisite plasterwork that is original to the house,” Orkow says. “All of the modern wiring and plumbing is buried in the walls as it should be, so the bones of the property are as solid as they were when it was first built in 1937.”
After restoring positive flow on the main level, the couple tackled other pressing areas, primarily the kitchen. Prior to their remodel, the kitchen was a neutral nook surrounded by standard white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Palmer and Orkow transformed it into a room that evokes the heart of Provence.
Cheerful yellow walls provide a sunny backdrop for cabinets in varying heights and styles. Cherry-stained knotty alder and glazed French-blue finishes create a rustic yet sophisticated feel in the oversized kitchen. “We wanted to make it look like an old farmhouse kitchen where the owners would have found things collecting dust in the barn, and brought them inside where they had a use for them,” Palmer says. “All of the cabinets are different sizes and shapes, and we used different pulls to create an eclectic look.”
Other decidedly French details, such as wire-mesh doors, inset cabinets and creatively hidden cubbies and compartments, are prevalent throughout the kitchen and make optimal use of space. In these nooks, the couple displays memorabilia from their travels to Europe. But the kitchen’s pièce de résistance is a grand center island—affectionately dubbed “the continent” by the couple’s granddaughter—with flat panel doors whose touch latches disappear in the design. The brainchild of Palmer, the island is not only replete with hidden storage for bulky kitchen items, but it is also a strong focal point for the space and a gathering spot for casual get-togethers.
For more intimate gatherings, or for one of the couple’s gourmet dinner and wine-tasting parties, Palmer redesigned the dining and living areas to evoke the interior of a sumptuous chateau. On the main level, each space smoothly flows into the next via peaked archways, expertly “trimmed” with faux-painted stonework that lends an earthy, natural feel. The fine plasterwork makes it difficult to discern original details from contemporary ones and adds depth to the walls, while rich, jewel-toned hues provide the perfect backdrop for European accoutrements. To preserve some of the home’s original charm, Palmer kept the vintage iron gates that flank one of the arched openings to the dining room.
In order to use the space wisely—the home has 2,443 square feet of living space on the main level and approximately 700 square feet in the finished basement—Orkow created a number of inventive storage solutions based on Palmer’s designs. In the newly remodeled great room, he designed bookshelves with hidden storage behind pull-out drawers, ideal for seldom-used items. “There was a lot of wasted space, so we created unique ways to capitalize on that space,” Palmer says. “However, with everything we added or remodeled, we always kept in mind the appearance of the original house so that we wouldn’t deviate from its charm and dignity.”
With practically no room left untouched, Palmer and Orkow personally orchestrated the three-year remodel on their home. In the end, the stately home on 7th Avenue Parkway was transformed into a magnificent jewel that pays homage to its European roots. “We knew intuitively what needed to be done and how to tackle it to make our home truly sing instead of constantly fighting with itself,” Palmer says. “People tend to just exist in spaces, instead of seeing their full potential.”
Toni Palmer Designs
Alex Frank Orkow
Alex Frank Orkow & Associates