A Denver Home Remodel Inspires an Art Collection
"We weren’t specifically looking for a space to showcase art,” says Dory Pratt of the Denver home she shares with husband Robert and their two children, 13-year-old Lucy and 11-year-old Owen. But the two-story, 3,550-square-foot residence they moved into in summer 2006 nonetheless had “these enormous interior walls,” she recounts. “And we had nothing big to put on them.”
That was the most obvious impetus for the gradual transformation of the house in the city’s old Hilltop neighborhood. Today, it feels like a highly personal private museum, a thoughtfully curated collection of large-scale artworks and smaller artifacts that capture the eclectic interests, sensibilities, and spirits of a close, loving family.
At first, the structure appealed to the Pratts for its clean-lined mid-century modern style. Its ample living space included an open-plan kitchen perfect for how they love to entertain. And the privately walled, 12,500-square-foot corner lot was ideal for easy indoor-outdoor living. “Our home is so full of light,” says Pratt, “and you can see nature from almost every vantage point.” They were willing, for a while, to live with its lack of an adequate master retreat. “We decided that nothing was perfect, and we could make it work.”
An 800-square-foot expansion of an earlier upstairs addition, completed in February 2012, finally gave Dory and Robert their “first grown-up master suite.” The almost six years they waited also allowed time to plan sensibly. Less than a quarter of the space is given over to their bedroom, which contains just their bed, two nightstands, and an easy chair. The rest devotes itself to a walk-in dressing room; a spacious bath with dual vanities and separate tub and shower; a small private deck; and a TV/family room where the couple can relax with their children. All that work was designed by local architect David Austin Robb, who between 2003 and 2005 had overseen a previous complete remodel of the house, parts of which may date back to the 1920s. That ensured the newest addition remained completely consistent with its surroundings, from the sleek lines and high ceilings outfitted with pencil spots for highlighting art to the custom steel window frames and cream paint—tinted with a hint of garden green—that covers the walls both inside and out. “The house is really a perfect canvas for displaying art,” says Pratt.
Which is why, from the moment they moved in, the Pratts expanded their aesthetic horizons. “We never worked with anyone initially,” says Pratt of a process that happened gradually and organically. They visited Denver galleries, scoured others on the Internet, and acquired several pieces from artist friends. Another friend, local fine art consultant and adviser Ann Benson Reidy, helped Pratt select complementary frames and mats for certain pieces and arrange walls that feature multiple works.
Along with appropriately large-scale paintings that express their “love of color and whimsy,” the Pratts incorporated an abundance of even more personal touches. Furnishings they chose by top mid-century designers including American Florence Knoll and Denmark’s Hans Wegner echo the spare lines endowed by architect Robb. That gallery-like backdrop, in turn, showcases a wealth of items that speak of the Pratts’ own history, including the portable manual typewriter Robert’s father once used while serving in the Peace Corps in Malawi; a pink dress Dory wore as a baby, now framed in the family room; and a portrait of Robert’s great-great-great grandmother that hangs in a corner of the living room. “The kids find it interesting to see one of their ancestors, and wonder who she was,” says Pratt. “And we love the juxtaposition of having such a traditional family portrait in a modern house among modern furniture and modern art.”
That eclectic mélange only enhances a sense of intrigue sometimes found in a creatively curated museum. As Dory Pratt sums it up, “Our home is modern, clean, and comfortable, with a colorful bohemian twist.”
Beside an oversized window-door leading to the patio in a garden shaded by locust, ash, elm, pine, aspen, pear, and cherry trees, past complements present in a living room corner where a portrait of Eveline Manville Tisdale Hunt, great great grandmother of the homeowner, hangs above an Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen.
“Peanuts,” an oil painting by New Mexico artist Iva Morris, contributes a colorful, lighthearted spirit to the living room, which has gallery-scaled 14-foot ceilings.
In the soaring 20-foot-high entry foyer is acrylic-on-canvas “Transfer Painting w/ Coconut” by New York-based Nina Bovasso.
Like a work of functional sculpture, the open-plan kitchen features custom fir cabinets and a curved lava-rock counter.
The master suite TV room includes a family photo wall, a sectional sofa by Zanotta upholstered in a durable cotton-linen blend, a hand-tufted wool rug by Kasthall, and a custom coffee table by Fin Art in Denver made of repurposed industrial materials.
“Black Cars” by Denver artist Evan Hecox hangs in the dining room, furnished with a table from Double Butter in Denver and chairs by Jens Risom for Knoll.
In a dining patio is outdoor furniture from Room & Board and, on the built-in bench, pillows in vibrant fabric by Trina Turk for Sunbrella.
The master bath is spare yet sumptuous, with easy-clean porcelain tiles by Cotto d’Este and a Calcutta marble deck surrounding a tub by MTI and sleek Vola fixtures.
A Shaker-style bed by Charles Webb captures the finely crafted aesthetic of the master bedroom.
“Great Gray Elephant,” an oil triptych by Amanda Marie, lines the hall to the kids’ bedrooms. In the garden, a raised fountain features koi and water lilies.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
Follow these tips to help you successfully curate a collection all your own.
SHOP LOCALLY Visit as many art galleries and artists’ studios near where you live to get acquainted with their offerings and begin to educate your eye.
EXTEND YOUR SEARCH Look in art magazines and online for other galleries that represent artists you like, which could introduce you to the works of still more artists working in styles or subjects you enjoy.
SEEK A CONSULTANT Ask around for good local art consultants, who can help you find and meet more artists as well as advise you on the best ways to frame, display, and light your purchases.
GO BEYOND ART Consider showcasing other complementary items of visual interest, including textiles, area rugs, classic furniture designs, and antiques.
PERSONALIZE Add attractive or intriguing personal items to your displays, including framed family photos, mementos, and heirloom artifacts.
PROVIDE A PERFECT BACKDROP Make art pop by displaying it against uniformly neutral-colored walls.