An Interior Designer's Cozy Cottage
Paige Blackburn moved her family of five a few blocks down and into a home with one-third less square footage
Downsizing is something most people do after their kids have moved out. The Blackburns decided to curtail their square footage—from almost 4,000 to barely 2,500—with a 14-, 10-, and 8-year-old in tow. Inhabiting their turn-of-the-20th-century Boulder home has brought the family closer together, without an inch to spare. "This house fits us so much better,” Paige says.
As a designer, Paige Blackburn knew that smaller is sometimes better. As a mom, it was a harder sell. When she and her husband, Michael, decided to purchase a century-old home on one of Boulder’s most beautiful streets, it wasn’t the six-block move that worried the couple’s brood of three; their concern was space.
We have breakfast in the kitchen, but we always sit in the dining room for dinner,” Paige says of the space that displays many of her favorite antiques—including one of several chandeliers, from Round Top, Texas’ famous antiques fair. “There were no cabinets in the house when we bought it,” Paige says. “So I painted that and brought it with me from the old house.”
For a decade, the family of five had lived in a 4,000-square-foot historic home where the children enjoyed a basement playroom and large backyard. “We built an addition,” Paige says of a spacious kitchen and family room at the back of the house where the family spent most of their time. “But we had a lot of formal spaces at the front of the house we didn’t use. When we used the dining room for dinner, it felt forced. Everyone wanted to gather around the huge kitchen island.”
“I am very minimalistic and organized in my design. You definitely see that in the kitchen. We only added 8 feet, but it's significant,” she says, noting that the house used to end at the wall beside the range. A new island offers workspace and room for spectators while the added beams create a warm farmhouse feel.
The big house felt like too much. So when Paige, a longtime lover of older homes, found a 1905 house nearby, she was convinced she could make it a good fit for her family. “The kids didn’t have as many toys and didn’t need as much storage,” she says. “They weren’t running around and didn’t need the big yard as much. I wanted a similar style but less space.”
“We have a huge front yard where the kids can kick the soccer ball and play,” Paige says. “I tried to maximize the space in our small backyard—it is sort of half gardening and half entertaining.” The carriage house is steps beyond the patio’s edge.
Enchanted by her find’s original character and features, including doors, trim, windows, light fixtures, and floors—thanks to the fact that one owner had occupied the place for the better part of the last 50 years—she was able to overlook myriad panels of old wallpaper, a galley kitchen, and the lack of a master suite. “The minute I walked in, I knew this was the home for us,” Paige says. “I believe that design should be functional, livable, and really reflect the personalities of the people who live there. This house just fits our family so much better. And I love that I can stay here forever.”
The main floor’s living and dining rooms, office, and kitchen are small, but much more open than typically seen in homes of the period. “I can be in the kitchen and the kids are in the living room, and we still feel like we are in the same room. But there are also enough private spaces that people can have solitude when they want it.” The living room’s wood-burning stove and painted-brick fireplace are vintage visuals juxtaposed with the custom-built cabinet that houses the TV. “The Sputnik light fixture was in the dining room when we bought the house,” she says.
— Paige Blackburn, Designer & Homeowner
To accommodate their transition from too much to just right, the Blackburns remodeled in two stages. The first round of work, before they moved in, “was just getting the house livable for us,” Paige says. “We took down most of the wallpaper. And we converted a large bath in the upstairs hallway into two baths”—one off the hall for the kids and one open to the smallest of the three upstairs bedrooms (creating a master suite). They also converted the detached carriage house into a space where the kids could hang out and guests could sleep over.
“I tend to love white walls,” Paige says. “The light is so nice, and I just feel that they make everything else in the house pop.” The home’s original floors were redone with an oil finish (“so they aren't high gloss”) before the Blackburns moved in. The stairs, however, “were in terrible shape and couldn’t be refinished. I didn’t want to replace them,” she says. So she painted an eye-popping chartreuse runner with Benjamin Moore floor enamel.
A year later, a second remodel included adding a bathroom to the carriage house and bumping the back of the main house out 8 feet on both levels—which made the galley kitchen a roomier space worthy of gathering and turned that tiny upstairs bedroom into a master suite complete with a walk-in closet.
After living in the house’s smallest bedroom (and “using everyone else’s closets”) for a year, adding a few feet to the back of the house made Paige’s master suite a reality. “It’s not huge, but it works,” she says of the room’s walk-in closet (behind the barn door on the left). “I like to let spaces evolve over time. I don’t rush into decorating or filling every detail or wall right away.”
Including the 300-square-foot addition, the Blackburns’ home weighs in at around 2,500 square feet—a far cry from the 4,000 of their former house. But the kids, now 18, 14, and 12, are perfectly content with their new digs. “Every little area of the house, carriage house, garage, and basement was well thought out. We carefully considered how we would have enough storage to make it easy to live,” Paige says of the behind-the-scenes design work she and Michael put into the project. “A lot of people downsize after their kids leave—I’ve already done it. We can live here the rest of our lives.”
Dividing a large upstairs bathroom allowed Paige to create a private master bath where the floor reveals her penchant for marble. “I love it against the warmth and softness of wood and brass,” she says.