At Home with Michael and Gail Folwell
Sometimes waiting can be a good thing. So testify Michael and Gail Folwell, who spent 12 years living in their Boulder home before they were finally ready to undertake a major remodel. Over the years the couple paid attention to how the sunlight—and moonlight—moved through the house. They became familiar with the best places to admire the Flatirons. They noticed how each season affected the home, and which areas tended to be cooler and warmer. Along the way, their family expanded to include a son, a daughter and several canines.
“As our family grew, we knew we wanted to add some private areas and workspaces,” says Gail, an accomplished artist who was named one of 25 leading sculptors by Southwest Art magazine in 2001. “The original house was a classic California ranch style, but some bad additions had been built over the years and we knew we wanted to tear those down and get back to the essence of the house.”
The couple didn’t have to go far to find an architect. Michael is the principal of Michael Folwell Architecture, a firm that has designed a number of award-winning residential, commercial and educational buildings. “We used the existing architecture as a jumping-off point to bring modern sensibilities to the home,” he says. In addition to modernizing the original living spaces, revamping the exterior, and updating electrical and plumbing systems, Michael designed a contemporary, two-story addition at the back of the home to house his office and studio, as well as a new master bedroom suite with a private patio.
“Michael has a fantastic eye for making light move through a space,” Gail says about her husband, who opened the house to sunshine and mountain views, thoughtfully placing windows and adding openings to interior walls to create vistas. This manner of design provides “a way to live in the soul of the house,” the Folwells say, “which we think should function fluidly and draw you through the space.” The home was featured on the Boulder Historical Society’s “Landmarks of the Future” home tour, and has also garnered three American Institute of Architects awards.
At its heart, though, this is a family home. “Right now there’s a tendency for modern architecture to be slick and pristine,” Michael says, “but then a home doesn’t have the worn-in feeling of comfort. Once you let go of those expectations, you discover that the scratches and dings that naturally result from everyday life add warmth and character to your space.” For the Folwell family, the artful patina of a well-loved home was definitely worth the wait.
We were just wondering…
How did you two meet?
“We were introduced at a Vail gallery opening,” Michael says. “We went on a mountain bike ride the following day and discovered that we not only had a bunch of mutual friends, but we lived in the same Denver neighborhood.”
What’s your secret to a happy coexistence with kids and pets in a stunning house like this?
“We designed the home to be approachable and livable, not like a museum,” Michael says. “After all, the home belongs to the kids, too, and we always want them to feel like it’s theirs. We used some materials that are practically bomb-proof, like concrete floors and stone counters.”
With your artistic backgrounds, do you encourage your kids to express themselves creatively?
“My studio contains everything an artist could ever want to play with,” Gail says. “Because it’s actually a garage, we’re comfortable with messes. You just put brushes, paints and kids together, keep an open mind, and see what happens. They’ve even painted each other!”
What does your family like to do for fun?
“We love the Boulder lifestyle, and we spend a lot of time outdoors,” Gail says. “Our son is an accomplished golfer and our daughter is a competitive skier, and we all love to play tennis, swim, bike and hike. We also really enjoy being at home—having friends over, cooking out on the grill or just hanging out in the kitchen.”
You recently picked up and moved to France for half the year. Tell us about it.
“Last year our family spent six months in Grenoble, near the base of the Alps,” Michael says. “We wanted to expose our kids to a different culture, so they attended the public school; to get there they rode a tram instead of a school bus. Their core classes were taught in English and their electives in French, so they definitely experienced some good language immersion. Gail and I worked in the mornings and explored in the afternoons, and it was an inspiring environment for all of us.”