A family-friendly Boulder home blends easy living with an exacting design and a host of space-stretching innovations
Never let it be said that architects David Barrett and Sam Nishek aren’t up for a good challenge. The duo—both principals of Barrett Studio Architects in Boulder—designed a spacious, modern home for a family of four near the city’s historic Chautauqua Park. First, though, they had to overcome a few obstacles.
“For starters, the building site was on the small side,” Nishek explains. “The existing 800-square-foot house had been built on a substandard city lot in the 1950s, and it was unusable so we had to tear it down.”
Then the architects had to figure out how to squeeze nearly four thousand square feet of living space, along with abundant outdoor living areas and a three-car garage, onto the site. A tall house was out of the question; the building envelope’s height was restricted by Boulder’s strict solar-shadow ordinance. In the end, the solution required some digging: the architects appropriated extra space below the house by creating a steeply sloped driveway from the alley that would lead to a basement garage.
Further complicating construction, testing revealed that the site had expansive, clay-based soil. “It’s common in many parts of Colorado, but the expand-and-shrink properties of the soil in hot and cold weather necessitate special mitigation measures,” says Nishek. So their design strategy involved a foundation set on caissons and a basement slab that would also provide structural support for the new garage.
Then came the excavation: in the summer of 2009 the old house was demolished and a backhoe rumbled in. With each load of dirt that was removed, however, water seeped in and filled the hole. An underground spring was soon identified as the culprit—good news for well drillers, but not so advantageous for homebuilders. Digging ceased while the team engineered a sophisticated trench system to divert the spring water.
The challenges were worth it, however. When the 3,790-square-foot home was finally completed in 2010, its open, light-filled floorplan betrayed no hint of the planning challenges that preceded it. “We really paid attention to the volume of the space and looked for ways to maximize the natural light,” Nishek says. As a result, some windows are located in unconventional places, including one near the dining room floor and another above the master bathroom vanity. Skylights and a sparkling glass stairwell let the sunlight wash down the walls.
A gas fireplace warms the thick cement stucco wall, which acts as a passive solar thermal mass and also delineates the home’s public and private spaces. The hearth and shelves are cast-in-place concrete. The painting is by mid-20th-century artist Helen Dooley. Comfy orange Togo couches by Ligne Roset invite relaxation in the living area, where abundant windows and tall ceilings make the space feel larger. The Jens walnut chairs are from Design Within Reach and the floors are polished concrete.
A pass-through in the kitchen features shock-style lifters to open the window to the serving bar outside. “This small feature really helps the kitchen space flow to the outside, and is great for entertaining,” Nishek says. Kitchen cabinets are red birch topped with black Brazilian granite.
“Rather than putting a window overlooking the neighbor’s yard, we preserved privacy while letting light in,” Nishek says, explaining the strategy of placing a window near the bottom of the dining area wall. That decision also created the perfect space for a bold abstract. A slab of hand-hewn, Thai acacia wood tops the large family dining table, which is surrounded by modern white leather and chrome Calligaris New York chairs. The Terzani hook chandelier is from Y Lighting.
Designed to bring light into the sides of the house, the stairwell has seamless sheets of glass connected to stainless steel supports. The handrails are placed on the outside of the glass for visual continuity.
In the peaceful master bedroom, a simple platform bed built by a Michigan Amish craftsman is topped with an orange embroidered wool Wallter bedspread that echoes the living room sofa. A custom dresser just fits in the niche created under the lower roofline, and the hardwood floors are cherry.
Soft limestone tiles line the floors and walls of the light, bright master bathroom, where a compact vanity was designed to fit under a long, horizontal window. The tub is by Americh Barrington with chrome Ovale fixtures by Gessi.
The family enjoys relaxing in an oversized hot tub within the walls of a private fenced garden. The casual Gloster outdoor sofa is perfect for post-soak lounging.
David Barrett, Sam Nishek
Barrett Studio Architects
Long Landscape LTD