Urban Cool

Designer Beth Armijo mingles crisp colors with textured finishes and pops of playfulness in a repurposed loft space


CH&L: What was the genesis of this project?

Interior designer Beth Armijo: The homeowner approached me after having lived in this space for more than a year. She was ready to make the space 'grown-up'; to move beyond the post-college 'use-what-you've-got' phase.

The loft is 3,000 square feet in the old Volker Building [in downtown Denver], and the light was lousy in spite of huge windows. The floor plan wasn't great and her personal possessions were limited. Her goal was to make it feel homey but sophisticated, to infuse the space with a sense of fun—a place where she could hang out alone or with company.

From Denver's 14th Street Viaduct, the Volker Lofts (converted in 1992) retain the original façade and water silo. Only the decks are new.

The open living room offers plenty of space for entertaining. A sofa, love seat and two wingback chairs (all from Kravet) surround a pearlized leather ottoman.

CH&L: The finished space defies what most people think of as loft living. It feels intimate, not cavernous. How did you get there?

BA: The loft was basically open except for the bedroom and a study. The study had four windowless walls, which made it very dark. We put interior windows in the wall between the study and the kitchen, so the study now gets light from the kitchen. The living room, dining room and kitchen were all open to one another so we put up a custom bookcase to separate the kitchen from the living area. Since the bookcase doesn't go to the ceiling, you still know you're in a loft.

Custom rugs also define each major area and the furniture is not oversized—each piece fits perfectly.

Through these doors and down four steps is the solarium, which retains its original paneling.

The homeowner's dining room table and metal chairs pair with new, boldly upholstered wingback chairs and handmade Peruvian chandeliers.

CH&L: How did you arrange the lighting?

BA: The whole space needed good light and the big windows helped, but I felt they needed to be framed. Layers of drapes and sheers were used to soften the exterior light; inside, we put track lights at eye level and used sconces and chandeliers to create warmth.

While Armijo kept the existing appliances and cabinets, a coat of light blue paint on the once dark mahogany cabinets brings the kitchen alive with color.

The curving island accommodates three citrine velvet stools accented with more nailhead trim.

CH&L: The color scheme is so crisp and serene. Tell us about the palette.

BA: The homeowner loves blue and gray, and those hues became the starting point for every other choice. Because the three major living areas open to one another, we had to be diligent about not putting in something that shocked the senses. Shades of blue and gray-and muted greens-provide the primary palette. 

The [mahogany] kitchen cabinets were all painted blue, and the deep brown and peach granite counters were replaced with white CaesarStone. We added under-cabinet lighting and three pendants over the island. The stools are covered in citrine velvet, which add a little pop.

Customized bookshelves create an interesting barrier-plus storage-between the kitchen and living area. The nailhead trim on these two antique washed-velvet chairs is repeated throughout the loft.

Coral walls rule in this enclosed study. The homeowner's photographs of funny travel scenes dominate the walls, as do fresh dried flowers. Two Bungalow 5 tables sit before the Kravet sofa and Schumacher-covered pillows.

CH&L: Short of using the word "eclectic," how would you define the style of this loft?

BA: The overall feeling is stylish and fresh with a strong foundation of enduring design principles. For example, wingback chairs are very traditional, but covering them in Dedar and Nobilis fabrics takes the design to new heights.

The wood throughout is timeless, but we used gray walls next to them to add sophistication. For example, we kept the existing dark paneling in the solarium [from the building's earliest days as a manufacturer of Venetian blinds] and juxtaposed period-appropriate Cole & Son Deco Damask wallpaper in unexpected colors: gray, mauve and purple. 

The master bedroom decor contains a mix of masculine and feminine, with rough beams against delicate floral wallpaper and a curved sofa on an oversized houndstooth rug.

CH&L: You incorporate a variety of textures—metal chairs, wood shelves, both glass and tin chandeliers, velvet fabrics. How do you make these disparate elements jibe?

BA: This is the most fun part of a job. The first principle is that no one wants everything the same texture, so I start by looking at different things that are in keeping with the personality of the project—blue and gray, fun and stylish. Because there was already so much wood and glass in the loft, I shied away from those textures. You don't want a big glass coffee table that is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, so a fabric-covered ottoman fits the bill. The owner already had the metal dining room chairs so we used nailhead accents to incorporate more metal into other pieces of furniture. She also had the wood dining room table, so we added two wingback chairs covered in Kravet fabric along with the metal chairs. You never want one texture to dominate.

CH&L: In short, what's the overarching key to this loft's great design?

BA: This place works beautifully on an intuitive level, as good design generally does. The homeowner couldn't deconstruct the equation of light to space to texture to color but she knows in her gut that the place feels good and contributes to a daily sense of wonderment and well being. 

Want fun and stylish?

Follow Beth Armijo's tips:
LAYER LIGHTING. Good lighting makes all the difference in the feel of a room. Pick arc lights, table and floor lamps and sconces—and work them all into one space.
CONCENTRATE ON COLOR. Pick a scheme and stay on track. Armijo doesn't like accent walls (they're too jarring), so if you need an area with strong color, she recommends going bold in one room that can be closed off to all others. The moral: have fun within limits.
RECONSIDER: WHAT IS ART? So many people think art is paintings or sculptures or pastels, but almost anything can have artistic value. Pick a collection of all black-and-white photos, for example, or hubcaps or vintage magazine covers, and frame them similarly. Arranged well, they become art.
REALIZE THAT NATURAL MATERIALS are timeless, but manmade materials can be a pretty good second. A high-gloss coat of paint can make wood cabinets look new. A manmade counter material, such as Silestone or CaesarStone, can be more resilient and less expensive.
DECLUTTER Nothing drains the energy from a room like clutter. Just as too many words spoil a good novel, too much clutter detracts from a room's narrative "arc."

Beth Armijo, Armijo Design Group CONTRACTOR Marty Harrison, LifeHouse Construction

Categories: Interiors