West Meets East Coast
A tired Denver bungalow gets a wake-up call with a refreshing mix of modern and traditional elements
The young owners of this classic 1940s bungalow quickly fell in love with Denver’s Observatory Park neighborhood, but the couple faced a challenge when they searched the area for a house that spoke to their East Coast origins. That perfect place never appeared, but they did find a solid home in the right location. Armed with a clear vision and the help of interior designer Katie Wolfe Agron of Wolfe Design House, they transformed the house into a fresh and sophisticated space with a distinct nod to their coastal aesthetic.
“The house had been remodeled a few times and was a little disjointed,” Agron says. “We looked at the project and asked ourselves, ‘How can we create everything brand new and still give it that well-loved, collected look you see back East?’”
Agron took a cue from older homes and laid a rich foundation by installing painted wood trim, crown moldings, wainscoting, shelves and other built-ins throughout the house. “On the living room walls, we framed out squares using wood trim to create a floor-to-ceiling graphic element,” she says. “Applying trim directly to drywall is a fast and economical way to add character. It’s like wallpaper without color.”
Because the newlyweds had little furniture, Agron helped them curate a thoughtful mix of new pieces, antiques and antique reproductions. “There is a true appreciation for antiques on the East Coast,” the designer says. “Pulling in those pieces gives a sense of the past and makes our newer Denver houses seem richer, older and collected over time.” Traditional fabrics from venerable design houses like Brunschwig & Fils, Sister Parish Design and Schumacher, as well as antique art prints, porcelain ginger jars and silver accessories, also contribute to a sense of history.
Another way to create that enviable old feel, says Agron, is to “cozy up” rooms with lots of layers. One of her favorite methods is to top both hardwood and carpeted flooring with rugs. “Persian rugs are an investment, but they can’t be ruined,” she says. “They’ve already been around for decades and a little fraying just adds character.”
To keep the house looking fresh and up to date, Agron mixed in some contemporary elements. “When you mix new and old you get a much prettier layered effect,” she says. “We took really clean modern ideas and gave them a traditional presentation.” In the living room, for example, the designer paired classic upholstered and slipcovered chairs with a contemporary metal-and-glass coffee table and sleek glass lamps. She also took traditional toile to a hip, new level with a stunning, large-scale wallpaper in the dining room. The new glass chandelier sports a traditional shape, but sparkles with modern glam.
The color scheme also keeps the design feeling fresh. Vibrant blue—“just the happiest color there is,” Agron says—pairs handsomely with white walls and dark-stained oak floors, creating a nautical look.
“White against dark looks modern because of the high contrast,” adds the designer, who also introduced pops of red in the kitchen and family room to make the rooms feel “young and happy.” The bedrooms are softer in color: warm neutrals in the master bedroom and pale pink in the nursery to welcome the new baby who arrived after the couple settled in.
“The bungalow underwent a huge transformation, but it wasn’t a matter of major construction or moving walls,” Agron says. “The right furniture, trim and accessories went a long way in this house.”
Designer Katie Wolfe Agron shares savvy tips for selecting, updating and reinventing furniture:
Focus on the comfort of the people living in the house when shopping for sofas and chairs. The inside seat depth, arm width and seat height are more important dimensions than the overall size of a piece.
Look for furniture that serves multiple purposes: a console that holds a TV or serves as a desk, or an ottoman that doubles as a coffee table and offers hidden storage.
Use outdoor-grade fabrics for more durable upholstery and slipcovers. The selection and quality of these fabrics are rapidly improving.
Restyle a sofa or chair. Your upholsterer can add or remove tufting and alter the style of the legs, skirt and arms. You might opt to lower an arm or make it square for a more modern looking and comfortable feel; switch from bun feet to tapered legs; or remove a skirt altogether to dramatically change the effect of a piece.
Repurpose what you already have: Cut down the legs of a full-height table to make a coffee table; create two demilune tables from one round table; or freshen old wood furniture with new trim, hardware and a coat of paint.
Add texture and pattern to a room by recovering a lampshade or switching out shades on a chandelier. Consider a bold fabric or a stately monogram, and don’t forget the trim—choices range from tailored ribbon and braid to fancy glass beads or feathers.