Not many newly built homes in Denver blend seamlessly into a historic neighborhood. That is, unless it’s this East Washington Park stunner—set on a prime lot across from the park and lake—that our Clutch team completed in 2020. By scraping the site’s original 1910 bungalow, re-envisioning a home to meet the client’s more modern lifestyle needs, and maximizing the buildout potential of the lot, architect/principal Mark Bourne and head of interior design Kristen Tonsager expanded the footprint from 1,200 to 3,200 square feet in a design that’s striking for both its streamlined aesthetic and its nod to neighborhood integrity.
Below, four ways the Clutch team married traditional form with modern flair.
“We were trying to create a building that fit in the neighborhood, but provided a modern take on historic shape,” Bourne says. “We took inspiration from historic houses around town.” The result: an homage to the classic Denver Square—flat roof, square edges—with an update on hallmark elements in the form of an extended roof and upper terrace for added outdoor space and shade.
The floor plan takes its cues from the symmetrical setup of a Denver Square, which has a main floor divided into four closed-off quadrants, eschewing the more modern open entertaining flow typical of newer homes. But the details are different, with the dining room at the front of the home and living room at the back, allowing for privacy from a well-trafficked street. “The sitting and dining room open up to the front, creating an indoor-outdoor space,” Bourne says, “so the residents can be part of the fabric of the city or retreat to the back of the house.” Extras, like the butler’s pantry between the kitchen and dining room (inspired by the homeowners’ time in France), are both reminiscent of a bygone era and a reflection of today’s gravitation toward space continuity.
“As we started to articulate the historic Denver Square model, we took some of the craftsman style for the interior and modernized it,” Tonsager says. For example, the molding and trim, with squared instead of rounded edges, is cleaner and crisper than you’d find in a turn-of-the-century home. “We kept the millwork simple,” she says, “keeping the intricacies and details that make the craftsman style so beautiful, but adding modern twists and finishes.”
All-brick new construction is a rarity today in the face of less-expensive modern siding, but the clients understood the value in playing to the character of the neighborhood. Inside, unexpected elements in traditional spaces (see: the steel railing on the winding central staircase) continue the dichotomy. Interesting shapes and colors play a key role in the bathrooms—each with carefully selected nontraditional tiles—and kitchen. Says Tonsager: “The owners took a leap of faith with us to do a dark-colored kitchen [Benjamin Moore Gentleman’s Gray] that contrasted the white countertops and trim.”
How to craft a home that doubles as a venue
For those who love to entertain, home needs to function as both venue and haven. During events, it welcomes guests and comes alive with food preparation, conversation, activities, eating, drinking, and all the joys of a good gathering. Outside of events, it provides an opportunity to rest, share quiet moments with family and close friends, and enjoy small doses of privacy.
The tricky thing is, sometimes these needs overlap, especially when kids are involved.
Our newest project in south Denver is a 10,000-square-foot home designed for a family of three with a vast community and a penchant for entertaining. From cocktail parties to family holidays, fundraising luncheons to themed events, our clients regularly welcome guests into their home. They also have a small child, and value their privacy.
In designing their home, our goal was to optimize the space for both events and privacy, taking into account the various ways in which homeowners and guests alike will interact with the space. Keep reading for our top five tips on crafting a home for the frequent host.
Designing for Flexibility
The home was designed to accommodate various types of events—large and small, indoors and out, casual and formal—in addition to the basic needs of day-to-day.
On the ground level, we placed a dramatic, open kitchen at the center of the property, surrounded by several indoor and outdoor gathering spaces. Knowing that gatherings often start in the kitchen, we intentionally crafted it as a hub. To the south, floor-to-ceiling glass walls open to an outdoor patio, fire pit, pool, sculpture garden and mountain views. To the southwest, a blend of open space and seating areas radiate out, allowing small groups to gather, large groups to mingle, and homeowners to enjoy quiet moments without feeling swamped by the vast space. The ceiling height was kept at 15 feet, creating a volume that pairs the drama and openness of an expansive space with the intimate qualities of a cozier environment.
Focusing on Function
The best gauge for understanding how someone will live in a new house is to understand how they live now. The questions can be as simple as “What works?” or “What doesn’t?,” and as detailed as “Who wakes up first? Do you close the door when you sleep? How many steps do you take from carport to kitchen?”
In this case, the new home will be nearly twice the size of the current home. But, we didn’t want homeowners to feel like their movement throughout the space was Fitbit worthy. The goal was to fully understand how the space would be used and how each activity could be optimized.
To that effort, we conducted a study: tracking steps, laying out functions, event types, and movement patterns, and then planning the space accordingly. Whether the homeowners are putting away the groceries or prepping for bedtime, directing the caterer or welcoming large parties, the space was designed to aid and enhance each process.
Mapping Out Zones and Paths
Zones are where you gather. Paths are how you get there. Knowing that the home would second as a venue, we expanded the hallways, increased the number of powder rooms and added a large porte-cochere to house a valet station during events.
The primary event space is a 1,000-square-foot sunroom on the second floor that opens to a large outdoor terrace and delivers sweeping views from mountain peaks to downtown Denver. The remainder of the second floor is reserved for bedrooms and private living quarters.
To allow for adjacent but distinct functions, we crafted the path from valet station, to front door, up the grand staircase and into the sunroom so that guests needn’t interact with the remainder of the home. Guests arriving on the property will have a view of the terrace as they enter the valet station.
Near the porte-cochere, we installed an elevator to serve both guests with disabilities and catering/event services. For additional food and beverage service needs, we enlarged the garage and included a small support kitchen on the second floor.
During large events, the sunroom, event support and private areas can effectively function as separate zones using well-defined pathways to both guide and delineate.
Designating Private vs. Public Spaces
Even the most gracious of hosts sometimes need their privacy, especially if children are involved. When events run past bedtime, conversations veer towards business, or anything of the like, it’s important to have a place where one can go, feel safe, and escape the festivities.
To allow ample opportunities for privacy, we designed the second floor to include bedrooms, private bathrooms, and private family room that can be completely closed off from event activities, and still allow access to downstairs areas. A private staircase runs between kitchen and bedrooms. First-floor ceilings were lowered and well insulated to minimize sound and smell transmission between public and private spaces. And second-floor bedrooms were positioned (in some cases, cantilevered) to maximize views without compromising privacy.
The Making of a Well-Crafted Experience
For this home, we carefully crafted the guest experience from the moment they arrive on the property.
- The pathway from porte-cochere to front door is covered, and faces a two-story glass wall through which guests can see the grand staircase inside.
- The grand stairwell is two stories high, and marked by expert detailing and craftsmanship.
- The kitchen includes two sinks and a 10-foot-long table that stretches out from the kitchen island. Guests can enjoy drinks, appetizers and conversation (or kids can work on homework) while the host is putting the final touches on dinner.
- Most of the first-floor walls are operable—large glass panels that slide open to create a seamless connection between interior and exterior spaces.
- Extended overhangs enable guests to stand at the cusp of indoor and outdoor environments, even in inclement weather.
- Outdoor seating areas stretch across the landscape, with pathways guiding guests from kitchen, to covered lounge, to pool and sculpture garden.
- The design allows homeowners to entertain at different scales—2-3 couples in the kitchen, a large family barbeque by the pool, a catered dinner for 30 in the upstairs sunroom.
- Furniture, spacing and proportions were thoughtfully developed so the home feels intimate and inviting, whether alone or entertaining guests.
- Though the 10-acre lot is nestled in an urban environment, it sits above the surrounding properties, and is designed to capitalize on dramatic views of mountains and city alike.
The primary benefit of building a custom home is the opportunity to craft an experience tailored to the specifics of your lifestyle—how you eat, sleep, relax, play, entertain. The most effective designs address the whole, and don’t yield privacy in exchange for event space, nor grandeur in exchange for comfort. It requires honesty, thoughtfulness, testing and retesting, but it is possible to craft a home that supports you in all of your functions, from quiet nights alone to vibrant social affairs. If you’re looking to design a home, contact us for a free consult.