Modern English: A Look Inside the Denver Life Magazine 2017 Showhouse

Photography by James Ray Spahn

For this year’s Denver Life Magazine Showhouse, we popped the top on a cramped, one-story Tudor in Bonnie Brae, doubling its size and creating a contemporary—but still cozy—family home

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Contemporary touches like black-framed windows, geometrically patterned drapes and a sleek white chest make the living room feel modern and fun.

Shakespeare. “Downton Abbey.” Fish and chips. The Beatles. The Mini Cooper. Harry Potter. All those “Keep calm and carry on” signs. Yes, we owe a lot of wonderful things to the British. One item we’d like to add to that list: Tudor homes, whose curving rooflines and sweet, mullioned windows have long made it a popular style on this side of the pond.

But, like a venerable old English character actor whose style now feels a bit formal and fusty, Tudors often need updates to bring them into the 21st century. That was the case with the 1,200-square-foot, one-story home in Denver’s Bonnie Brae neighborhood that Denver Life Magazine has transformed into its 2017 Designer Showhouse.

The newly remodeled home, which sits on a gorgeous, curved, tree-lined street close to Bonnie Brae and Washington parks, now has four bedrooms and five baths, with 3,100 square feet above ground, a deeper basement that includes a family room and bar (along with the fourth bedroom and bath) and a generous deck, patio space and small yard in back. 

“It was a very extensive job,” says Brad Liber, principal at Caliber Construction, who worked with Denver Life Magazine, Alvarez Morris Architecture and more than a dozen interior designers to turn the new home into a showstopper. “Tudors are really neat architecturally from the outside, but the interior layouts are terrible—chopped up and divided. We rearranged everything; there is not a single wall in the same place. But we didn’t want it to look so modern that it was out of place on the block—we always try to respect that. Instead, we were aiming for a timeless, modern feel, trying to keep a little bit of the old but do it in a more new way.”

The house will be open to the public from September 9 to 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For the third consecutive year, 100 percent of the $20 admission fee will directly benefit Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver.

The biggest structural challenge of doing a pop-top like this? “You never know exactly what’s inside before you begin,” says Conor Robinson, project architect at Alvarez Morris Architectural Studio, which did the designs for the remodel. “You’ve got to make assumptions and then you start peeling it away and make decisions about what to keep and what not to. We saved a certain percentage of the exterior walls, took off the entire roof and, in the back, put on an addition for a mudroom and opened it up to the backyard.”

The biggest design challenge? “Making it not look like a pop top,” Robinson says. “Often, architects will take the roof off, leaving a box, and then put another box on top of it, so they look like two different structures that don’t mesh. We tried to create a smooth transition between the existing house and the addition on top. We continued the brick all the way up the front and created the large front gable roof.”

That, along with the huge, multi-paned “glass box” of windows on the front façade, are the signature features in the new home. “It creates a very cool space inside, which could be used as a dining room, a lounge or really anything else,” Robinson says. “But it’s a prominent feature on the exterior, too—it stands out. Our firm’s trademark is taking traditional-looking houses and doing something modern to them. That was one of the moves—along with the clean lines and the black and white exterior palette—that helps make the home feel contemporary.”

And, as they do with many newer builds in Denver, the architects located the open kitchen and family room at the back of the house. “We added large sliding glass doors and an inviting outdoor area so we’d have this seamless indoor-outdoor connection,” Robinson adds.

Inside, to help achieve a livable look, Caylin Engle, lead designer at Caliber Construction, started the process by creating fictional homeowners, whom she dubbed “the Braes.” Father Mark works in the tech industry; his college sweetheart and wife, Kathy, is a freelance photographer. Fifteen-year-old Adam loves to travel and watch movies and is teaching himself guitar, and Sophie (“10 going on 20”) likes to read and is into fashion, setting out her next-day school outfits every night before bed. Like most Coloradans, the Braes, who also have a puppy named Bonnie, love the outdoors and, as Chicago transplants, hope to learn to ski together.

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DOUBLE DECKER By adding a second story covered in vertical Boral siding, moving the entryway door, painting the bricks a uniform color (Benjamin Moore’s China White) and, most of all, extending the front with an enormous Pella window unit, architect Carlos Alvarez was able to completely transform the look of the home.

“I wanted the designers, each of whom was doing a different room, to think of this whole house as a family space, with Mom cooking in the kitchen, the kids hanging out nearby in the living room,” Engle says. “And the designers really responded to that. Corinne Ekle, who designed the girl’s room upstairs, would text me and say, ‘Do you think Sophie likes pink?’ Or ‘Do you think Sophie likes flowers?’ I think it really helped the designers, because instead of just thinking about their little vignettes, they thought about the Brae family.”

Though Engle strove for a cohesive look throughout, the designers still got to push the envelope in each of their spaces. “Each year, we are trying to let the designers explore a little bit more,” she says. In the kitchen, for example, designer Angela Coleman of Luxe Kitchens and Interiors made the space elegant with touches like a Calacatta Caldia herringbone wall but also cutting-edge appliances, from an induction cooktop to a long, multitiered Galley sink prep station that can do practically anything you ask of it, from keeping drinks cold to acting as a serving spot during parties. In the upstairs laundry room, Caitlin Marsh and Christy Brant of Lulu’s Furniture and Décor created a space where a homeowner would actually want to hang out, with bold pops of color on the walls and fun accessories like an oversized clock and desk bell, hourglasses and, best of all, a gorgeous photo of Elizabeth Taylor staring straight out at you. Why, you ask? Why not?

In the basement rec room, Rob Osgard of Howard Lorton Galleries created a fun place for everyone, with a bar with double fridges, a large game table tucked into one corner, a reading nook in another and, of course, a large entertaining area for watching Broncos games or “Game of Thrones.” And then there is the striking wallpaper throughout the home: A waterfalled rustic-wood pattern in the main-floor powder room, a bank of soft cumulus clouds on one wall in the master bedroom and, perhaps most striking of all, an up-closeand- personal bouquet of pink peonies in the girl’s bedroom.

With the open-air front dining room, whose huge box of glass windows makes it feel as if it’s sitting outdoors, the adjacent pass-through office (painted black so it will recede during dinner parties), an enormous master bath that manages to still feel intimate and a boy’s room with a vaulted deep-blue ceiling and golden chandelier that make the space feel out of this world, the home has something for everyone.

“We’re really pleased with the way it came out,” Liber says. “We think it represents exactly what we wanted it to be, and the neighborhood is ecstatic about it. The previous owner even came through recently and she couldn’t believe it. She actually started crying. She said the house was so well done; she was so happy to see it grow and evolve with the neighborhood and with the next family.”

Getting that seal of approval? Now that’s the sign of top-notch design.

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