It came as quite a surprise to Gene Gay and David Thompson that moving from San francisco to Denver would involve more than just a shift in geography and altitude. As they discovered, the clean, contemporary lines and open layouts so prevalent in bay area homes were not the norm in the Mile High City, where designs trend on the more traditional side. In fact, finding a modern floor plan to accommodate the weekly dinner parties they routinely host for anywhere from two to 30 people required some effort. “We looked at about 50 homes in two weeks,” Gene recalls.
The search ended with an airy house in Washington Park that had it all: a modern look, open floor plan and close proximity to downtown. In building the house, the husband-wife team of Jamie beard and pete Aurzadniczek had coincidentally crafted the interior spaces with entertaining in mind. “If I were hosting a party, I would want to be able to see everyone who’s there,” says Beard, noting the home’s top level is supported by a series of exposed i-beams rather than load-bearing walls, leaving the main floor wide open for bigger gatherings.
To bring the interiors alive with color and personality, the couple wanted a designer willing to challenge their tendency to play it safe. “It’s not that we didn’t like or want to use color, but left to our own devices, we usually end up with a fairly limited palette,” Gene admits. “we needed someone to push us out of our comfort zone.”
Gene, an executive chef, and David, executive vice president of global operations and technology for western union, selected designers Katie Schroder and Erika Rundiks to tackle the task. They admired the team’s deft use of strong colors and clean-lined designs, which they hoped would provide a catalyst for changing things up. “Beyond budget and discussing how we live and use spaces, we really gave them no guidance,” says Gene.
The designers quickly realized that despite the home’s architectural lines, their clients weren’t interested in a minimalist look. “Whenever we suggested things in that style, they would say ‘no,’ ” Rundiks says. “We ended up showing them a hundred fabrics in seven different color schemes so that they could see how the patterns and colors relate within each scheme.”
The couple’s classic leanings became apparent when they immediately gravitated toward herringbone linen, tartan plaid and velvet striping. Gene first fell in love with a bright yellow silk striped in turquoise plaid, which when transformed into accent pillows delivered a shot of adrenaline to the tailored gray living room sofa. In the dining area, a wool tartan in similar shades highlights the winged host chairs set against a wall of cobalt lacquered cabinetry. “We loved the deep blue,” Schroder says. “It’s vibrant and eye-catching but subtle, and because the design of the built-ins is fairly simple, it can handle the color.”
The neutral walls and rough-stacked fireplace surround provide a calming juxtaposition to the effusive hues. “Texture and finish can be just as much of a strong point as contrasting colors,” Schroder explains, noting the variation between the uneven marble blocks around the fireplace and the raw steel beams, glossy lacquered cabinetry and rich upholstery.
According to the design duo, the same philosophy also holds true with wallcoverings, which they layered lavishly. in the home office, turquoise grass cloth is an organic counterpoint to sleek gray built-ins, while the strong verticals of a different grass cloth give backbone to the diagonal metal staircase. “The homeowners love wallpaper, because it’s a way to create a really crisp canvas with pops of interesting color,” says Rundiks, who selected a metallic pattern in one guest room that makes it glow in the evening light.
Elsewhere, tile, fabric and rug patterns provide additional “wow” moments. The lower level gets energy from the speckled lobster-colored ceramic backsplash in the second kitchen installed so Gene could develop recipes for Étonné, the catering company he started after the move. Orange tones extend through the rest of the space, along with touches of the now-familiar turquoise. For continuity, those same tones also appear in the outdoor living areas.
Upstairs, Gene and David wanted the master suite to resemble their favorite hotels in London, such as the soho, whose rooms have tall headboards upholstered in bold patterns with complementary draperies against monochromatic walls. Schroder and Rundiks put their own spin on that idea with lipstick red walls and a canopied headboard in dramatic black and khaki prints. “The wall is the punch,” Rundiks says, “and the canopy is the main stage.”
Now fully at home in his Denver digs, Gene claims the designers were successful in attaining the energy and color that the couple sought. “When i’m relaxing in the living room, I see the yellow/turquoise plaid to my left, the red cabinet in the entry and on into the sitting room,” says the homeowner. “The color combinations are beautiful and there’s a wonderful flow that just feels right.”