Erin Iba got the call as she was driving across the country to relocate from New York City to Denver. Would she be willing to do a little color consult for a house in Boulder? “No problem,” replied the designer, happy to land her first Colorado client. Little did she or the homeowners know that this gig would go way beyond just a few paint chips.
The homeowners had been renting when they spotted a For Sale sign in front of their favorite house on the block, a 10-year-old contemporary farmhouse. “I was literally walking by when it went on the market,” recalls the husband, who had the house under contract the following day. Iba landed on their doorstep the next.
With its balconies, tall windows and sun-splashed open floor plan, the house was fine structurally speaking, but the finishes had to go. “There was so much wood it looked like a mountaintop,” says Iba. And although the couple agreed that the rustic aesthetic didn’t really work for them, they couldn’t reconcile their own dichotomous tastes: cool tones and minimalist lines for him, cheerful patterns for her.
In response, Iba prescribed an injection of urban chic, transforming every finish—floors, walls, ceilings, and trim—in a neutral palette of taupe, gray, beige, and brown punctuated by soothing accents of blue, green and gold. Step one was to sand down the natural pine floors and millwork to eradicate the “weird orangey shellac,” the designer says. Then, she had every baseboard and window frame painted a dark gray that pops against the taupe walls and gives the public spaces an industrial loft feel. The trim also contrasts with the pine floors, which were stripped and waxed for a lighter look. The one large expanse to get a darker hue was the 10-foot-high living room, where the ceiling was painted a metallic green-blue. This bit of “visual trickery,” Iba says, adds height and depth, but the real feat was to prep the uneven surface. “With metallic paint, the surface has to be smooth as glass or you get an orange-peel effect.”
The ceiling finish coordinates with two elements produced by The Alpha Workshops, a New York City-based nonprofit that trains HIV-positive individuals to produce high-end decorative arts. The first is a large abstract painting in moody tones of teal, which dominates one wall of the living room. The other is a hand-painted wallpaper covering the fireplace surround and chimney. The artisans also created the intricate wallpaper in the entry, where the horizontal bands on the striated pattern were made by hand by folding the paper like origami and then painting it. “It’s an extremely laborious process that involves using a straight edge and an iron,” Iba says.
If the husband’s favorite room is the swanky living room, the wife’s is the vibrant, pattern-packed family room. Iba toyed with ripping out the cabinetry but, inspired by the wife’s upbeat personality, she instead color matched the built-ins to an apple-flavor Jolly Rancher and sealed them with lacquer. “I wanted not just the green hue but also that great sheen, almost like candy itself.”
In the master bedroom, Iba contended with an awkwardly angled vaulted ceiling by introducing a pearl gray moiré silk wallpaper extended to cover the entire ceiling to form a luxurious cocoon. Taupe trim and scalloped silk moiré curtains continue the near-monochromatic symphony of textures. The room’s Gary Ponzo chandelier meticulously composed of 4,000 paper clips required not only scaffolding to hang it but also flying the artist himself in from New York.
“The original idea was just to have a little paint and a touch of wallpaper,” recalls the husband about his initial phone call to Iba. “The next thing I know we’re moving out, and a 20-person work crew is in here redoing every surface. But the end result has exceeded all expectations. It’s now a home that we want to live in forever.”