“I wanted this home to feel like a New York City penthouse,” Karen Jacobs says of the contemporary house overlooking a lush golf course and Denver’s downtown skyscrapers. With its clean lines and modern forms, the house she shares with her husband, Rick, does manage to stand apart from the traditional styles of its neighbors.
But, according to builder Rick Watkins, arriving at that streamlined, singular appearance was a rigorous process. “It’s very difficult to make things look so simple,” Watkins explains, citing the custom windows, which were designed to fit precisely into custom floor-to-ceiling openings, as an example. “Everything had to be designed, lined up and custom made, so that every little crisp line flows all the way around the house.”
Adding to the design complexity were restrictions placed on the Jacobs’ lot. To preserve the views of neighboring houses, the lot’s former owner agreed to work within specific height and volume limitations to get an architectural plan approved. This posed a challenge to architect Sears Barrett, who was now faced with designing a contemporary house with an entirely different program within the allowable three-dimensional space. “It was one of the toughest geometric problems that I’ve ever encountered,” Barrett says, recalling the balloons that he floated at various locations along his proposed roofline, so the neighbors would be able to see for themselves how his design would affect their views. “But opportunities arise from limitations.”
With the neighbors’ unanimous approval, Barrett’s design was realized. The flat roofs of the three-story structure—clad in stacked granite, stucco and standing seam zinc panels—underscore its contemporary appearance and help keep its profile low. Inside, Barrett incorporated a curving wall that snakes through the house. “The long, serpentine curve starts at the front door, runs right through the middle and terminates at the back of the house,” Barrett says. “The curve really animates the geometry and acts as a unifying spine.” Landscape designer Adam Hallauer took a similar approach and contrasted the architecture with sinuous lines on the grounds. “We wanted to create strong statements on the landscape as well, so we designed site walls that are curved in one big moving gesture,” Hallauer says.
For further continuity, the same granite used on the exterior walls was brought inside to sheath the curved wall. “Every little stone was placed one at a time by a crew of masons,” Watkins says about the labor- intensive work. For aesthetic reasons, the owners insisted that no wood be used in the house. “I wanted a clean, contemporary home with glass and steel,” Karen explains. To replace the warmth of wood, designer and licensed architect Eric Mandil, who handled the interior design of the house with his team Sean Hughes, Gala Stude and Hillary Goldstein, selected tile and stone finishes in a taupe palette and then introduced tactile layers, including mohair textiles and cowhide rugs. “Our selection of colors and materials made the contemporary home warm and inviting,” Mandil says. “You can feel the texture with your eyes.” Primary-hued fabrics and the clients’ contemporary art collection stand out against the muted backdrop, and Mandil concealed yellow LED rope lighting in ceiling trays, underneath built-in storage cabinets, and along the winding staircase. “It appears to lift the ceiling higher and gives the stairway a floating effect,” says Mandil.
Although Karen Jacobs admits that she was daunted by the idea of building a brand-new home, she is thrilled with the result. And between the sleek design and downtown high-rises in the distance, the house brings the feel of Manhattan to Colorado, just as she had hoped. “I’ve always wanted a pied-a`-terre in New York,” she says, “and this view reminds me so much of Central Park.”