When John Mattingly takes on new clients, one of his greatest joys is figuring out the architectural identity of their home. For this couple he has known for many years, the direction revealed itself quite quickly. “What they were telling me had a lot to do with what Axel Vervoordt does,” the residential designer explains, noting an appreciation for the Belgian designer celebrated for reviving historic structures with an organic, minimalist aesthetic. “I’ve studied him and other Belgian architects and it’s a very different style from, say, French or English,” he adds. “In that neck of the woods, country houses are simpler.”
Mattingly’s read proved right. “When we sat down with John and started drawing up ideas, he pulled a Vervoordt book off the shelf and it was exactly what we wanted: simple and elegant,” recalls the husband, a real estate broker. The wife, a full-time mother to their two teenage children, was especially keen on the style, having spent time in Belgium herself. “I’ve always appreciated how gracefully things age in Europe,” she says.
The house the residential designer envisioned for these longtime residents of Denver’s University Park area draws from a different tradition yet syncs with the city’s vernacular. “There are instances of European architecture here,” Mattingly explains. “There’s heavy Italian and Spanish influences, but also some Dutch Colonial.” The home’s less common, Belgian-inspired style “stands out a bit more because its starker,” he says, pointing to the exposed, raw structure inside the abode. “This wasn’t an easy house to build, but authenticity is something you feel—and there’s soul here,” general contractor Mike McNeill reflects. Natural elements such as Douglas fir beams, wood window frames (painted black to look like metal), plaster and brick were all envisioned “not as features, but as ingredients,” he adds. As Mattingly quips, “It’s so simple, it’s complicated.”
While its layout follows a traditional center-hall plan, this residence feels different because of its scale. Thick walls and varying ceiling heights add dimensionality, creating a subtle backdrop for a mix of modern and antique furnishings. “The interiors reflect the essence of the architecture,” says designer Bri Rutledge, explaining that the team started with neutrals and “added color in an organic way,” as seen in the dining room’s bright-green chairs. “But we still emphasized what Vervoordt does so well with textures, using leather, chunky bouclé and linen to play off the materials John used in the house.” Another driving force was the owners’ art collection, which grew with the help of consultant Kate Meyers of Kate Finds Art. “This is a vibrant, social family, so we needed to infuse a little fun,” Rutledge notes.
“Bri picked up on our aesthetic immediately—the home is so bright, airy and uncluttered,” the wife enthuses. At the front, a dining room with a built-in cocktail bar and a lounge-like study both open to front patios that fill the space with dappled sunlight. And at the rear are a large eat-in kitchen with a separate back area and mudroom, as well as a family room that leads outside. “There’s a wonderful indoor-outdoor connection,” the interior designer says. This feeling of spaciousness flows to the basement’s workout and entertaining areas, and upstairs too, where Mattingly positioned the husband’s office (replete with a vaulted and paneled ceiling), the kids’ bedrooms and the couple’s suite, which Rutledge imagined with natural textures and smaller prints for “a cozy, serene atmosphere.”
To redesign the garden, the team brought on landscape architect Phil Steinhauer, who created the welcoming arrival the homeowners envisioned by adding flowering shrubs to a front yard flanked by two large maple trees. In the private, terraced backyard, Steinhauer integrated three distinct spaces: a pergola-covered dining patio, a barbecue area and an intimate gathering spot with an outdoor fireplace. Terracing the yard made it “feel more substantial,” he explains, while adding a brick seat wall across the middle “created a dynamic level change and defined the three main spaces.” Among such elements as columnar English oaks and an eastern redbud tree, he also left space for the family to grow their own herbs and vegetables.
“The juxtaposition of old and new gives the house a lived-in, collected feel,” Rutledge sums up. “And nothing is ultra-high maintenance,” the husband happily adds. “There’s a simplicity to living here.”