“Buy classic and it will last a lifetime,” designer Robert Passal recalls telling his client over a decade ago. At the time, the young man was renovating his first apartment in Manhattan and felt drawn to the industrial look so in vogue then. The designer helped him see the light—just not one that resembled an exposed pipe with bare bulbs. Instead, Passal guided him toward iconic and evergreen pieces that would outlast his bachelor pad days. So when that client, now married with two young children, made the move back to his home state of Colorado, a trove of timeless treasures went West as well.
A new build in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood provided the perfect base for this family’s next chapter. The cream brick abode—a collaboration between Godden Sudik Architects and Farm Ethics Real Estate, LLC—has the approachable air of a modern farmhouse on a corner lot across from one of the city’s many parks. Landscape designer Matthew Underly of Designs By Sundown further articulated the property’s verdant setting with yews, privet hedges and hydrangeas, adding outdoor amenities such as a heated patio, fire pit and raised garden beds.
Inside, the home offered well-proportioned rooms and blank-canvas interiors. As the couple desired finishes with a bit more patina, Passal brought in “lots of millwork and moldings to help it feel more grounded.” He employed other character-building tricks, too: Ebony and mahogany stains infuse the white oak floors with warm whiskey-barrel depth, and carved surrounds bring a sheen of history to the fireplaces. Adding risers helped the floating staircase take on a traditional appearance, while new cabinetry and a fresh backsplash gave the kitchen a more classic look.
Then came the layers of antiques, artisan-made items and artwork, starting with the placement of standout pieces Passal selected from his clients’ former home. Making the cut: a staggering chalk-white plaster chandelier, a set of French Louis XVI dining chairs and an array of high-impact art ranging from Robert Polidori’s sumptuous jewel-toned photographs of Versailles’ interior enfilades to a John Hoppner portrait of a lady in a russet gown—an engagement gift from the client to his then-fiancée. “She loves old-master paintings,” says Passal. “When she moved into his former apartment, he bought that for her to make her feel at home.”
Because the wife’s family is British, an English sensibility suffuses the interiors. “She leans into the shabby chic aesthetic a little, which is a nice complement to his classicism,” observes Passal of the couple’s style. Several nods to her heritage pepper the home: A triumvirate of cozy textiles including 18th-century block-printed chintz, cottage-ready ticking stripes and Savile Row-inspired woolens make appearances throughout. In the primary suite, a cast-iron tub sports a British racing green exterior—for a very proper soak, of course. Meanwhile, a striped tent ceiling brings a touch of mod exuberance to the daughter’s nursery and provides pure sensory delight.
Not one to give short shrift to this side of the pond, Passal drew inspiration from the local scenery, too. In the study, fir trees sway across a hand-painted mural, bringing a distinctly Rocky Mountain twist to the space. “It’s my ode to Colorado,” Passal says.
The designer also made sure to incorporate some of his favorite touches. Like legendary decorator Billy Baldwin—Passal’s inspiration—he adores a dark-walled cocoon of a room. Glossy navy millwork wraps the handsome study, which sits at the front of the house. “It gets moonlight, and I’ve always believed that dark rooms are made for evenings,” he muses.
In stark contrast is the soaring great room with its soft cream palette and abundant windows, which seems built for sunny afternoons. A true family-friendly space, the couple “wanted it to be approachable and comfortable, but also chic,” recalls Passal. He opted for a Persian rug to camouflage spills and a bronze coffee table that will only look better with age. A chandelier made of glass shards and wire by British artist Deborah Thomas and a James Nares painting (another remnant from the owner’s bachelor days) bring an air of sophisticated cool to the room.
It all goes to prove that the most interesting, nuanced spaces are evolutions, where a painting here or a chair there can represent all the eras of an individual’s life. For Passal, helping his client select pieces that would go the distance not only sparked a collection, but a friendship, too. “In the end, it’s not just about the design,” he reflects. “It’s about making a connection and building a relationship.”