Michael Leede and his sister, designer Katie Leede, spent many summers in a special family house on the coast of Maine called Skylands. Years later, when Michael asked his sister to help design a Denver house for his family, the siblings had that particular home in mind. Today, the world knows Skylands as one of Martha Stewart’s oft-published residences, but it was originally designed in the 1920s by architect Duncan Candler for Edsel and Eleanor Ford. And, for many years, it was a haven for the Leede family. “It was our magical place,” Katie says. “We had it for close to 20 summers, and we loved the flow and feeling of that house, and the quality of its materials.” Michael adds, “It had well-proportioned rooms, but nothing overly grand—it’s a very livable, classic design.”
To recreate the feeling of Skylands while also drawing inspiration from Katie’s former Santa Monica home, Michael asked architect Mark Wellen (who worked on the Maine house when the Leede family owned it), the late general contractor Mike Floyd of Kane Creek Construction and his sister to create the new residence. The design team was charged with capturing the spirit of the homes, as opposed to replicating them.
Wellen chose to keep the plan clear and simple by using a strong axial arrangement. “There’s a certain amount of drama when you walk through the front door and into the high-ceiling space,” he says. “Then, as you go into the living room, the axis creates views in all directions.” The architect also gave the brand-new house a sense of gravitas with elements found in classic homes, such as thick walls that allow inset windows and doors. “We tried to make the detailing basic and timeless,” he says. “I’m a strong believer that a house should be the framework for the way people live their lives. The details of this house are a great backdrop for the family’s furniture and art.”
It is a considerable collection, as the home contains not only family memories, but many physical keepsakes as well. Michael and Katie’s mother—a woman with a discerning eye for design—happened to be creating a more contemporary interior at her house while her son’s new home was being designed, so she gave many of her vintage pieces to him and her daughter-in-law, Teresa. “My mom had gotten several wonderful old pieces from Hyde Park Antiques when I was 15—including the entry console and mirror,” the designer says. “After that, she went on a big collecting tear. When all of these beautiful things became available, it was just a matter of figuring out what could go where.”
Katie had more than antiques to consider—their mother provided a healthy dose of modern furniture as well as the classic items. And it’s the mix that provides the home with soulfulness. The dining room, for example, features Brno dining chairs by Mies van der Rohe. “Those are the type of chairs that we grew up with around our dining room table,” says Katie. That’s not to say they are exactly the same. The designer notes: “I put an olive brown linen velvet on these, which my mother would never do, she always had them with the classic black leather.”
The room also contains statement-making contemporary notes. “The Jasper Johns Numbers were collected by my parents, and they look great on the dining room’s polished plaster wall,” Katie says. A gold-leaf ceiling floats above it all. “We had a painter on a ladder for four days, applying these little gilt squares to the ceiling,” Teresa says. “It adds a special pop and a bit of chic.”
Throughout, textiles add color and texture. Fabrics by designers such as Brigitte Singh and Robert Kime mix with the designer’s own line, as well as family heirlooms. “There’s an antique tapestry in the entry that was the first major piece my mom bought,” Katie says. “It was a centerpiece of Michael and Teresa’s wedding.” And, in 2019, it served the same function when the couple’s son married.
Meanwhile, a family quilt hangs on the bedroom wall. “My mother is an avid collector, and while at Skylands she became obsessed with quilts,” Katie says. “She accumulated around 200, and this one is a particular favorite of my mother’s.” The myriad of family treasures looks right at home in the airy yet intimate spaces. “This house feels solid yet cozy—and that’s the way Skylands was,” says the designer.
And now the house is ready for the next generation of Leedes. “We wanted a house that was comfortable for our family,” says Teresa. “Our son and his wife are expecting a baby this summer, so as our family grows this house will be able to accommodate all of us. It’s a great place for making memories.”