Way back in 2004, architect Jim Olson received an unusual creative brief: To design a Denver dwelling that would accommodate not just a husband and wife, but also showcase one of the most prominent collections of decorative arts in the country. No stranger to merging art with architecture, Olson responded with a modern glass-and-stone structure wrapped in steel trellises that filter the Colorado sun. A two-story gallery lined with tall vitrines was designed to separate the sprawling interior’s private family quarters from the museum-like entertaining spaces.
As a backdrop for art, it was a triumph. But for the young family who later bought the property from its first owners, it presented challenges as a home. “Because the original purpose had been so specific, this house had only two true bedrooms,” explains interior designer Cecilia Tanoni, who toured the abode with her longtime clients before their purchase was finalized. “The kitchen was hidden at the back of the residence and, in the public areas, there were very hard surfaces, including concrete floor pavers.”
Though they were bewitched by the lot’s vast, park-like acres originally sculpted by landscape architect Charles Anderson—a remarkable attribute given the urban locale—the couple wished for more connections between the house and its environs, and they wanted a pool. As they weighed these pros and cons, Tanoni left on a trip. “When I returned, they had closed on the house and contacted Jim Olson, asking him how they could turn his design into a family home.”
Olson was receptive to revisiting his work from two decades back. “Jim relishes these opportunities to go back and see a house through a new lens—the family inevitably has a huge impact on the character of a project,” says architect Jesse Kingsley, who worked with Olson, Tanoni, general contractor Jeremy Larson and landscape architect Mike Albert to rethink the home. The team began by reconfiguring miscellaneous second-floor spaces into four bedrooms and three bathrooms, as well as creating a kitchen and adjacent family room on the main level. The latter opens onto a terrace and Japanese woodland garden designed by Albert. A portion of the tall, honed-limestone wall that once separated this outdoor space from the south lawn was removed, creating an easy path from the family room to a new pool house and meadow-adjacent pool. “Our vision was that the end of the pool would be immersed in tall grasses, making the water a negotiator between cultivated and wild landscapes,” Albert explains.
To give the home’s soaring central gallery a more approachable demeanor, the design team replaced its metal-and-glass display cases with vertical wood screens, “creating the feeling of more intimate spaces,” Larson says. And, in the living and dining areas, they added tongue-and-groove hemlock ceilings, then clad the living room and library’s fireplace walls with custom burnished-bronze panels. Their patina has a softness you might not expect from metal, Kingsley comments, making it an ideal partner for warm woods.
Tanoni’s instincts about how to temper the interiors’ institutional quality led to an exploration of Brazilian modernism and to an assortment of sculptural furnishings with unique materiality and scale. “As we were selecting furniture, I kept thinking, ‘I want more curves,’ because everything is so geometric in this house,” she says. “We needed these pieces to have character and be very site-specific.” A shopping trip to São Paulo yielded significant vintage finds by the likes of Joaquim Tenreiro, Sergio Rodrigues, Giuseppe Scapinelli and Jorge Zalszupin. Tanoni and associate Lauren Alesso Claycomb mixed them with bold, contemporary counterpoints, several of which were acquired through Ralph Pucci.
“Whenever the clients were open to it, we brought in color,” notes Tanoni, who dressed the family room’s swivel chairs in a peacock-blue quilted fabric and the dining room seats in orange velvet. “To match the house’s grandeur, we needed more formal textiles. But for warmth, we also wanted that hand feel and those deep hues.”
Emphasizing the vibrance and gravitas of these reimagined interiors is the homeowners’ own collection of contemporary art, which has grown in scale, scope and importance since moving here. “There are a lot of conversation pieces and it’s fun to see people interact with them,” Tanoni comments. And, she adds, there’s a pleasure in seeing the house continue to fulfill its purpose as a place where art shines.
Interior designer Cecilia Tanoni enhanced the gallery of this Denver home with a ficus placed in a textural Inner Gardens planter. An iconic vintage Mucki bench by Sergio Rodrigues from ArteMobília Galeria sits nearby.