Strolling past the grand mansions in historic Denver neighborhoods feels a bit like going back in time. With their classical architecture, expansive lawns and winding drives, these turn-of-the-century homes capture the art of graceful living in what was, even then, a burgeoning city. It’s this old-world charm that a couple of Boulder transplants instantly fell in love with when exploring neighborhoods looking for a spot to build a new home. So, when a property became available that was previously part of the historic Brinkerhoff estate, they knew they wanted to tap into that traditional spirit.
“We wanted something that had a sense of history, so it would fit into the area,” recalls the wife. However, as empty nesters, the home also needed to work for their more intimate lifestyle, one filled with Sunday family dinners and cocktail hours with friends. “We were looking for a combination—a classical look on one hand, but not overly formal or grand,” says the husband.
Searching for that balance between traditional gentility and modern ease, they turned to architects Don Ruggles and Melissa Mabe to marry both modes of living. “We’re well known for traditional architecture, but we’re always looking for ways to blend that style into a more contemporary feeling,” notes Ruggles, who also worked on the remodel of the nearby Brinkerhoff mansion, known for its classic French Normandy architecture.
Exploring different styles with the architects, the couple gravitated toward the simple elegance of an English Country cottage with a peaked roof and wood trim accents. “It’s a really intimate, romantic form that has a great sense of human scale,” explains Ruggles. “All the details feel almost close enough to touch.”
The team, which included builder Jeremy Larson, invoked this classic cottage mood with a gabled roofline, employing a pastoral palette of textured wooden beams, hewn stone and creamy stucco for the exterior. These details helped the home “have a sense of familiarity, respecting the history of this little district,” notes Ruggles. With a nod to modernity, however, the façade is punctuated with more hard-edge features like metal overhangs and a black slate roof.
Landscaping also proved key in carving out a graceful entrance. Situated on a hill, the home “had a big elevation difference between the street and the main door,” notes landscape architect Ariel Gelman, who collaborated with landscape designer Troy Shimp to bring the outdoor environment to life. “We wanted to create a smooth approach with gentle steps going up.” They also filled the tiered raised beds with flowering perennials that would bloom year-round, introducing a floral scape that “was a wink to that cottage style.”
This delicate balance continues inside, embracing more formal, enclosed spaces at the front of the house, which dissolves into a more casual, open-plan area. Refreshing, neutral hues between the textiles and furnishings keep stylish continuity between these realms. “The homeowners love the procession of a traditional layout, where you’re greeted by that kind of ceremony as you walk through,” explains Mabe, describing their approach to designing the flow of the home. “But when they want to relax, they can move further into the house and do some indoor-outdoor entertaining.”
This elegant procession begins in the entrance hallway and stairwell. Inspired by the grand molding of a traditional hall, “we wanted to channel that same spirit, but in a more streamlined way,” says Mabe, who collaborated on the interiors with Kelly Flynn and Emily Lindemann. Delicate English bead details in the molding and pilasters with simplified capitals “give you the idea of proportion in the space, but it feels softer and quieter.”
The dining room continues this stately footing, detailed with wainscoting and crown molding that provide a genteel stage for the family’s beloved antique dining set, which the wife grew up with as a child. “That set is coming up on about 100 years old now, and we’ve had it for almost 30,” notes the wife.
For more intimate gatherings, the couple heads further inward into the open kitchen and family room area that’s flooded with sunshine from the central courtyard, which is oriented to the south to receive the most light. “Architecturally, this allows so much of the interior and exterior of the house to unfold naturally,” explains Mabe.
It’s this area that the family gravitates to the most, as the team defines the open layout with natural social anchors, like the kitchen’s expansive island with rich molding details echoing the coffered ceilings above. Or on beautiful days, “when we have friends over, it seems they always end up in the courtyard,” says the husband. There, a natural stone fireplace with a towering chimney adds architectural heft to the space while providing a warming hearth.
It’s these quiet moments of grandeur in such intimate spaces that speaks most to the home’s reimagining of old-world entertaining. “There’s nothing overwrought or overdone,” notes Mabe. “It’s simply welcoming people with beautiful spaces.”