Department

Reinventing History

A New York couple with modern sensibilities starts a new life in a Victorian Boulder home.

September 2008

Before Kimbal Musk and Jen Lewin-Musk bought the old Victorian in downtown Boulder, it had been a bed-and-breakfast. With that history came "charm" (read: myriad bedrooms dipped in purple-floral wallpaper and lace). "Most of our friends were shocked," Jen says. "We'd been living in this modern, stark apartment." At the time, their home was on Broadway and Canal streets in Manhattan's bustling Tribeca district, where Jen was creating interactive installation art and Kimbal, a classically trained French chef, was managing investments. But the New York weather and pace were getting to the couple, and Kimbal had started fantasizing about immigrating to Boulder, where Jen got her undergraduate degree in architecture.

"We weren't really going to stay," Jen says of the summer of 2002, when the two took a trip to Colorado to entertain the idea of uprooting for good. "Then we found this structure and we fell in love with it."

The landmark home and carriage house are a block off the hubbub of Boulder's Pearl Street—close enough that the couple can walk to almost anything they need, including their restaurant, the Kitchen, a project they took on a year after renovating their own kitchen.

Jen, who discovered she was pregnant just before they closed on the home, drew upon her architecture training to transform the home into their ideal space. Her concept hinged on a simple principle: usability. For her, that meant defining their lifestyle and creating an environment that reflected those needs. Naturally, she started with the kitchen, the heart of the house and the place their family gathers most often. To accomplish this feat, the couple opened just about every wall on the first floor. "One of the things I love about modern architecture is the play of space and light," she says. "Modern spaces are usually large, open, and generally filled with, if possible, natural sunlight. My goal was to bridge the two styles and take the best from each."

The sprawling kitchen is a chef's dream. An island more than 13 feet long has a cool, honed granite slab perfect for making pasta. Below are open shelves for stacking pots and pans—an idea Kimbal got from working in restaurants. A separate cleanup area behind the counter and stove is linked to the main kitchen by a curved cutting board. "The kitchen essentially has three sections: prep, cooking, and cleaning," Jen says. "We entertain a lot. And what happens when you entertain is that the pots and pans get stacked up and then all your guests start cleaning them. So I wanted a way to take all the dirty stuff and pile it out of sight and out of mind."

Structurally, the house (originally built in the 1870s) had undergone a number of additions and renovations in its storied past. Before being a bed-and-breakfast it had been divided into condos. Before that it was a single-family home. During the renovation, the couple's contractor, Doug Lindgren, was confronted with the idiosyncrasies firsthand: Raised ceilings on the first floor cut into windows on the second, ceiling joists ran in different directions, multiple staircases segmented the floor plan.

In spite of the quirks, the couple admits the hardest part of the remodel was trying to preserve the original Victorian feel of the house, while also modernizing it. Any changes to the exterior had to be approved by the City of Boulder Landmarks Board, so while they were able to add French doors to the main floor and the master bedroom, they were forced to keep the leaded glass windows that "leak like a sieve." They kept claw-foot tubs but added steam showers. For decor, they tried to unite their modern sensibilities with the historic aesthetic. Thus the subtle blend of antiques and modern touches—from a collection of old typewriters to Jen's funky, handmade hanging lamps. "For me," Jen says, "a great space has to look good with age. Actually, it should look better with age and, to be honest, I am not sure if our New York apartment would have lived up to the years. Our Boulder home is the exact opposite."