Ahead of the Curve

How an unusual lot resulted in design inspiration for one Northwest Denver family.

September 2012

From the rooftop deck of Nils and Karli Erickson’s Lower Highlands home, you get one of those knockout Denver views: the lights of Coors Field, historic Union Station, and the towering skyline to the east; mountain peaks rising to the west. “There is a time at dusk,” Nils says, “when the sun is setting and all the buildings are brighter than the sky.” It’s Denver’s urban alpenglow.

Two years ago, the young couple moved their growing family from a cookie-cutter home on a Lakewood cul-de-sac to this vibrant neighborhood northwest of downtown. Although they didn’t plan to build from scratch, they stumbled upon an empty lot that had space for a big backyard (on their wish list) and was just around the corner from Nils’ office (also a plus). When they met Brad Tomecek, a neighbor, and Christopher Herr of architecture firm Studio H:T, whose contemporary design approach resonated with them, the deal was sealed. “They asked us questions like, ‘What do you want living here to look like?’ ” Karli says. “It felt safe to us.”

The Ericksons’ design requests were simple: four bedrooms, indoor and outdoor entertaining spaces, and a play area for their two small children, Bodie, five, and Tate, two. It all seemed straightforward to Tomecek and Herr. But their resulting design is anything but, thanks in part to the home’s unusual mix of neighbors. The site is bookended on the west by a three-story, multifamily condominium complex, with balconies that overlook the lot, and on the east by Our Lady of Light monastery, where the nuns have occasional silent hours. In an inspired example of form-meets-function, the design duo developed a gently curved vertical piece—resembling a ship’s sail—to create privacy for the Ericksons and their condo neighbors, and then placed the quieter living areas, such as bedrooms, on the east side of the property out of respect for the nuns. The curve also fits within the bulk-plane restrictions (the invisible envelope that determines how big a house can be) set by the city for new residential construction.