Feature

Family Style

A Denver interior designer embraces whimsy to create a kid-friendly—but still sophisticated—home.

September 2013

Four years ago, interior designer Petra Richards found herself in a less-than-ideal living situation: Her townhouse in Cherry Creek was quickly filling with artwork from her travels and the goods needed to raise two young children, but the family didn’t have any outdoor space for the kids to run. So when a friend announced his family was moving overseas and their five-bedroom Belcaro home—complete with a backyard, several patios, a garden, a swing set, and a kids’ clubhouse—would be available to rent, Richards and her husband started packing.

The white brick home is a fortress of right angles and black steel-frame windows that belie a warm, colorful interior. Richards refers to it as an “international-style” house—appropriate for someone who was born in Germany, lived in Barcelona, Milan, and New York City, and studied interior design in London. There was, however, a challenge to moving in. Although the home’s outdoor space was a godsend, it was a rental and came with owner-mandated boundaries (such as paint colors and built-in structures). 

Richards’ task, then, was threefold: Make the home as kid-friendly as possible while incorporating her love of foreign decor pieces, all within the constraints of what already existed and couldn’t be altered. 
Fortunately, Richards has the design chops to do exactly that. She has a penchant for high-end designer Christian Liaigre (available at John Brooks), whose anchor pieces—a coffee table, bedroom sofas, an office desk—are sprinkled throughout the home, and a knack for finding the perfect accent items at stores like Mod Livin’ and Bloom by Anuschka. “I like bringing worlds together,” she says, surveying her eclectic living room landscape. “These objects are from all over the world. There’s no strategy…it’s all intuitive.”

If there were a strategy, it would be simply to have fun. While the backyard was already equipped for Richards’ children—Soleil, 8, and Jasper, 6—with a gingerbread-esque clubhouse and a grassy expanse of lawn, Richards set to work on making the inside a place where the whole family could feel comfortable. 

The living room is both a collage of conversation pieces and artwork acquired during Richards’ travels and a true living space for Soleil and Jasper, who are more partial to the fort-making potential of sofas and pillows than their aesthetics. With the kids’ comfort in mind, Richards accented the room with touches like miniature Chinese stools (a one-of-a-kind Scandinavian Antiques find) and fabric poufs that transform the Christian Liaigre coffee table into a pint-size place to eat. Everything down to the pillows reflects Richards’ whimsical style. “Whenever I see a fabric that strikes me,” she says, “I’ll have some pillows made from it.” 

Whimsy is a design philosophy she’s carried throughout the home. The dining room began as a neutral canvas; Richards brought the space to life with the addition of colorful mismatched chairs from Mod Livin’, eye-catching floral curtains from Ikea, and a red Chinese accent table. By finishing the room with contemporary, playful paintings—artist Robert C. Jackson is known for his depictions of balloon animals—Richards infused the room with an appealing youthful energy. 

The same can be said of the patio spaces, which create an expanse of white space next to the house’s facade. Richards worked with what she had to soften the stark canvas and furnished the patio with splashes of bright color and funky, modern pieces by Philippe Starck, Frank Gehry for Heller, and Lisa Albin for Offi. “We integrate fun into our daily way of living,” Richards says of her style. “It’s very playful and colorful; an eclectic, child-oriented approach.”