It took a house fire to make Cynthia Beneduce fall in love with her 1950s Arapahoe Acres home again. The former art teacher and folk-art dealer had bought the home for its midcentury modern bones, including original brick and smart proportions characteristic of the historic Englewood neighborhood, designed by developer Edward Hawkins. But she’d quickly become uncomfortable with the previous owners’ interior renovations that had thwarted the home’s midcentury charm—so much so that she rented out the home instead of living there.
So when an accidental blaze in 2013 largely destroyed the space, she seized the opportunity to bring on an architecture firm that could restore the home’s integrity. “She decided to take the house back to its original roots,” says Mark Bowers, principal of Denver-based Architectural Workshop (AW). “She was interested in the artistry and in doing it right, with specialized custom details.”
The biggest challenge of a restoration project driven by such a committed vision: “Working within the midcentury modern aesthetic and lifestyle characteristics of a home of this era, when the materials [today] are much different than back then,” says AW senior associate Katharina Jenista. “Trying to maintain the quality and purity of the 1950s with the materials we have took a lot of effort.”
The team either replicated the look of old materials or plucked them from the past. “You wouldn’t think of using linoleum today,” Bowers says, “but it was the material back then—all the rage,” so the team used it for the bathroom flooring. Bowers also took cues from typical postwar homes by specifying 16-by-48-inch plywood ceiling panels—created by Cillessen Construction Company—for the main living space; the panels fasten directly to the roof joists (and save time, material, and effort). Even the yellow screen doors were custom fabricated to resemble 1950s originals.
The team preserved yet another hallmark of the mid-20th century: an open floor plan that maximizes the home’s compact, 1,122-square-foot footprint. To create more space, AW opened up the back of the house and designed a 200-square-foot addition—formerly part of the carport—to accommodate a new kitchen. Sleek and orderly, the galley design boasts midcentury-appropriate custom mahogany cabinetry that mimics a Hawkins kitchen. Built-in appliances complete the clean look, and the orange Big Chill refrigerator brings retro authenticity.
In a house this size, it’s all about creating the illusion of space, Bowers says. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows along the patio fill the interior with light, and design tricks like tapering the bathroom vanity help make small spaces feel larger. “Cynthia was very intent on keeping the size of the kitchen and bathrooms to what was typical of a 1950s lifestyle and minimalist living,” Bowers says.
Although the team was steadfast in their commitment to midcentury design and building, the house is by no means midcentury in function. Features like low-flow toilets and high-density spray-foam insulation—which provides more than twice the level of the home’s original insulation—check sustainability boxes that didn’t exist 60 years ago. “We were going for modern functionality without compromising the style or character of the home,” Bowers says. “Even though we were replicating older details, we were still providing those modifications that allow the home to perform with the precision and ease of modern standards.”
In contrast to the strict replication of Hawkins’ midcentury structural details, the home’s decor is a whimsical departure from the era. “Most people would be tempted to put midcentury furniture in the home,” Bowers says. “Cynthia came in with very contemporary furniture. That contrast of high-end French-designed furnishings is incredible icing on the cake. It takes [the home] to the next level of composition, making it a fun, unique reflection of the owner.” That’s a love story we can all appreciate.
ABOUT ARAPAHOE ACRES
The first post-World War II residential subdivision to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Arapahoe Acres is a community of 124 homes built between 1949 and 1957. Developer Edward Hawkins purchased the land bounded by East Bates and East Dartmouth avenues and South Marion and South Franklin streets in Englewood and persuaded then-DU professor of architecture Eugene Sternberg to design the first homes. They are oriented on their lots to maximize privacy and take advantage of southern and western exposures, which bring warmth and mountain views. Sternberg’s motivation still rings true today: He approached his work with a passion for socially conscious housing that married smart architectural design with economical construction. No wonder design-lovers all over the West swoon at the neighborhood’s style and charm.
Architecture: Mark Bowers and Katharina Jenista, Architectural Workshop
Construction: Heath Cillessen, Cillessen Construction Company
Millwork: Phil Dutton, Accurate Solutions