Realtor Heidi Cox has seen—and often mourned—dozens of historical homes converted into sleek, modern dwellings. So when she and her husband, Ryan, bought an 1884 home in Curtis Park—their favorite Denver neighborhood—they vowed to preserve its authentic charm and craftsmanship. “Historically designated neighborhoods do a great job protecting the exteriors of historical homes, but we’re losing our historical interiors,” Ryan says. “Every renovation strips away more and more of the original character, and we lose a lot of the workmanship that went into the build.”
Luckily for the couple, their new (old) home had many of its original architectural elements intact—if only the Coxes could find them. Because of a clunky renovation in the early 1980s, many of those historical details were covered up with newer materials or overshadowed by a less-than-functional floor plan in the back third of the house, which included a bathroom next to the kitchen and no direct access to the backyard. “A lot of what we were doing was stripping away what had been added since the original construction,” Heidi says of the couple’s renovation plans.
They began by altering the floor plan. Working closely with HIE Consulting Engineers for structural advice, Ryan updated the layout to better fit the family’s needs—and remove some of the ’80s-era changes. Upstairs, they converted an office space into a bathroom, laundry area, and closet, and combined an existing bedroom and bathroom to create a master suite. Downstairs, they transformed the awkward off-the-kitchen bathroom into a small powder room and a mudroom that opens to the backyard.
Layout fixed, the Coxes set to work refinishing the home’s original pine floors. They also restored gorgeous stained-glass windows and fixed the trim using period-authentic architectural salvage materials they found at Unassimilated, a shop run by one of their neighbors in Curtis Park.
For furniture with character to match their home’s historical details, Heidi and Ryan turned to Chris Watson, principal interior designer of Watson & Co. His goal was to find a mixture of high-end and low-cost furnishings and decor (think: Persian rugs and luxurious upholstery next to a wooden-bench-turned-cocktail-table) that look like they might have come from the turn of the century. “We don’t want clients to feel like they’re living in a museum, but we want to capture that period feel,” Watson says.
Antique pieces, including a colorful rug and original chandeliers, add early-twentieth-century glamour to the main living areas. Even the new items in the home draw attention to its historical charm. Wherever possible, Watson selected pieces that complement vintage elements or original architectural details. In the kitchen, for example, he and fellow designer Mark Cameron accentuated the tall Victorian ceilings and original vertical windows with floor-to-ceiling white subway tile and dramatic Clarke & Clarke fabric window treatments. The powder room features an authentic turn-of-the-century sink alongside vintage-looking Restoration Hardware sconces and an elegant mirror from Pottery Barn.
Perhaps nothing better reflects Heidi and Ryan’s success in preserving the home’s character than the living room: With its stained-glass window, handsome original trim, stenciled walls, and ornate gas fireplace, it resembles a Victorian parlor. A quirky painting, “Misfit” by Texas-based artist Michele Mickesell, keeps the space grounded in the twenty-first century without distracting from historical details.
Restoring the home’s original character gave the Coxes a living space that functions better than when they bought it: “I never would have guessed that renovating it to be closer to its original floor plan would have made the layout work so fluidly,” Heidi says. Now, when she tours for-sale homes of a bygone era, she can make a very personal case for preserving the good bones of Denver’s oldest homes.