Sometimes, you see a house and you just know it’s meant to be yours—even when its floorplan, decor, and color palette are pulled directly from the lowest design moments of the 1970s.
OK, the majority of us probably don’t have that kind of laser-focused vision when we’re house-hunting, but Blake and Emily O’Shaughnessy seem to have a sixth sense for design potential. “When we first saw this house, it was a hot mess,” Emily says of her 1950s-era home in Polo Club that hadn’t been updated for nearly five decades. A long driveway led guests to the back of the property, where entering the house “felt like walking into a dungeon,” she says. The outdoor patio was a sea of cracked salmon-pink concrete. A tiny, walled-off kitchen felt dated and dwarfed by the home’s large footprint, and frumpy green carpeting covered the floor of the sunken living room. As if that weren’t enough, the previous owners’ affinity for storage space led to some awkward use of square footage—for instance, no fewer than nine closets lined the walls in the main bedroom. “Even so, we fell in love with the house,” Emily says.
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The site helped woo the O’Shaughnessys: The home is situated on a sloping acre of land with trees and open space for the couple’s three sons—all under the age of seven—to enjoy. A few minutes’ drive from the bustle of Cherry Creek North, the area feels like it’s tucked away from the city. And while they could have simply bought the property and scraped the house, Emily and Blake are somewhat sentimental about giving old houses second chances. “What makes a house really cool is quirkiness,” Emily says. “You get that in these old Denver neighborhoods.”
Harnessing that quirkiness (and making it into something beautiful) is Emily and Blake’s personal passion and professional work through their real estate business, O’Homes. Drawing on their experience—and with help from Scott Hamman of Nest Architectural Design, who reimagined the home’s exterior facade, and architect Missy Brown, who consulted on the interior spaces—the couple set to work reconfiguring the floor plan to create a logical layout with open areas designed for gathering. They “blew up walls,” as Emily says, and expanded the tiny kitchen to add square footage and create a comfortable connection to the living and dining rooms. Outside, they designed two beautiful spaces: a pergola-covered patio with concrete pavers set among thin rows of turf, and an outdoor family room with a stone-wrapped banquette and heaters, an appealing spot from which to watch the boys play in the yard.
Inside, Emily began with a palette of white-oak floors and light walls. “I don’t love color for my own home,” she says, “but I love texture: fuzzy, furry, shiny—I go for it all.” Her approach paid off, as she layered each room with a blend of natural materials, antiques, and contemporary pieces. The kitchen, for example, marries high-gloss Ikea cabinets (outfitted with hardware from Schoolhouse) with chic Cristallo quartzite stone that wraps around the windows and extends to the ceiling. Beside the sculptural island stands a clock Emily found in Round Top, Texas, a beloved hotspot for antiques. Similarly, she outfitted the living room with such varied finds as a pair of contemporary swivel chairs from Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, an antique European daybed from Black Tulip Antiques, a modern shagreen coffee table, and a giant vintage pot from Italy.
The secrets to her success in decorating are knowing what she likes and taking her time, Emily says. Case in point: “I love cowhide, so I had this idea: What if we used it as wallpaper in the little bar area?” But the tiny squares of wallpaper she found weren’t quite what she had in mind, so she visited Tandy Leather, bought large hides, matched the pieces, and talked her wallpaper-hanger into installing it. And now, she says, the little niche is one of her favorite design moments in her home.
Such tenacity comes from Emily and Blake’s genuine affection for older homes that might seem unlovable at first. Sure, we might not all have their knack for sniffing out the true winners in real estate, but, Emily says, we can all benefit from a slightly slower approach. “Don’t write off a property because it looks like a lot of work, and don’t assume you have to knock it down,” she says. “It’s so special for a city to have these hidden gems. There’s so much potential in these cool old homes, and it’s worth finding it.”