The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
For a long time, painter Noelle Phares created her architectural landscapes—paintings that explore the tension between the natural world and the built environment—in a room in her home near West Colfax. At first, the setup worked. But after a couple of years, “the art took over”—the garage, the basement, a bedroom. “And I’m a very messy artist; I throw paint everywhere,” Phares says. “Each day, I was creating a workspace, making a mess, trying to contain the mess, and then wrangling it all and putting it away at the end of the day.”
So, she started looking for rental studio space, “which might be harder to find than houses, if you can believe it,” she says. “Old warehouses, which tend to make great spaces for artists, have been bought up by developers.” After months of searching, Phares couldn’t find a studio with windows that also offered more than 1,000 square feet.
Then, the artist and her then-fiancé (now husband) discovered an old, falling-apart, for-sale property about a half-mile from their home. “I love to paint at 3 a.m. or when the creative spirit strikes,” Phares says, so “I needed somewhere close to home.” The 4,000-square-foot, decrepit building—an old gun shop with a garage attached—provided the space and the proximity she wanted. “When we looked at it, all I saw were drop ceilings, shag carpet, bad light,” she recalls. “But my fiancé’s eyes lit up when we walked in. He saw right away what it could be”—and eventually would become: a 1,500-square-foot dream studio for Phares with three additional studio spaces she rents to other creatives.
With help from ArcDen Studio and general contractor Build3, the couple renovated the property from the inside out. They gutted the building down to the framing, replaced the electrical and plumbing systems, and then got to the good stuff: “Traditional artist studios are much more tailored to creating work,” Phares says. “But I wanted to do something different; I wanted it to be great for hosting [collectors and other artists] and for showing original artwork.” So, she dreamed up a studio that comprises room for her to paint; space for her assistants to organize, store, frame, and pack prints and originals; a kitchen where she can host dinners or just prep lunch on a busy day; a dining area; and a living room where she can show collectors how her works look in a residential space.
A neutral palette defines the studio, which has polished concrete floors (“a cool canvas for all my spilled paint,” Phares laughs) and three ample skylights. Pine tongue-and-groove ceilings give the space a modern, Scandinavian feel. Phares and her fiancé designed a giant, wall-mounted easel that accommodates canvases up to 10 feet. “It’s a perfect conversation piece,” she says, “and it keeps me from needing a huge easel that would take up tons of floor space.” Artworks on the walls are lit by a track-lighting system that Phares can adjust easily, while the kitchen gets a groovy kick from mustard-colored Vernon Panton Flowerpot pendants.
Phares—a former environmental scientist—named the place Blackbrush Studios after a desert plant she spied in the book Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (who was a ranger at Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah, when he penned the book). “The blackbrush plant thrives in harsh conditions,” Phares says. “Out of the desert dust, it still manages to bloom every year. I love that imagery.”
Her neighboring creatives at Blackbrush Studios—Madelyn Claire Floral Design and photographer Tom McCorkle—moved in recently, and Phares is using the fourth studio space as a gallery for now. It has big, open white walls, perfect for displaying art, and she has dreams of pop-up shows with other artists.
Ultimately, that’s what Blackbrush Studios provides Phares—not just a place to work, but also a space to dream. “I really love the idea of contributing to the burgeoning art scene out here,” Phares says. “I wanted to create space where I can hold events, where I can draw people’s eyes to this area [of the city].” She plans to host big events twice a year to welcome collectors and other guests, and smaller, artist-centric dinners to bring creatives together. “Really,” she says, “the possibilities seem endless with this space.”