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When interior designer Stephanie Waddell, her husband, Greg O’Neal, and their young son moved from Chicago to Boulder, they knew they wanted to live as close to the foothills as they could get. A midcentury ranch on a double lot in Lower Chautauqua fit that bill, and its lush Japanese-style gardens were an unexpected bonus. The couple also loved that the home’s unassuming form sat low on the land. But after moving in, they discovered that the home’s dim interiors were too closed-off, making it difficult for the family to connect with their surroundings. So after some time, Waddell began a redesign—in partnership with friends, architect Renée del Gaudio and builder Dan Flohrs—that was all about opening up.
5280 Home: You lived in this house for about seven years before renovating.
What wasn’t working?
Stephanie Waddell: The ceilings were like 7 feet, 9 inches high, which is barely above code. And I’m 6 feet tall, so it felt claustrophobic. The circular layout was strange and offered very little privacy, and most of the windows faced the front, but the back-yard was the killer part of the property.
Renée del Gaudio: The primary entry to the backyard was through Stephanie and Greg’s bedroom. It was so wrong.
Was anything right?
RDG: The most redeeming quality was the way the landscape pocketed into the exterior turns of the footprint. We wanted to keep that footprint and make the connection to the landscape even stronger. It’s almost like the original house was hinting at what could be there.
And you took the hint.
RDG: The concept was to remove the roof and exterior and interior walls, then rebuild on the existing foundation—with the exception of an entryway that we carved out and a 280-square-foot lower-level bedroom addition—which saved thousands of dollars in materials and other costs. We created an open-plan kitchen/living/dining core with high clerestory windows to bring in light from all directions—and give a glimpse of the Flatirons. Around that central core are the spaces for sleeping and working, which have adjacent gardens—designed by Marpa—that you can walk out into. And everything opens up and connects to the big garden to the north.
Your materials palette, which highlights the wood and steel structure, flows from interior to exterior too.
RDG: We didn’t see a need to design with unnecessary materials, or to cover up the Douglas fir rafters. Expressing the framing of a project always helps to describe your concept. You’re showing how it’s built.
SW: And it brings some of those earthy elements indoors, which became part of my design vision. I wanted all the interior selections to have an earthy or handmade feel, from the polished concrete floors to the walnut cabinetry to the slate kitchen counter-tops, which soak up every drop of lime juice when you’re making margaritas, but I’m growing to love how they show every way that we use them.
But that wasn’t your boldest move.
SW: I played a lot with tile. When I’m design-ing, I’ll collect patterns and tiles that I love and it’s great when there’s that happy accident when they work together. I did a very odd tile combination in the main bathroom—a hand-painted terra-cotta backsplash with terrazzo floors and a weathered Moroccan tile shower surround— that I thought no client would ever bite on, but I was able to do it in my house because I was the client!
You also got creative by mixing old and new furnishings.
SW: I gravitate toward interesting shapes and things that have the potential to be upgraded with paint or upholstery, so I reupholstered vintage pieces and bought vintage rugs. We’re such vintage thrifters that we hadn’t bought much new furniture in our lives, but we’ve never needed such a large dining table before, so that’s new.
RDG: My favorite piece is the fantastic vintage card catalog that functions like a giant junk drawer.
SW: We asked Renée to size a wall for it because I can’t live without that thing. It’s got 100-some drawers—for everything from measuring tapes to my college diploma! Part of what I love about a vintage find like that is that it has a lived-in feel; it feels like it’s a part of history. Much like this house.