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Modern Family

A Boulder home gets a sleek overhaul to satisfy the new owners’ contemporary tastes.  

—Photography by Raul J. Garcia

There was nothing photogenic about the charmless 1950s home (previously a rental) the Nuñez family purchased in Boulder—nothing except its views of the nearby Flatirons, that is. The outdated home in the Newlands neighborhood suffered from plenty of design ailments, including a clunky addition from the 1990s that extended both up a story and off the back, giving the space a cumbersome, ill-conceived feel. But that perfect panorama was enough to persuade the Nuñezes to hire a design team to take the home down to its studs and rebuild it from the inside out. The result? A 3,400-square-foot contemporary, light-filled space that aligns beautifully with the family’s active, social lifestyle.

It might not have been. Isabela and German Nuñez were raising twins, now eight years old, in Erie. Craving a change from the cookie-cutter suburbs, they began to house-hunt in Boulder, where German worked and the kids attended school. The house didn’t make a great first impression: “The first time I saw this house, I said, ‘Absolutely not,’ ” Isabela says. But, drawn by the neighborhood’s character and proximity to Mt. Sanitas and North Boulder Park, they returned and ultimately decided to give the home a new life.

Lacking the budget to scrape and start over, the Nuñezes assembled a team familiar with Boulder’s rigid building codes to work within the existing structure. “The house wasn’t really functional in today’s world for what a family needs,” says Chris Gray, a principal at Boulder-based architecture and design firm BLDG Collective. “It was compartmentalized with a bad flow. There wasn’t a lot worth keeping except the exterior.”

The team’s decision to gut the home came with some benefits: “You get to discover and reveal these unique aspects of the house that weren’t realized before,” says Steve Perce, another BLDG Collective principal. The biggest example is the airy stairwell, which the team installed by the windows in the south-facing wall, complete with open tread and a glass partition. “There was so much daylight pouring in there. Why deny that?” says Ryan Wither, owner of Boulder’s Buildwell, a construction and furniture-design firm. “It was kind of like an archaeology dig—we started peeling back the layers.”

The family’s desire for shared space also guided the design: In the kitchen, for instance, the wood table (cantilevered off the island) provides a homework and eating surface for the twins while leaving the dining room table for more formal occasions. The kitchen’s central location works well with the Nuñezes’ love of entertaining. “The party always ends up in the kitchen, whether you want it to or not,” says Isabela, “so I wanted it to be open.”

To pull the whole home together, the Nuñezes enlisted interior designer Sage Case of Denver-based Studiotrope Design Collective. Case found innovative ways to soften the overall effect—such as painting the kitchen’s ceiling beam a warm red. She also helped coordinate interesting details, such as reoccurring blackened steel, which is visible on the kitchen table and fireplace. “If the whole thing was sleek, it wouldn’t have felt as approachable,” Case says. “It’s these subtle cues that tie a lot of this together.”

A year and three months after the first sketches, the house was transformed into the perfect mix of modern beauty and family-friendly functionality. It took a highly collaborative crew of visionaries to pull it off. “I think it has a lot to do with chemistry, and that’s why everything worked,” says Isabela, who continues to add custom-built features. “I think I never want it to be finished.”

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Modern Family

It took penning her life story for one Boulder woman to finally accept herself.

Growing up in bible belt Texas, Michelle Theall’s path was clear: Adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church, do well in school, marry a nice man, and have kids. Instead, she fell in love with a woman, was subsequently disowned by her parents, and, in her 40s, abandoned the church for not recognizing her, her partner, and her child’s “alternative” lifestyle.

bookLast month, the Boulder writer released Teaching the Cat to Sit (Gallery Books, February), a memoir about her journey to self- and societal acceptance based partly on an essay she wrote for 5280 three years ago. “There’s something important in this story in terms of what you’re willing to risk to love yourself, shed your shame, and allow people to really know who you are,” Theall says. “It takes so much energy to be something that you’re not.”

Theall, 47, knows a thing or two about wasted energy. She hid much of her life from her family, including being sexually assaulted by a friend’s father at age 11 and, later, discovering that she is gay. Through unflinching prose, Theall returns to her youth and untangles the complexities of her life. She walks readers through her feelings of insecurity and loss with such sincerity that, were it not for the elegant writing, you might mistake the memoir for a diary.

It took a life-altering event for Theall to arrive at such clarity. In 2009, she was told her adopted son would be expelled from his Catholic school for having gay parents. Suddenly, Theall had to decide whether to continue hiding out or stand up for her new family—and run the risk of losing her parents forever. “I never intended to be a gay activist,” Theall says. “Things just happen to us in life that we don’t bring on ourselves.”

In Person Meet Theall during a reading at Tattered Cover Colfax Avenue on March 12 at 7:30 p.m.


On April 25, take your book club from the cul-de-sac to Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center as Lighthouse Writers Workshop concludes its three-month Big Read program—a collection of lectures, contests, and collaborative presentations surrounding Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Housekeeping. Enjoy food, a cash bar, and plenty of thought-provoking conversation. Exclusive: Read more about the Big Read program here. Exclusive: Get to know Michelle Theall a little better with our online Q&A.

Photograph by Christina Kiffney; book image courtesy of Michelle Theall

This article was originally published in 5280 March 2014.
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at