The morning of Ryan Carter and Jesse Spencer’s first rooftop soiree, contractors were still running up and down the floating staircase of the couple’s modern, three-story townhome in Curtis Park, putting the finishing touches on their new 700-square-foot outdoor living space. “We set a deadline for it to be finished July 4 because the fireworks are so amazing up there,” says Carter, owner/broker of Denver’s 8z Real Estate. The pre-party hours that day may have been hectic, but in the five years since, Carter and Spencer have perfected the space and the art of hosting.

The key to both? Planning ahead. From the moment they began imagining the space, Carter and Spencer had their guests in mind. “In order to make it flow, we decided to do two distinct seating areas instead of a dining area,” Carter says. “It’s really more about casual entertaining and casual dining.”

In the larger back space, an L-shaped outdoor sofa and love seat from Restoration Hardware invite partygoers to relax under a pergola Carter sketched (a metal fabricator and woodworker completed the design and construction). A giant plant pot topped with an antique silver tray and coordinating stools from Home Goods deliver extra seating and places to set drinks and food. Sturdy, crisp white curtains by Orvis—hung using shower curtain rings from Target—add to the resort feel. “We like to mix and match authentic pieces and staples,” Carter says. “Everything doesn’t have to be super expensive, especially in an outdoor space.”

Toward the front of the rooftop, guests mingle and soak in sweeping views of downtown, Coors Field, and the mountains. Another set of patio furniture—covered with wipeable, fade-resistant Sunbrella fabric—offers additional perches. “Seating is really essential,” Carter says. “Parties go through an evolution over the night. At first people arrive, and they’re standing around, talking, mingling, getting drinks, eating appetizers. And then as people settle in, they want to sit. In order to have a lasting party—to get to the final level, dancing—you have to have that middle part.”

The hosts set the mood with fresh white flowers, crisp cocktails (see Carter’s margarita recipe at right), and easy-to-hold appetizers served on trays—lacquered, wooden versions from West Elm add pops of color—that can shift with the crowd. “Bruschettas are a favorite because they’re easy to eat, they’re a good size, and they’re also somewhat filling for after you have those margaritas,” says Carter. When the sun sets, dimmers allow for mood lighting, guests send songs from their smartphones to a Bluetooth Bose speaker, and a vintage bar cart Spencer and Carter found in Los Angeles is easily rolled away to accommodate a dance floor. Says Carter: “You feel like you’re in a cabana on top of a hotel.”

green room

To create privacy without closing the space in, homeowner Ryan Carter planted layers of greenery—zebra and other grasses behind angel vine succulents—in 30-inch-high planters, which he had custom made after spying something similar at Marg’s Taco Bistro in Cherry Creek.

on deck

Mindful of Colorado’s abundant ultraviolet rays, Carter and Jesse Spencer chose Trex decking, a highly durable wood alternative that won’t ever need repainting or sanding.

mood lighting

A basket found at Home Goods serves as a lantern for a single hanging light bulb in the pergola. All light fixtures on the rooftop have dimmers, and Carter and Spencer add candles for ambience.

the long view

For Spencer (left) and Carter, a real estate broker, creating the rooftop space was an investment in both their happiness and the property. Says Carter: “Fortunately our labor of love will pay off when we decide to sell—because of the view.”

smart storage

An ottoman covered in a geometric orange Sunbrella fabric fits snugly underneath a glass-topped coffee table (from Room & Board); the two can be separated for more seating or combined to save space.

show stealers

Carter and Spencer’s English bulldog, Winston, and little sister Zoe, a French bulldog, are always the life of the party.

bar none

Stemless glasses—such as the Emilio rocks glasses from Crate & Barrel—are chic and less likely to get knocked over.

Rooftop Fresh Skinny Margarita

Homeowner Ryan Carter’s perfect-for-summer cocktail recipe.

5 thin slices of cucumber
5 mint leaves
2 orange wedges
2 lime wedges

½ ounce club soda
1½ ounces tequila
¾ ounces triple sec
¾ ounce lime juice
½ ounce agave nectar

1. Put cucumber, mint, orange and lime wedges, club soda, and ice into a martini shaker. (Reserve some mint and lime for garnish.)
2. Shake hard for 1 minute.
3. Add tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and agave nectar. Shake again for 15 seconds.
4. Pour into a glass with ice and garnish with a lime wedge and mint leaf.