It’s hard to quantify how many headaches—and heartaches—poor renovations have caused among homeowners, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot. One common storyline goes like this: A couple in search of a new home falls in love with a for-sale house’s architectural appeal, but finds that the current owner has diminished the home’s good looks with nondescript (and cheap) finishes and fixtures, and that the spaces just don’t function quite right. The couple forges on and buys the home because somewhere, beyond the bad laminate flooring and oddly shaped rooms, there’s an architectural masterpiece.

The living room riffs on midcentury design with a low-profile sofa and modern chairs, all from Robin Bruce, and a green, shaggy-wool rug from Chandra. The room’s centerpiece is the fireplace wall, which interior designer Julee Wray had covered in Venetian plaster for a sleek look, and then crowned with a custom mantel to add interest. Photo by Emiy Minton Redfield

Such is the case with this 1963 ranch-style home in South Denver, whose current owners couldn’t resist its midcentury bones and light-filled rooms. They moved in and tackled a few practical projects: laying hardwood flooring throughout the main living areas, converting wood-burning fireplaces to gas, swapping out light fixtures. But even with those upgrades, the home’s living and dining spaces still felt disjointed and awkward. “We were stuck,” the wife says. “We knew there was a better way to optimize the layout, but we couldn’t figure it out.” Plus, the generic palette of colors and materials felt underwhelming, especially as a backdrop for life with their infant daughter. “We’re not boring people,” she laughs.

With an overhaul in mind, the couple hired Julee Wray, principal and owner of Truss Interiors. “We told her about our life together,” the wife says. “We cook together as a family. We read a lot. Both of us are music lovers, and our daughter has become one, too. We wanted a way to enjoy those things together more easily.” Wray listened, then made her first move: shifting how the family uses their space. “Essentially, the home had two living rooms—one that was really large—and an itty-bitty dining room off the kitchen that barely fit six people,” she says. Wray proposed making the old dining room a playroom for the couple’s daughter and transforming the smaller living room—which is adjacent to the kitchen and opens via large sliding doors to the backyard—into the new dining area.

“We love color and plants and natural materials,” says the homeowner, for whom Wray created this plant “feature wall” from a pair of custom walnut shelves and hardy philodendrons. Retro Hudson Valley sconces bookend the shelves, under which a Noir console holds the family’s beloved record collection. Photo by Emily Minton Redfield

Next, Wray considered the home’s aesthetics. “I could tell [the owners] really loved midcentury design, based on the way they talked about it and a few of the high-quality pieces they’d already invested in,” she says. To emphasize the mid-mod vibe, the designer gave the living room’s massive fireplace a smooth coat of Venetian plaster and had a walnut mantel custom-made to break up the monolithic white wall. She chose low-slung furnishings and a hip, green shag rug (which inspired skepticism in the owners at first—proof that sometimes, you just have to trust your designer), then repeated the verdant hue in a grasscloth wallcovering that highlights the room’s “plant feature”—a pair of walnut shelves that holds a slew of easy-to-maintain philodendrons.

In the dining room, the grasscloth wallcovering makes another appearance, this time as a rich backdrop for a large walnut table and a matching pair of consoles from Noir. The room’s high note, though, is a trio of blond-wood light fixtures. “To put these fixtures in three different sizes and shapes over this massive table created a sense of fun—and life—in the space,” Wray says. “You can create a lot of visual interest by choosing more than one fixture in the same material.” To ground the room, Wray chose what she calls a “boho tribal” black-and-white rug that echoes the use of black and white in the living room.

Once the home’s cramped dining space, this charming playroom is just the right size for the family’s young daughter. Custom pillows in colorful, hardwearing Sunbrella fabric, and an adjustable table and chairs that can grow as the baby does, make it an easy-to-use, safe spot for kid-size fun. Photo by Emily Minton Redfield

As for the small space that formerly functioned as the dining room, Wray reimagined it as a simple, colorful playroom. Large windows give the space plenty of natural light, and instead of filling it with piles of toys, Wray chose minimalist furnishings, including an adjustable table and chairs and a small bookshelf.

All said and done, the renovation wasn’t just about making the rooms look better, though they certainly do. “Julee created a functional space that has changed our day-to-day existence as a family,” the wife says. “We put on a record and cook together every night while our daughter plays in the playroom. We’re far more tuned in to each other than we were before”—a reno story with a happy ending.

This article was originally published in 5280 Home February/March 2020.
Hilary Masell Oswald
Hilary Masell Oswald
As the former editor for two of 5280’s ancillary publications, Hilary Masell Oswald split her time between the vibrant design-and-architecture scene in the metro area for 5280 Home and the always-changing field of health for the annual 5280 Health.