When Elaine St. Louis and her husband, Tim Miller, bought their Platt Park fixer-upper in 1992, they had big dreams for their backyard, including a combined studio space for St. Louis, who is an artist (and a photo stylist for publications, including this one), and a garage/workshop for Miller, who crafts fine cabinetry and millwork. But the city zoning code wouldn’t allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) at the time, so the couple focused instead on updating their home’s interiors and cultivating a vibrant garden out back.

Fast-forward to 2017, seven years after changes in Denver’s zoning code permitted ADUs in certain neighborhoods, including Platt Park. The couple decided to give up a portion of their garden to make way for a two-story building with a studio space up top and a triple-garage/workshop below.

Architect Owen Beard of Solid Architectural Design “gave us drawings for a really cool space,” St. Louis says. “It’s much larger than we first expected, but the architect said that if we were going to the expense of putting in plumbing and sufficient power [for full-size kitchen appliances], we might as well maximize the space. He was right.”

St. Louis and Miller, primed by years of hands-on creativity, took on a huge portion of the work themselves. Once the subcontractors finished the home’s shell—a handsome, modern riff on farmhouse style with handsome angled rooflines—the couple jumped in. They soundproofed the second-floor studio with Green Glue compound—“my best tip [for stifling noise in a two-story dwelling],” St. Louis says. She also custom-mixed a stain for the exterior’s cedar siding using formulas from Armstrong-Clark, while Miller crafted all of the cabinetry (and whipped up a zebra-wood coffee table as well). The couple even installed the windows with help from neighbors and laid the extra-wide Coretec floorboards. “It was a lot of work,” laughs St. Louis, who offers this guidance to homeowners considering such a project: “Definitely get a professional to design it. If you don’t hire an architect, I think a design-build firm would be an excellent choice.”

The studio comprises a bedroom and bath, and an open area that encompasses the kitchen, living room, and a small dining space. A nook-like entry is even big enough to serve as a home office. The whole second floor is bathed in warm, bright light from extra windows, which St. Louis insisted on.

The dream that began nearly 30 years ago is now a reality—almost. Though St. Louis will one day use the bright space as a painting studio, she and Miller lease it to a long-term renter for now, to pay down the loan. (St. Louis touts the benefits of Zillow for landlords; its section devoted to best practices helped guide the couple when they first listed the home, which was rented in three days.) Miller uses the triple-garage for his work—“and it’s perfect,” St. Louis says. Better still? “We love how the whole thing turned out—and we’re still married!”

Design Pros

Architecture: Owen Beard, Solid Architectural Design
Interior design: Elaine St. Louis and Tim Miller

This article was originally published in 5280 Home June/July 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.