A Modern Shadow

A Denver family lives in a Victorian home built in 1890, with its classical charm and conventions. That family lives in a modern home with cutting-edge efficiency and bold design elements. Both sentences are true. That they are true simultaneously is testament to how Arch11 Principal Ken Andrews, AIA deftly solved the homeowners’ challenges and seamlessly melded two very different styles of architecture.

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In approaching this Wash Park renovation, Arch11 gathered requests from the family, including: energy efficiency, modern style and advantages, a home that opened up to the outdoors, had free-flowing space inside, and was more spacious. The problem: also staying true to its original charms and not significantly expanding the footprint of the home. The owners wanted to be kind to the feel of the established neighborhood and not make the house look as though it had been dropped in from space.

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It was a long wish list with many contradictory elements. And what Andrews and his team at Arch11 had to work with was daunting. The ground floor of the home was broken into confined spaces with dividing walls and small doorways, a convention of homes built in that time to reduce draftiness and ease heating. The tiny kitchen discouraged socializing or big projects. The space simply did not suit modern sensibilities. "We wanted to open up the living room and the whole house, and to put in a gourmet kitchen," Andrews said. "We also wanted to open the house to the outside, because they have a wonderful, big yard." Transforming the ground floor had its challenges, notably with reconfiguring internal support structures, but it was relatively straightforward. While knocking down walls created an open feeling and the impression of added square footage, it didn’t achieve the bolder goals.

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The house, typical of its time, has a beautiful gambrel roof with slopes and angles that give the entire house more personality. Destroying it would have robbed the home of its tradition, its original charm, and the draw that brought the family to it. A previous plan would have popped the top and given it a more modern feel—but would have sacrificed the integrity of the historic design.

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By simply looking at the graceful roofline, inspiration was found. The solution was referred to as "the metal ribbon"—a modern addition projecting over the side of the original home mimicking the original gambrel roof. The home’s glass addition leans gracefully out like a shadow made tangible, matching all of the original angles. It extrudes out back, and this echo of the home packs additional square footage with elevated ceilings, allowing a richness of light to pour into the home.

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While the original home was dark, like other homes of its period, the addition allowed Andrews and his team to let in an abundance of natural light. "We wanted to create transparency through the house—everything under the ribbon becomes glass," said Andrews. The enormous amount of glass achieves the desired openness, a connection between indoor and outdoor, and that natural light. But it also helps to keep the addition from overwhelming the original home and accentuates the feeling that the addition is an echo. "At night, the addition becomes a glowing lantern in the back of the home," Andrews said. Arch11 put in a tigerwood deck around the expansion and the homeowners took on all landscaping. The welcoming effect at night is soft and understated but surprising by its very existence.

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The finished home is spacious, but true to their original wishes, the footprint of the home barely changed. "Ninety percent of the home still stands," said Andrews. Just roughly 500 square feet were added, most of that in the master bedroom and the kitchen. Yet the efficiency of the space and the openness transforms the home.

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Walking from the front of the home to the back, time travels as you walk through the house, beginning in 1890 and emerging into the backyard through the modern addition. As to the reactions, the homeowner said, "People slow down as they drive by to look at it, and sometimes they even drive back through the alley for a better look."  

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