Modern In Denver Magazine
Fall 2017

A 21st Century Case Study House
Mass construction and uninspired buildings got you down? Have a look on the sunny-side at a truly modern home that defines the principles of marrying form, function and technology within the context of its surroundings.

In Denver, the word “modern” as it relates to architecture has been diluted. Large multi-family projects and single-family homes devoid of the underlying design principles that define true modern design speckle the city. They leave long-term blemishes on a city that changes complexion almost daily. This creates a challenge for Denver’s current design and development community as simple as it is complex: how does one create new architecture that is both contextually responsive while capturing the zeitgeist of a culture and city experiencing monumental change?

Located in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood, The Brick City House by Aspen and Boulder-based Studio B Architects tackles this challenge with an exemplary response. A three-bedroom, 4,600 square-foot home bested in an urban residential context, the restraint and responsiveness of this one-story home seems to provide an aspirational roadmap for both a design process and outcome that manages to be both of its time and timeless.

After touring several Studio B residential projects in Aspen with the firm’s design principal Scott Lindenau, the client was impressed with quality and aesthetic of the firm’s work and

selected them prior to choosing a project site. After locating a corner lot in Sunnyside, a primarily residential neighborhood bordering the Lower Highlands, the clients provided Studio B with only a few design parameters. “We [the owner] wanted a pool and a certain amount of square feet, three bedrooms, and some outdoor living space. We liked the idea of floor-to-ceiling glass and operable window systems.  Otherwise, we gave Studio B carte blanche. We knew they were skilled and could do something amazing and didn’t want to give too much initial input to bias them.

We wanted to see what they would come up with.”

After initial design meetings, a Studio B team led by Architect Mike Piché and Interior Designer Susan Okie Lindenau proposed three different designs including a mix of two and one-story options.  While the owner had initially imagined a two-story home, they instead asked Studio B which scheme they felt was strongest.  Studio B advocated for the one-story scheme – a direct response to the scale of the existing homes adjacent to the project site.  “If  you look at this neighborhood, the home really wanted to be one story.

Maybe this was a reaction to the multi-family, massive-scale developments with terrible proportions nearby. Instead, we wanted to create a home that fit into and riffed off characteristics from the existing neighborhood, “Piché explains. “Every house on this block is brick and has a big front porch. We decided to create a design that responds to and incorporates those qualities.” The resulting design is deceiving in both the scale and exterior vs. interior experience. After studying the work of artist Donald Judd’s iterative box sculptures, the design team proposed a rectangular volume wrapped in a brick envelope, thoughtfully capturing recessed slices of floor-to-ceiling windows

and walnut paneling. The brick envelope terminates with a carefully crafted lattice at the home’s entry, denoting a “front” to the pristine form. While the exterior is both subtle and intriguing (the owner said often when they are outside doing yard work, a passerby will pull over to inquire or comment on the home), stepping inside the home is another experience entirely.

Prior to entering the home, one might imagine being greeted with a series of interior spaces. Stepping into a narrow entry hall aligns directly with a courtyard

enclosed by three walls of 10-foot floor-to-ceiling glass, preconceptions are shattered by an immediate blurring of exterior and interior.

Piché explains: “It was fun when we started working through the one-level courtyard scheme. We were trying to connect out to nature and views, but realized that there were no ‘big views’ around the site. What we did have, was a great sky. We decided that the courtyard could both frame and connect to the sky.”

Inspired by a James Turrell image in which his art serves as a powerful aperture to a singularly-framed sky, the courtyard is a dynamic feature that strongly illustrates daily and seasonal variety. In highlighting the changing color of the sky, the position of the sun or the composition of the exterior three canopy surrounding the home, the meditative passage of time becomes omnipresent as one circulates through the home. “One of the most striking things about the home is to be in the courtyard and look up. You could literally be anywhere in the world,” the owner explained.

“All you see is trees and sky–you can take yourself away from the daily grind–[it feels like an] escape pod you go to.  Having the pool is also important. There’s something about being near water that is calming.”

Built by Old Greenwhich Builders and boasting a customer kitchen, walnut paneling, and highly-crafted cabinetry by Kevin Vesel of Veselbrand that seamlessly blends with Studio B’s design, the high-quality construction allows the home’s fairly minimalist interior to be read holistically and without distraction.

From recessed shade-pockets surrounding the courtyard to joints in the concrete that align with each window mullion, no detail was left unconsidered. “A house like this is deceptively simple to the untrained eye. The simpler something looks, the more complicated it is to pull off. There is no place to hide mistakes-everything had to be thought through,” remarked the owner.

While the home is carefully edited, both the architect and owner agree that modern doesn’t have to mean sterile or cold. “Modern done right can have a balance of minimalism

but can still be warm and cozy,” remarked Piché.  The Brick House achieves notable warmth on the interior with the inclusion of materials and textures such as walnut, wood grain, soft textures of interior finishes and furniture, as well as the handmade Italian brick that has become the home’s namesake. Other notable features include a partial basement complete with a home theater, a “right-sized” office and finishes throughout the home such as bathroom mirrors and tile that extend to the ceiling to reinforce the height and scale of the main level of the home.

While one home in a sea of new construction, the Brick City House embodies a clarity of concept and an architect/owner collaboration that has resulted in a already award-winning project that will be sure to inspire and inform in the years to come. “Having everyone commit to the one concept–brick shell outer layer with a cut-out courtyard helped [Studio B and the owner] to delete things that didn’t reinforce the concept.

When we would introduce more complicated ideas, being able to edit and delete these ideas helped make the underlying concept that much more powerful,” says Piché.

Perhaps most importantly neighbors, friends and family of the owners have been vocal in their praise for the new addition to the neighborhood.  “the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve gotten a lot of thanks for building a one-story home in this location.

There could have been a lot of things put on this lot and a lot of the designs could’ve been bad ideas. While there was no unveiling of the final home because people watched the construction process, people have generally been relieved and happy with the design.”

And with visitors come to the home? “The people we have over, friends and family, are always amazed–the question I always get is, ‘Can you believe you actually live here?’ First impressions set the tone for everything.

That’s what the house does; it’s like meeting someone for the first time–it has its own character and personality. This home has a great first impression that speaks for itself.”