This Dramatic Black Colorado Ranch House Has It All (Plus, the Coziest Firepit We’ve Ever Seen)
An interior designer rebuilt her own modern ranch from the ground up, creating an architecturally intriguing, multilevel family home with easy access to the great outdoors.
When Stephanie Waddell, founder of Colorado-based Istoria Interior Design, moved from Chicago to Boulder with her husband, Greg, and her young son, Ames, she was looking for the kind of mountain-adjacent life that makes people fall in love with the West. She wanted a home with room for her family to grow, with great views of the surrounding landscape, a layout designed for entertaining friends in the close-knit community, and the expansive feeling of open space that fosters a connection with nature. They found a 1970s-era modern house on a double lot in a great neighborhood, with a Japanese-influenced garden that had been written up in the local press when it was first designed.
There was only one problem.
“The ceilings in some of the rooms were not even eight feet high,” says Waddell. “And I’m six feet tall. My husband is tall. We had a feeling our son was going to be tall. The house was dated and cramped and long-term, that just wasn’t going to work.” The move also facilitated a career shift for Waddell, a fine arts major who’d spent time working in the Chicago gallery world then founded a home textile business with patterns of her own design.
“Shortly before we moved to Boulder, I realized I didn’t love product sales or dealing with factories. I’d always worked around the interior design world and was attracted to it,” says Waddell, who designed their house in Illinois, which was featured in a local Chicago design magazine. “It made me think I had some skill for decorating, and I went back to school to get my master’s in fine art in interior architecture.”
In the interim, she put her education-in-progress to the test when she decided to tackle the renovation of her own home. With the help of two of her closest friends, architect Renée del Gaudio and builder Dan Flohrs of Coburn Partners, she had the house torn down until only the foundation remained.
“It was a risky decision to work with two people I was so close to. It doesn’t always pan out so well for friendships. But in this case, it was wonderful. We were great collaborators,” she says.
Del Gaudio used the existing footprint to create a two-story modern home with walls of windows. The façade of charcoal brick and black-stained cedar siding blends into the surrounding landscape. There are multiple fireplaces, covered outdoor living rooms, and a firepit that has been the locus of most of their socializing over the past three years regardless of the weather. The garden is planted in a series of squares with a restricted palette of purple flowers, but it doesn’t appear overly rigid or structured. Some of the original Zen garden elements, like trees, remain. The double-height living room has some clever, minimal storage options, and Waddell’s skillful use of houseplants, well curated keepsakes, colorful, geometric tiles, and collected textiles adds texture to the concrete, glass, and steel structure that keeps everything from reading too chilly. The exposed joists in the ceiling that reveal the warm wood beams add to the rustic, modern feel. And now the house has become her professional calling card.
“Every designer wants to design their own house as a really good portfolio piece,” she says. “It’s interesting because the two projects I’ve completed that have gotten some attention were the ones where I had full creative rein!”
Judging by the brisk pace at which her business has grown over the last decade, Boulder needed Waddell’s expertise.
“I finished school a couple of years before the pandemic, and then in 2020, my business exploded,” she says.
A highlight of the home is the second-floor primary suite, with a small adjacent art studio and an attached deck with a fireplace. Thanks to a couple of ingenious heated chairs, it’s an all-season retreat.
Del Gaudio is frequently asked to build larger mountain houses for clients who want fairly absurd square footage, Waddell says, but that’s not her aesthetic. While the double-height living room and the 12-foot clearance in the kitchen—tailor-made for tall people—creates the illusion of a massive space, it’s accomplished in a relatively modest 3,000 square feet (which includes a new rec room off the garage).
“I look at that beautiful wood on the ceiling when I lie in bed in the morning, and the color from the trees and sunshine and light flooding in through the windows, and it feels so warm and lovely,” Waddell says. “It’s important to work with an architect like Renée who’s really sensitive to site-specific building. In this house, you can feel it.”