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In Denver, a family puts a modern twist on the classic ranch house

Embracing the indoor-outdoors in the Mile High City

When Cate and Paul Hoff and their three children moved to Denver from Australia about five years ago, they knew they wanted to set down real roots. The city had been the couple’s home before, and after seven years away from the U.S., they were ready for something long-term.

While it was Paul’s work that ultimately brought them back stateside, Cate was happy to return. “Denver is a really comfortable city and there are really exciting things happening,” she says. “[The city has] really matured and it’s just a lot more vibrant.”

In search of a large lot suitable for new construction, the couple settled on Denver’s University Heights neighborhood, an area where they’d lived twice before. “It’s kind of what we consider home in Denver,” says Cate. Initially, the Hoffs thought they would keep their new house in line with the style of the neighborhood’s 1950s ranch homes.

The variegated brown of the exterior cedar siding is offset by black brick, gray concrete, and the vibrant green of the front lawn and trees on the site.

“We like that connection to the earth that you get with the ranch style,” she adds, referring to its typically low-slung forms. That connection would inform the ultimate look of their home —and the direction from which it diverged.

When they began looking for an architect who could create a home that was modern yet felt connected to its environment, they turned to noted area firm Arch11 to bring their ideas to life.

Ken Andrews, a principal at the firm, and Arch11 designer Larry Sykes (whose Denver home Curbed profiled in December 2016) worked closely with the Hoffs to fashion a house that, according to Cate, would “talk to the older homes and sit quietly on the site.”

An open living room features a beige sectional sofa facing a modern gray fireplace. A blonde wood wall of cabinetry stands on the left, where gray shelves hold white sculptural objects. A large opening leads to the outside on the right side.
The fireplace is flanked by a blue Harry Bertoia Bird Chair (right) and a Muuto side table (left). The coffee table is from Design Within Reach. The paper sculpture on the fireplace, at right, is by Rachel Castle.
Morgan Rachel Levy

“We didn’t want to be the big icon on the street,” Cate explains. Instead, the couple wanted the house to “gently touch the earth.”

The architects and the Hoffs say they found the project rewarding, largely because of the collaborative nature of the design process. The Hoffs didn’t want a large footprint, and even then Andrews and Sykes pushed them to consider how they actually used spaces, or if they needed an extra room here or there.

A Carl Hansen & Søn dining table and Elbow Chairs sit beneath a Christopher Boots chandelier. Two prints by Stephen Ormandy hang stacked on the rear wall.
A view of the formal living room, with chairs and a sofa from Australian furniture designer Jardan. The floor is solid oak, and a photograph of New Zealand hangs above the two-sided fireplace.

“They made us think about the way we live and how we want[ed] things to work,” explains Cate. While the size of the home—5,200 square feet—might sound royally large to some city dwellers, its spaces aren’t grandly scaled. Cate says Arch11’s keen understanding of scale was what made that possible.

Through the process, they drifted away from a traditional ranch style toward a house with a second floor (ranch houses generally forego an upper level), that is rotated to create an L-shaped plan. This rotated second floor also frames what would become the heart of the site, the backyard. The design was “very much about outdoor living and making that function well in combination with environmental performance,” Sykes, the Arch11 designer, explains. As such, the Arch11 team designed the house to be responsive to Denver’s volatile climate, which can swing between temperature extremes.

When both sets of sliding glass doors are open, the interior of the home seems to extend beyond its walls, letting the Hoffs’ activities flow out onto the lawn and patio.

Sykes explains that the position of the house on its site, with the focus on the backyard and windows facing south and west, helps achieve the energy efficiency the family was looking for in the structure. During the winter, says Sykes, the home absorbs sunlight to passively heat the house; its orientation also helps additional natural light inside during darker months. The overhangs and vertical cedar shades are “designed to help prevent heat from entering the house during the summer,” he adds. The second floor covers the majority of the outdoor patio, providing a comfortably shaded area where the family congregates.

For Cate, the backyard is virtually another room of the house because of two large sections of sliding glass doors that open up onto a patio and lawn. For as much of the year as possible, the backyard serves as a hub of activity for the family and their friends. Despite Denver’s cold winters, these doors stay open many months out of the year, too, deepening that sense of connection to their surroundings that the Hoffs craved. “We have a lot of days where we can have the doors open and both air conditioning and heating are off,” Cate adds.

Arch11 designer Larry Sykes used vertical slats of cedar on the exterior to shade the western facade of the home from extreme heat. One of the family dogs, Aspen, surveys the patio and its Ikea furniture. The overhanging second level provides shade.

Also important to the Hoffs was a separation between public and private spaces in the home. “The objective was to have that separating line,” Cate says of the millwork and cupboards that separate the home’s entryway from the living, kitchen, and dining spaces. “The millwork is a threshold. So as someone comes into the house, there’s [a curiosity about] what’s around the corner.”

The couple also views the second story as a private space that’s just for family, and didn’t want a staircase to be a “grand gesture” leading up to their four bedrooms. Sykes incorporated the stairs instead into the north side of the home at the rear to get even more light onto both floors. “It’s a really elegant segue from the public realm to the private realm,” Andrews says. The ground floor is where everyone—friends and family—gather. “It’s a fantastic house for celebrations,” Cate adds.

A view from the living room into the kitchen and informal dining area, with the staircase tucked in the back. Three lights from Gubi hang over the kitchen island. The black dining chairs are from Ikea; they can be used inside or outside. The couch is Walter Knoll, and the small black side table is from Design Within Reach.

Though the interiors are streamlined, they don’t have the coldness of some modern houses. It helps that there’s a seamless flow from indoors to outdoors, but there is also warmth in Cate’s selections for furnishings and finishes, something she drew from her years as a commercial interior designer in Australia.

“I’m very attracted to things that are handmade or that have an organic feel to [them],” she explains. Pottery and sculpture in neutral tones are tucked into built-in shelving around the home, and furnishings are a mix of mostly Australian and European designers, including a standout chandelier in the formal dining room made by Aussie designer Christopher Boots.

A chair and lamp sit in front of built-in wooden shelves, which are filled with sculptures, art, and other objects.
A Hem chair snuggles into this corner of the living room. A Gubi light arches above it. Built-in shelves display objects Hoff has collected over the years.
Morgan Rachel Levy
The master bedroom has windows on two sides, letting in lots of natural light. The couple’s bed is by Australian furniture designer Jardan, but little else adorns the room.

Work by artists like photographer Kara Rosenlund and Stephen Ormandy draws the eye to certain spaces in the home, as does a monumental two-sided fireplace that separates the main entertaining space from the formal living room. The outdoor furniture is hardwearing and low-cost; most of it is Ikea.

Interestingly enough, shortly after beginning the design process, Cate started her own graduate degree in architecture, and Sykes and Andrew say it brought a certain richness to the project. “I think it was probably really interesting for her to be a client at the same time she was learning to be an architect,” Andrews explains.

He adds that Cate’s spirit and willingness to collaborate led to how successful the home’s design was. “Here’s a person who was learning and becoming a designer, but yet was very respectful of our roles, what we were doing, and looked at it more as a learning process than trying to take control.”

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