450-Square-Foot Cottage

An old Colorado-cottage-turned-guesthouse plays multiple roles—and offers inspiration in every nook and cranny

When Dan and Barbara Watson enlisted a design team to remodel the old cottage on their Genesee, Colorado, property, it’s safe to say that neither the architect, builder, nor even the Watsons themselves realized what they were getting into.

The couple hired TKP Architects, the firm that had remodeled their nearby primary home, to turn the small, squat structure into a guesthouse and goldsmithing studio for Barbara. But it wasn’t long before project architect Peter Boes discovered that the structure—built in 1931 on a foundation of old telephone poles—would face some serious zoning restrictions. “Because the county considered the outbuilding a ‘nonconforming’ structure, the new design couldn’t exceed the exterior dimensions already in place—including its height,” he says. “That gave us just 450 square feet to work with. And since we couldn’t build up, we decided to dig down.”

By lowering the floor of the cottage into the hillside—and adding a steeply pitched roof with large dormer windows—the architect was able to increase the volume of space inside the guesthouse. “The new, lower floor required us to move the front door from the high side of the slope to the low side, which provided the opportunity to create a private patio at grade,” he says.

General contractor Cress Carter of Old Greenwich Builders oversaw the excavation to lower the floor. As Murphy’s Law would have it, his crew soon hit a bank of solid granite. Since they couldn’t blast it with dynamite, the men had to use hydraulic splitters to painstakingly chisel out four feet of rock.

Dan and Barbara had been intrigued by the architecture of several stone U.S. Park Service buildings they’d seen during a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, a vernacular they hoped to incorporate in the new design. “We appreciated the timeless quality of those old buildings, with heavy boulders at the base tapering upward, and we envisioned a cottage that would seem to grow out of the rock outcroppings that surround it,” Dan says.

To recreate the look of those historic structures, Carter’s team used massive stones to build the cottage’s exterior walls. “Each stone was carefully chosen to fit,” Carter says. “Imagine trying to delicately place a several-ton boulder with a crane. None of us had ever done anything quite like that before.”

Antique timbers were specified for the interior trusses, adding to the cottage’s vintage feel. The old-growth pine beams and wide-plank flooring were reclaimed from a Civil War-era ammunition factory in Louisiana.

Though the home’s aesthetic may be rooted in the past, its construction takes full advantage of modern amenities like energy-efficient windows and doors, spray-foam insulation and radiant heat floors. “It’s always cozy inside, no matter what the weather is like outside,” Barbara says.

The open floor plan was streamlined by the use of built-in cabinetry, which hides a fold-down bed and Barbara’s jewelry-making tools and equipment. A partial upper floor, accessible by a ladder, was added as a sleeping loft. “We wanted to recreate the cozy feeling you have as a child when you’re tucked in a comfortable nook,” Barbara says. “Children love the loft, and adults tell us they feel like kids when they’re up there reading.”

Visitors are always surprised to learn that the guesthouse is new. “The limitations on the height and size drove us to seek solutions that ultimately added authenticity and charm to the house,” Boes says. “The cottage seems much more attached to the site and its surroundings now.”


ARCHITECTURE Peter Boes, TKP Architects, Golden, CO, 303-278-8840, tkparch.com BUILDER Cress Carter, Old Greenwich Builders, Denver, CO, 303-333-2234, oldgreenwichbuilders.com LANDSCAPE DESIGN Sean Imfeld, Mountain High Tree, Lawn & Landscape, Lakewood, CO, 303-232-0666, mountainhightree.com CABINETS/BUILT-INS/WOODWORK Martin Shea Millwork, Denver, CO, 303-573-6037, martinsheamillwork.com STONE MASONRY (Exterior and interior fireplace) Cherry Masonry, Denver, CO, 303-288-7628 TIMBER FRAMING Craig Conroy, C. C. Construction, Denver, CO, 720-291-8001 GAS FIREPIT/SCULPTURE Mark Bookman, Fire On Demand, Breckenridge, CO, 970-547-4431, fireondemand.com SLATE ROOF/COPPER DETAIL Raleigh Roofing, Denver, CO, 303-591-7041, raleighroofing.com WINDOWS & DOORS Mike Windemuller, Konnen Glashaus, Sedalia, CO, 303-697-4226 LIGHTING AUTOMATION/ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEMS Brad Fowler, Residential Systems, Inc., Wheat Ridge, CO, 303-277-9983, residentialsystemsinc.com WALLBED SICO, sicoinc.com EAMES LOUNGE CHAIR & OTTOMAN Herman Miller, hermanmiller.com

Categories: Cabins