Small & Soulful
BEFORE: Cramped and unwelcoming; AFTER: Open, relaxed and personalized
Interior designer Nestor Santa-Cruz and homeowner Mary Kathleen Ernst share how they turned a cramped Colorado cottage into a spacious contemporary-casual retreat.
Mountain Living: What was your starting point for this dramatic remodel?
Mary Kathleen Ernst: My husband and I had been looking for a little place in Boulder, Colorado, where we could stay when we came to visit our children and grandchildren. About six years ago, we found this 1,550-square-foot cottage, built in the mid-1980s, on an alleyway a short walk from downtown. With its porch and small yard it felt almost like a freestanding hotel suite. But inside it felt dark and claustrophobic, so we hired the original architect, Scott Coburn, to take down all the downstairs interior walls to make one great room. That’s when Nestor came into the picture.
ML: Tell us about your vision for the interior design.
MKE: Nestor and I began talking about what I would love and what I thought would be comfortable. I told him I wanted a place where you could curl up by the fire and read a book, where the grandchildren could come and not worry about knocking anything over. We talked about art and furniture and travel and fashion, things we were both really excited about.
Nestor Santa-cruz: We wanted to create something with subtle elegance that felt comfortable and inviting, like wearing a great pair of jeans.
ML: Did the home’s small footprint make it difficult to achieve that goal?
NSC: In the great room, which measures just 650 square feet, the challenge was the scale: How do you fit pieces of normal size, including a proper dining table and chairs and Mary Kathleen’s grand piano—she’s a concert pianist—without making the room feel crowded? The solution was to include only furnishings that served a purpose, and nothing extra, and to choose pieces that were flexible and versatile in their use.
MKE: We put as little into the space as we could possibly get away with—just what we needed for living and our own personal comfort.
ML: How did you arrive at the interior’s contemporary style?
MKE: Nestor and I didn’t want to do a typical Western-style house with Navajo blankets or log furniture or deer heads. We did want beautiful rustic furniture, but in a completely different vein than you might expect.
NSC: On the outside, it’s a pretty little clapboard cottage, so we went for a simple American
casual look, featuring some Scandinavian modern furniture that’s a little rough around the edges.
ML: The outdoor spaces feel as inviting as the interior. How did you weave the porches and garden into the design?
NSC: Mary Kathleen furnished the porches to create living spaces that help give the feeling of a real inside-outside connection, which makes the house feel larger.
MKE: The architect and builder also added three French doors that lead from the dining area to the covered porch, where we can sit even on nice winter days. The garden design by Elizabeth Slokar is lush and low-maintenance, with native plants, something flowering from March until November, and high privet hedges that make the garden feel like a cozy room. It all contributes to the serenity, quiet and comfort I feel now whenever I go to that little cottage.
Designer’s Punch List
Interior designer Nestor Santa-Cruz shares his must-dos for any successful remodeling or redecorating project.
• Think first. Always start by considering how you want to use the space. Knowing that will help you develop your plan.
• Create a budget. No matter the size of a project, make sure to define and control your budget. That way, the costs can become part of your design story rather than something that stops you from achieving your vision.
• Plot it out. Work with a plan, and never buy any piece of furniture without first knowing its dimensions and that it will fit.
• Be eclectic. Don’t think you have to stick with one style or collection. Aim to live with the things you like and, within reason, you will find a way to make them fit.
• Stay flexible. Even though you have a plan, you should also allow it to evolve. Sometimes something magnificent can result from breaking the rules.
ARCHITECTURE Scott Coburn, AIA, Scott Coburn Architects, Denver, CO, 303) 489-0619, scottcoburnarchitects.com PROJECT MANAGER Paul Whitehead, 303-931-3931 INTERIOR DESIGN Nestor Santa-Cruz, IIDA, LEED AP ID + C, Nestor Santa-Cruz Decoration, Washington, D.C., 202-277-6611, firstname.lastname@example.org, nestorsanta-cruz.com LANDSCAPE DESIGN Elizabeth Slokar, designer, Busy Lizards, Longmont, CO, 720-352-6042 LIGHTING Inlighten Studios, Boulder, 303-449-9899 KITCHEN & BATH DESIGN, CUSTOM CABINETS Peter Wyckoff, Wedgewood Cabinetry, Lewisville, CO, 303-664-1400, wedgewoodcabinetry.com ARTWORK LANDSCAPE OIL PAINTING (In living room) Shanahanís Farm by Lynn Grigsby, Denver, CO, 720-984-9557, lynngrigsby.com; available through Mary Williams Fine Art, Boulder, CO, 303-938-1588, marywilliamsfineart.com WATERCOLOR (Left of fireplace) Steven Cushner, Washington, D.C., stevencushner.com; available through George Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C., (202) 234-5601, hemphillfinearts.com LIVING ROOM (Photo with sofas) SOFA Slip-covered sofa # 5205-01 by Lee Industries, leeindustries.com; upholstered in Patton Mushroom GOLD ACCENT PILLOWS Timothy Paul Bedding, Washington, D.C., 202-234-2020, timothypaulbedding.com COCKTAIL TABLE Waterfall Cocktail Table by Plexi-Craft, New York, 1-800-247-5394, plexi-craft.com ANTIQUE WOOD TABLE (Under coffee table) GoodWood Antiques, Washington, D.C., 202-986-3640, goodwooddc.com WOOD TRAY ON COFFEE TABLE And Beige, Washington, D.C., 202-234-1557, andbeige.com AMBER GLASS VASES ON MANTLE And Beige, Washington, D.C., 202-234-1557, andbeige.com AREA RUG Kurdish Sirt goat wool area rug from Eastern Turkey, available through Timothy Paul Carpets + Textiles, Washington, D.C., 202-319-1100, timothypaulcarpets.com VINTAGE CERAMIC VASES (To right of mantle) GoodWood Antiques, Washington, D.C., 202-986-3640, goodwooddc.com FLOOR LAMPS Item# 6505 by Holkoetter, Maurice Electric, Washington, D.C., 202-675-9400, holtkoetter.com CHINESE GARDEN STOOL Item #W2061 by Wisteria, wisteria.com LIVING ROOM (Photo with piano) MIRROR & PIANO Owner’s collection COFFEE TABLE Ralph Lauren Home, Chevy Chase, MD, 301-718-4223, ralphlaurenhome.com STOOL Poul Kjaerholm Stool manufactured by Fritz Hansen, available through Furniture from Scandinavia by Annette Rachlin, Washington, D.C., 202-244-7676, ffsgallery.com AREA RUG Kurdish Sirt goat wool area rug from Eastern Turkey, available through Timothy Paul Carpets + Textiles, Washington, D.C., 202-319-1100, timothypaulcarpets.com CHAIR Skirted Dining Chair #C3972-32 by McAlpine Home, Lee Industries, leeindustries.com; upholstered in Petry Snow DINING ROOM DINING CHAIRS CH24 Wishbone Chairs by Hans Wegener manufactured by Carl Hansen & Son, available through Furniture from Scandinavia by Annette Rachlin, Washington, D.C., 202-244-7676, ffsgallery.com TABLE PP85 Cross Legged Table by Hans Wegner manufactured by PP Moebler, available through Furniture from Scandinavia by Annette Rachlin, Washington, D.C., 202-244-7676, ffsgallery.com OAK CHAIRS Louis XVI-style oak chairs by Zentique, zentique.com CERAMIC BOWL And Beige, Washington, D.C., 202-234-1557, andbeige.com CHANDELIER Cone Metal Chandelier, And Beige, Washington, D.C., 202-234-1557, andbeige.com AREA RUG Kurdish Sirt goat wool area rug from Eastern Turkey, available through Timothy Paul Carpets + Textiles, Washington, D.C., 202-319-1100, timothypaulcarpets.com VINTAGE ART PIECE GoodWood Antiques, Washington, D.C., 202-986-3640, goodwooddc.com SCONCES Swedge Pinup Torche wall-mounted sconces, Powell & Bonnell, powellandbonnell.com PORCH Vintage Table, GoodWood Antiques, Washington, D.C., 202-986-3640, goodwooddc.com