Urban Cowgirl
Home theater impresario Jeffrey Smith collaborates with his artistic daughter in creating a romantic, rustic “sky lodge” theme for her downtown Denver loft.
March 19, 2009 by EH Staff

Growing up in the bluegrass countryside of Kentucky, Ashley Harper Smith became obsessed with nature. “I was never happier than when I was in the woods, horseback riding with my sister,” she recalls.

With her busy schedule, she yearns for those idyllic days. “I’ve always had this dream of living in a tree house surrounded by woods and nature and horses,” she says.

With the help of her father, Ashley is living her dream.

After graduating from Northern Kentucky University with a fine arts degree, Ashley moved out West to fulfill a lifelong dream. In Denver, she began teaching art to high-risk children, and later earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver.

This Renaissance woman—artist, yoga instructor, cyclist and certified horse whisperer—has found her professional calling as a family therapist at Denver’s Children’s Hospital.

Dad is an architect, interior designer, furniture designer and manufacturer, and a home theater designer, as well as the president and founder of First Impressions Themed Theatres Inc. in North Miami, Fla. Jeffrey not only helped his daughter purchase her new residence in the trendy LoDo District, but he also orchestrated the loft’s interior architecture and managed all of the construction detailing, furniture design and technology installation.

“Ashley lived in two previous places near downtown before she asked if I would help her look for something downtown,” Jeffrey says. “We agreed that a space in one of the historic loft conversion buildings would be the ideal choice, and we were fortunate to [find] one in the WaterTower Lofts complex.”

While house hunting, Jeffrey and his daughter discovered a nearby gem as they stood on the balcony of one of the two properties on their short list. “We turned to each other and said, ‘What is that building?!’” Ashley recalls. Originally built in 1894 as a warehouse, today’s WaterTower Lofts housed the American Furniture Company in the early 1900s, and a variety of other businesses later on.

Jeffrey attests that it’s one of LoDo’s few historic brick-and-timber buildings that lent itself to a residential renovation, thanks to a multitude of noteworthy architectural attributes—from heavy exposed timber beams to interior brick walls, forged black-iron structural strapping, high ceilings and large, tall windows.

“Ashley is an artist, so a loft is ideal for her,” he says. “This space has lots of great natural light, plus the building has real architectural integrity. It’s a piece of Denver’s history, and we were very happy to have found [it].”

Soon enough, the deal was sealed.

“I was immediately drawn to the warm feel of the exposed brick and the beamed ceilings, and began envisioning something majestic—like a grown-up’s tree house with woodsy green and earth tones,” Ashley says. 

Jeffrey set about tackling a complete makeover for the 1,200-square-foot space, which had reclaimed plank oak flooring. While the apartment’s views of the Rocky Mountains to the west, downtown to the east and Coors Field figure prominently in the floor plan, technology drove the design. “For me,” Jeffrey says, “it’s always ‘form follows function’—how everything works to provide maximum viewing and great lighting control to compose a space that is as brilliant functionally as it is beautiful.”

The home’s centerpiece is the open family room/theater/dining area. About 20 feet long and 20 feet wide, the space works well for small and large gatherings and movie nights. 

As with the majority of Jeffrey’s large-scale projects, virtually every component of the design, aside from the antique pieces and collectibles, was custom designed and manufactured by First Impressions in its South Florida quarters, then shipped cross-country in the company’s specially outfitted semi for assembly and on-site installation. “The entire loft was preassembled in Florida, including all major furniture and electronics components, draperies, fireplace,” Ashley says.

“Everything—even the privacy wall for the bedroom entry and the library. It was quite a scene when this huge black trailer rig pulled up outside the building. It’s still amazing to me how everything came together flawlessly.”

For maximum theater viewing, Smith placed all the screening elements between the two window areas along the room’s far wall. The components are grounded by a custom-designed digital fireplace clad in Absolute Black granite, with a 42-inch LG television mounted directly above it.

Four 14-foot-tall motorized blackout shades that descend from the ceiling flank the fireplace and serve as the backdrop for the Vutec motorized screen, a 103-inch 16:9-format PearlBrite screen. The technology’s selection and placement work together to maintain the integrity of the room’s architectural elements.

To avoid an unsightly pole mount, the Sony Bravia SXRD 1080p projector is mounted on a custom bracket attached to a structural column. The Canton Chrono 505 center-channel speaker is housed in the custom-designed cabinet below the television. Two Canton Chrono 507 DC floor-standing speakers flank the fireplace, with the Canton Chrono AS 525 SC-powered subwoofer tucked in the far corner.

Two Canton Chrono 502 bookshelf speakers are mounted on Canton LS 650 stands at opposite ends of the main seating grouping, a custom sectional in full-hide, butter-soft distressed leather. Velvet accent pillows with faux pony-skin inserts underscore the “cowgirl chic” theme.

One of the most surprising issues that arose during the room’s design was how Ashley and her father differed about his recommendation of installing dramatic theater drapes.

“I couldn’t imagine it and was afraid it would scream ‘new,’ but once I saw how gorgeous the chamois-toned velvet caught the light and shadows, I absolutely loved the effect,” Ashley says. “If there is any one thing that really captures the romantic, inviting and cozy feel of this place, it’s the draperies.”  The period-style curtains serve as a softer counterpoint to the rest of the room’s hard surfaces.

The family room/theater, like the rest of the loft, epitomizes Jeffrey’s self-described decor scheme as “unique eclectic”—a personalized mix of chinoiserie, Indonesian Arts and Crafts, and Western-retro funk all blended together to convey a fresh, casual and timeless feel. But pulling it all together wasn’t as easy as picking out fabrics: Ashley challenged her father with the caveat of using environmentally responsible furniture, upholstery and finishes exclusively.

Synthetic fibers weren’t allowed. As a result, the custom furnishings are made from rattan, abaca and bamboo, all of which are paired with sustainable vegetable-dyed leather upholstery and organic hemp fabrics. For example, the family room’s sumptuous leather-clad custom sectional features organic-cotton in-fill with jute and horsehair, cushion springs made from 50-percent recycled metals, and pillow cushioning made from 100-percent recycled fibers (white plastic bottles).

The neutral color scheme—accented with woodsy greens, butterscotch and cinnabar, which are a nod to the brick walls—complements the rustic lodge theme and brings Ashley’s beloved outdoors inside. The materials palette includes certified and sustainable reclaimed pine and maple from replanted forests.

All of the cabinetry and built-in stains are mainly water hyacinth-based, while some wood finishes are beeswax with walnut-shell coloration; others are fish oil, milk, water or coconut bark. Low VOC paint is used on all nonbrick surfaces. Natural stone and marble countertops stand in counterpoint to the loft’s reclaimed wide-plank oak flooring and original timber-beam ceiling.

One of the biggest challenges involved creating a separate entry wall for the master suite, which creates a building-within-a-building look. “The idea for a privacy wall to set the master bedroom apart from the otherwise open space came from my desire for a barnlike theme,” Ashley recalls. Dad designed a wall of reclaimed Vermont barn siding, complete with an antique weather vane and rusted corrugated tin for the roof.  The treatment gives the impression of being its own little cozy cabin within the loft.

“I doubt there’s any other historic loft in all of Denver that has as much technology packed into this amount of space,” says Jeffrey, taking into account the home-entertainment, lighting-control security aspects, and the climate setting. “Ashley’s work is very gratifying but very emotional, so it’s very important for her home to be her refuge. For me, that’s the most gratifying aspect of this project: the fact that she feels this place is her sanctuary—that she is comforted and relaxed by her living environment.” 

“For me, this loft is the embodiment of a warm, romantic lodge—like a mini barn in the sky,” Ashley says. “When I first saw the space, I envisioned something majestic yet rustic—a home that would be comforting and inviting and a refuge from the day-to-day demands, but I never imagined it would look this beautiful.

“Working with my dad was an incredible collaboration,” she adds. “We have different tastes, but everything came together very well. For the first few days after the place was completed I would step inside and look around, and tears would come to my eyes. I was so incredulous that this was actually my own home!”

A Loft in Downtown Denver

When asked about the unique challenges in this installation, custom installer Chad Benedict of Creative Media Designs in Boca Raton, Fla., says the family room/home theater’s size became a recurring theme—in different and often contradictory ways.

In some ways it seemed quite large; in others, quite small. Benedict’s job was to ensure that the performance and operability of the system came out just right.

“The main area of the loft, where we have the home cinema system, is a wide-open space,” Benedict says.

“When we first tested the room, it was rather empty, and with all the brick and other hard surfaces there was a lot of echo. It was a lot of work trying to fill that space with sound. But after they got the furniture and drapes and carpets in, that eliminated a lot of the echo, and the room started to sound good. We didn’t have to correct the room nearly as much as you’d think.”

Speaker placement also went a long way toward compensating for the wide-open space.

“It helps that the speakers are really close to the listening positions, so the sound isn’t traveling long distances through the room,” Benedict says. The fact that the speakers were positioned so far out into the room meant that he needed a speaker that looked as good as it sounded, which led Benedict and his team to select Canton Chrono floor-standing speakers for the project.

“We’ve used a lot of Cantons in other media rooms, and they sound so good,” he says. “They’re so clear and so crisp. But I have to admit, the look of the speakers is what really sold them here—that beautiful black finish and the sleek aluminum tweeters and woofers. And it certainly didn’t hurt that they put out plenty of room-filling bass.”

But that large space seemed a lot smaller when it was time to design the rest of the system. “The goal was to create a whole-house type of entertainment system in a confined space,” Benedict says.

“The Crestron AMS (Adagio Media System) was a crucial component of the system, because it provided the home cinema system’s surround-sound processing and amplification, [and] four zones of audio—for the kitchen, bedroom, master bathroom and balcony—all from one unit.

“The lighting control ended up being particularly tricky,” Benedict continues. “We had to think about things differently, because any light that you turn on in the loft is going to affect the entire loft since there are no walls, no separation. Really, the only separation in the whole place is the master bath.”

The lighting was such a challenge that Benedict and his team had to take a second pass at the programming.

“Initially our thoughts were, ‘Let’s show it off. Let’s turn all the lights on.’ But for the first couple of months her power bills were outrageous,” he says. “It was almost triple what it used to be. But we were able to do some reprogramming of some scenes in the Crestron control system, give her an ‘away’ mode, and design it so that when she comes home and turns on the lights, only a few come on—and not nearly as brightly as we had them at first. We had to rethink the everyday use of the loft as a home rather than just a showplace.” —Dennis Burger

Contractor: KMD Electric of Arvada, Colo. (303.690.5690)
Custom Installer: Creative Media Designs of Boca Raton, Fla. (800.237.9161, Creativemediadesigns.com)
Interior Architecture: Buchanan Yonushewski Group of Denver, Colo. (303.861.4600, bygroup.com)
Interior and Theater Designer and Architect: First Impressions Themed Theatres Inc. of North Miami, Fla. (800.305.7545, cineloungers.com)

“Downtown Denver is really a model for what ‘returning downtown from the suburbs’ is all about. It’s very cosmopolitan and really desirable for young professionals.”—Jeffrey Smith, home theater designer

Family room

Canton Chrono AS 525 SC Active Subwoofer
Canton Chrono 505 CM Center Channel Speaker
Canton Chrono 502 Canton Compact Bookshelf Rear Speakers (2)
Canton Chrono 507 DC Floorstanding Speakers (2)
Chief Manufacturing ICLPFM1T02 wall mount bracket
Crestron AMS Adagio Media System
Crestron CHV-TSTATRF infiNET Thermostat
Crestron CLS-C6 iLux Integrated Lighting Systems (3)
Crestron CLW-DIM1RF infiNET Wall Box Dimmers (9)
Crestron CLW-SW1RF infiNET Wall Box Switches (4)
Crestron TPMC-8X Isys 8.4” WiFi Touchpanel
Crestron TPMC-8X-DSW Wall Mount Docking Station for TPMC-8X
Crestron TPS-4L Isys 3.6” Wall Mount Touchpanel
Denon DP-300F Fully Automatic Analog Turntable
DirecTV HR21 HD satellite receiver
LG 42LG50 42” 1080p LCD TV
Middle Atlantic racks and hardware
Sony BDP-S300 Blu-Ray Disc Player
Sony VPL-VW60 BRAVIA SXRD 1080P Home Cinema Front Projector
Vutec 103” Vision XL1 Motorized Wall Screen for Wall or Ceiling

Niles PR6 6 1/2” 2-Way PR Performance In-wall Loudspeakers (2)

Master bedroom
Chief Manufacturing ICLPFM1T02 wall mount bracket
Crestron ML-600 Wireless Remote Control
LG 42LG50 42” 1080p LCD TV
Niles PR6 6 1/2” 2-Way PR Performance In-wall Loudspeakers (2)

Master bath
Crestron TPS-4L Isys 3.6” Wall Mount Touchpanel
Niles CM730 7” Two-Way Ceiling Mount Loudspeakers with Pivoting Tweeter

Niles PS6Si Stereo Input Planter Speaker

Read more: http://www.hemagazine.com/Urban_Cowgirl_Denver_Loft?page=0%2C3#ixzz1f7bHmWOp

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