Before starting architecture school in 1996, Dean Hight went on a road trip, visiting as many Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian structures as he could from Michigan to Arizona. “I like his sense of organic architecture, his low-slung roofs, the natural materials, the way the houses are sited,” says the 40- year-old home designer. “I can appreciate the Prairie style, but I really relate to the Usonians.”
Hight’s own 1957 split-level in Littleton, Colo., might not immediately bring Wright’s work to mind, but the designer contends they’re all of a piece. “This house was born out of that Usonian period, which began in the 1930s. A lot of Wright’s Usonian houses are in suburban neighborhoods or were originally out in natural settings that required a car; they were his idea of the ideal home for the United States. Stylistically they have low-slung or flat roofs, walls of glass, natural materials. They didn’t look anything like the tract houses of the ’30s.”
Hight and his wife, Lisa Fournier, have lived in their home for more than 10 years and now share it with two sons, Daxton and Donovan. The couple first fell for midcentury after visiting a postwar home Fournier’s brother was working on in Kansas City. “We were both excited by the lines and the architecture,” she says. “We both wanted that kind of house, but we didn’t think Denver had any. We were ready to move from something that took so much time and effort, like our Victorian, into something that was spacious and had more air around it. I knew immediately that this was a great house.”
After stumbling on to Arapaho Hills, a small midcentury tract near the Columbine Country Club, and looking at several homes that were for sale, they chose this one for its open floor plan and potential. There wasn’t much in the way of original interior finishes left, with an almond laminate kitchen and painted-over lauan mahogany and wallpaper, but the general bones were nice, Hight explains.
They tore out carpeting on moving day and since then have upgraded the electrical system, painted inside and out, hung new birch slab doors customized with decorative copper detailing and installed built-ins. The dining room has a new grid window wall, and Hight designed trapezoid windows for the bedrooms; all of the fixed windows are now double paned. While Hight would have loved to do a total kitchen makeover, they settled for new concrete counters and replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts with maple, African padauk and oak for a self-proclaimed wabi-sabi aesthetic.
Finding the right look for this Usonian beauty was no walk in the park. Check back for part 2 to find out where Hight drew his inspiration from to clean up the home’s exterior.