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By Laurie Dunklee

Sloan’s Lake dog-walkers might do a double-take when they pass the Black and White House, on 23rd Avenue, just east of the park. In this neighborhood of mostly single-story ranch houses, the Black and White House is no exception – save for the big glass cube rising from its middle.

The 1960s home won a Mayor’s Design Award for its transformation into a contemporary home with a two-story glass atrium.

“This design won because it’s a modern redo that fits the block and the neighborhood,” said Alexandra Foster of Denver Community Planning and Development, which runs the annual awards.

“Its scale is the same as the rest of the block, and the way it orients to the street. Lots of new projects in northwest Denver are not like the rest of the block. This is modern and interesting, but it doesn’t stand out in a negative way.”

The basic shoebox-shaped house had remained fundamentally unchanged when Erin Little and Marc Perusse bought it two years ago. It was the perfect candidate for a remodel because the foundation was strong.

“The foundation was two times as thick as it needed to be, and the house could really handle anything we wanted to do with it,” Little told Denver Life magazine.

The couple wanted a view of Sloan’s Lake, as well as a light-filled space, so they hired architect Matt Davis of Davis Urban to rethink the house. Davis left standing the existing home and the existing garage – popping the top – and connected the two by designing a two-story glass cube as a modern bridge between them. The cube creates a grand dining room and a loft bedroom-office. 

Little and Perusse nicknamed their finished 3,400-square-foot home “the black and white house” because the materials are limited to white painted brick with black custom steel windows and doors, with a dark charcoal standing seam siding at the addition.

The five-bedroom house, which also includes a finished basement, won a Mayor’s Design Award in the “This is home” category, honoring single-family residences that exhibit “excellence in architecture, exterior design, and placemaking.”

Most of the 17 award winners for 2018 were older places that were saved from neglect to preserve some of Denver’s past—perhaps reflecting a sense of so much history being lost to the massive building boom.

“The history and character of our neighborhoods is important to residents,” said Foster. “People live in a neighborhood because they like the look and feel of the area. The award-winners fit their block as well as the neighborhood.”

Foster said the intent of the awards, begun in 2005, is to highlight good design and improve the public realm. Nominees represent a wide variety of projects, from new mixed-use developments to rejuvenated alleys. Anyone can nominate a project. The 2018 awards selection committee was comprised of an architect, a historic preservation leader, a city planning consultant, and a member of CityBuild (a community of millennials building civic engagement).

“The judges are interested in city life: how a building brings life to a city block, particularly if that building had been abandoned,” Foster said.

The winners include several iconic saves, including the 1895 Bosler House in northwest Denver and the Punch Bowl Social, formerly the control tower at Stapleton Airport.

“Always two or three winners feel unique, like the control tower; we don’t get one of those every year,” Foster said.

Several new commercial buildings got a nod, including the Colorado Health Foundation at 18th and Pennsylvania, and the Circa Building at 16th and Platte. Also recognized were historic commercial buildings that were given new life, notably the large office building at STEAM on the Platte in Lincoln Park, a reclamation of industrial buildings that includes several that were abandoned.

Some of this year’s more unusual projects included a bus shelter near Thomas Jefferson High School and a ticket booth at The Botanic Gardens, created by students at the University of Colorado Environmental Design school.

“This year’s different projects were especially different,” said Foster. “The ticket booth is a first.”

Good design is a concern in northwest Denver, where new building has been vigorous and entire blocks have lost their context. District 1 City Councilman Rafael Espinoza was instrumental in passing a city ban on slot homes: multi-unit residential projects designed around a narrow driveway or open space, aka “the slot.” The outer walls often are bare of details, with blank walls and utility equipment facing the sidewalk. There are no real front doors, which, critics said, isn’t a great way to build a community. Slot homes proliferated in the West Colfax, Highland, Berkeley, Jefferson Park and Cherry Creek neighborhoods before the ban passed city council in May of 2018.

Foster said the winning projects are those that bring a greater sense of community.

“They are striking, and the community takes pride in them. The awards highlight good design as a way to say, ‘These projects are getting it right.’”

A future concern is loss of green space because of increased density. Landscaping is a new Mayor’s Design Award category added this year. Foster said an area of interest is green spaces with public access, like the award-winning Backyard on Blake, a restored warehouse-turned-business-space with grassy and garden areas.