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Painting a Picture of Home

on . Posted in 5280 Magazine

 

 

 

My friend Michael Lynch told me that when he found a house in Washington Park he wanted to buy, he let friends know that it really didn’t need any work, that he could move in as is. Incredulously I blurted out, “Did anyone actually believe that?”

 

“A few people were taken in,” he said, laughing. “Of course, the next thing you know I have all the kitchen cabinets out in the backyard. It’s compulsive.”

 

Compulsive? There’s an understatement. To date, Lynch has dismantled and reconstructed to his liking six homes including his first purchase in 1976, a two story place not far from where he is now. After making that one just right, he redid a house in Morrison, then found a warehouse on Main Street in Littleton, (‘…A real dump when I found it,’ he said. ‘I should have stayed there.’). After creating a showpiece out of the warehouse, he moved to the Steven’s School building near the Botanic Gardens, then it was down to the Columbine Country Club in Littleton and finally, full circle, he’s back in Wash Park.

 

Buying, remodeling and selling homes would make sense if Lynch’s profession was that of contractor or real estate agent, or, hell, even house painter. However, the kind of painting he does requires brushes not much wider than a thumb and rather small tubes of paint. Of course, it could very well be the artist in Lynch that pushes him to continually recreate his surroundings.

 

He’s been fascinated with personal spaces since he was a kid and says he would have become an architect except there was math involved. “That was the reason I got into art,” he joked, “they said there would be no math.” Well-known nationally and abroad for his landscape paintings, Lynch is also fondly thought of among friends as the guy who can’t stay put. To him, however, it makes a lot of sense.

 

“These projects are a little bit like pictures; when you’re done with them the work is done,” he explained. “Painting is the byproduct of the art. It’s not the art; it’s what’s leftover after the art is done. People sometimes ask, ‘How can you get rid of your paintings?’ You just do. It’s the process of doing.” And he said, “I don’t think it’s that I get bored. There were things I really liked about all of the houses I’ve owned. I could have stayed in any of those situations. But I’m never opposed to getting another place.”

 

Of his current home, he says it has good bones and loads of potential. He was able to overlook the rather scary gas insert in the fireplace and see the unique Inglenook and window next to it. And, despite some strange renovations through the years like the poorly judged repositioning of a load bearing wall in the kitchen, Lynch saw charm, and perhaps most importantly, not too much square footage to be overwhelming or in need of constant attention. “I’ve had large places before. I’m not interested in maintaining a 10,000 square foot home. I like that it is an intimate space.”

 

He personally designed every aspect of the renovation, supervised construction, and even took on the fine detail woodworking throughout, but, he admits that his painting suffers a bit when he dives into a remodel. For Lynch, however, this kind of work is also part of who he is. “I tend to find that there are a number of things that I like to do. Painting obviously is what I do mostly but it’s not the only thing that I find interesting. I realize that there are a lot of people out there who can do this for me and I could get out and paint, but what difference does it make if it’s something I enjoy doing? Besides, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in being able to do this kind of thing and have it turn out.”

 

When it comes to deciding what to do with a home, Lynch says the house dictates what it needs. Like the last house he had in Littleton that had been on the market a long time. “No one could figure out what was wrong with it, but something was kind of eerie about the layout. They had architects look at the house who said, there’s nothing you can do here but paint. I thought, ‘Well that’s not necessarily true.’ I remember telling the realtor, the first thing I would do if I bought this house is move the staircase because it is in the wrong place. The guy said, “Well, you’re obviously insane.” So I bought the house and moved the staircase. A lot of the neighbors immediately said it was a hundred times better.”

 

With this house, he says he truly didn’t plan to do much, but soon after the kitchen cabinets were out, he had the roof shored-up to support tile, and knocked down the small, dilapidated brick garage and replaced it with a studio complete with stucco exterior and a pitched roof tiled to match the house. The high ceiling and north facing windows offer the constant, steady light perfect for painting, and the wide expanse of space gives him the flexibility to take the smaller plein air paintings he created outside while the studio was under construction and paint them much larger. 

 

As with the other projects Lynch has jumped into, one thing led to another on this one as well: When the studio was completed, he started to think that the stucco looked pretty good. He decided to clean up the exterior of the house by having it coated to match. “It’s sort of a European look,” he said. “The house is Tudor, but they were playing fast and loose with the architectural styles even in the 20’s.” To his eye, the yellow brick with its mahogany brown trim looked kind of grimy and dirt common. Adding to his decision to cover the brick was the fact that wherever there had been tuck pointing different colored mortar and caulk was used to do the job.

 

At first, one of Lynch’s neighbors was concerned with his decision and complained that it would compromise the character of the neighborhood. But through research he discovered that stucco, siding and brick were all options on these houses when they were first introduced to the neighborhood.

 

Besides, after so many remodels and a long career in painting, he feels confident that every facet of this renovation will enhance not detract. In fact, he believes the two – artwork and homes – are quite similar. “Like paintings, you should be able to get an overall sense of the place when you walk in, and then find little details that aren’t really obvious, but subtle, kind of charming things to run into. Your house should always be interesting. You shouldn’t get tired of looking at it.”

 

As our conversation winds down and I sit back to survey his home, I start to see more details that give this place away as that of the quintessential artist, a renaissance man. The trim is perfect, there are arches that repeat throughout, small details enhance both intimate and austere open spaces, his numerous guitars lean against the wall – Lynch is a big neo-Delta Blues fan who occasionally sits in with friends – and fine objects and paintings are scattered throughout. Yet, I can’t help but ask: “When are you going to sell?”

 

“The first person with a big check,” he says, laughing. “Well, actually, I do think about getting a loft. When I want to go to Europe, I’d lock the door and go. I wouldn’t have a roof to worry about. That would really free me up.”

  

Vance Kirkland

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The center of art in the United States in 1929 was New York City. Artists flocked from across the country to study in its gritty cosmopolitan community where they banded together, pushed the boundaries and changed consciousness. Yet in that same year, one artist chose a different path and that has made all the difference for Colorado and indeed for western art history. Vance Kirkland was born with the confidence to take on the world, shake it up, and record the results in paint. He was a true pioneer, one who turned not east but west to Denver where he spent almost his entire artistic career creating ground breaking images uninhibited by the trends of the major art cities. Throughout his life he painted pieces that vibrated with color and vitality, and his later work – unique and sophisticated variations on Op (short for optical) art -- continues to fascinate as it tricks the viewer’s eye, commanding one to follow its undulating motion. Kirkland never liked to explain his work, preferring that each viewer form his or her own opinion. He even hated to sign his finished canvasses for fear of limiting the ways they could be hung and enjoyed. In an interview given towards the end of his life, Kirkland said, “It takes a different kind of mind, someone who could attempt to visualize, with me, what I am wanting to get across. I am hoping people can find something exciting as far as the relationships of color are concerned and the abstractions I have made.”

Kirkland died in 1981 leaving the people of Denver a legacy that includes one of the finest art schools in the country, a body of more than 1,100 paintings in five distinct periods and 500 drawings, a collection of important works by his contemporaries, as well as collected antiquities, more than 6,000 recordings of jazz, classical, and opera, and a strong and growing modern and contemporary art department at the Denver Art Museum. And thanks to the Vance Kirkland Museum and Foundation formed in 1996 and dedicated to finding sold and missing works, restoring, documenting and exhibiting this valuable collection, Kirkland’s work is being rediscovered by museums nationally and internationally. A European tour has been recently completed during which Kirkland paintings and drawing were shown at 13 museums in 10 countries. Kirkland’s work and life has been featured in three television documentaries and a ballet performed by Colorado Ballet. However, none of this would have happened if Kirkland’s father had had his way. I’ll get to this in a moment.

Watercolor dominated the first 27 years of Kirkland’s painting career and upon his arrival to Colorado in 1929, he, like many artists of the day, painted the landscape. Though Kirkland insisted on pushing the colors, the structure learned in his college courses coupled with the criticism of his professors affected this early body of work: It is the most representational of his career. He referred to the paintings created over these first 10 years as “Discovering the West.” His sense of humor often showed through the transparent pigment in such paintings as Garden Club and Nature Lovers. In these paintings, Kirkland featured lovely social ladies wearing the flowers and furs of the very things they had come to learn about. Kirkland wrote of one such painting that he could no longer find, that he thought it was purchased by the club depicted and immediately destroyed by its members.

As he tired of exploring the traditional western motif, Kirkland slowly moved away from realism toward surrealism as he focused on images of deadwood found in the high country. Through his eyes the branches danced with color and life. Interestingly, these paintings took shape during World War II. The horrors of the war added new meaning to his view of nature. To show just how small he felt man was to the world, Kirkland added ant-sized human figures that appear to be moving along the striations of the wood, inhabiting the deadwood – feeding on nature but never more important. In this way Kirkland reversed the scale of man with nature.

Out of the deadwood sprung flowers, which, over time, became prehistoric looking, surreal animals. Of this new frontier in his art, Kirkland wrote: “Living in the West surrounded by immense grandeurs of nature has caused me after many years to reflect away from the scenic world and escape into a personally created world of fantasy.”

Through the mid 1950s, Kirkland was in demand. The prestigious Knoedler Gallery in New York City carried his work for twelve years, giving him three one-man shows and a two-man show with surreal artist Max Ernst. Kirkland’s watercolors were featured in museum many exhibitions across the country including the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Art Museum and Los Angeles Museum of Art. That was until he abruptly dropped watercolor and switched to abstract painting in oil.

For Kirkland the idea of creating meant inventing something new, something that had not yet existed. He was inspired by other artists and collected many works of his contemporaries such as Miro, Matta, Zadkine, Locketz, Mirko, Mangold, Britton, Pereira and Polisello, as well as Roman, Egyptian, Greek, and Asian antiquities. He said that living with works of art was just the competition he needed to keep striving to make his own work better. He always spent money collecting – a disease he said whose only cure was to acquire more. Kirkland often purchased pieces for the University of Denver’s collection as well as the Denver Art Museum. He constantly pushed – some say fought with – DAM director from 1944 to 1974, Otto Bach, to collect more contemporary works, something the museum was not interested in at that time. Kirkland persevered, serving through the years as curator and trustee, and, according to Diane Perry Vanderlip, single-handedly created the Modern and Contemporary department that she now heads.

In 1953 all his ideas about teaching, collecting, and the evolution of art, along with his observations on what was happening in art around the country melded with his thoughts on outer space. He would later compare his theories with those of scientist Fred Hoyle (Big Bang theory) and the Pulitzer Prize winning astronomer Carl Sagan. The explosion that went off inside caused Kirkland to abandon the watercolors he had worked with for so many years and focus on non-objective, abstract work in oil. Some consider this move career suicide. The museums and galleries who had built a following for his previous work turned their backs on him. Anne Warriner, a writer for Cervi’s Rocky Mountain Journal summed it up in her August 31, 1966 column: “We asked Vance Kirkland why he changed his style of realistic painting, for which he was so praised and beloved, to space-age art which everyone questions. We can say, in fact, the art laity in Denver flat-out does not like it.”

But Kirkland was on to something and he really didn’t care who approved. These new paintings did not rely on subject matter but instead on thoughts and inspirations. In an interview for the Denver Post May 15, 1960, Kirkland explained: “For the artist to produce a work of art not dependent on an imitation or reproduction of a subject pertaining to nature, he faces the greatest problems and the greatest challenges of all. Because all he has to work with is his knowledge of what art is, the language of art, and some personal reaction to his times as experienced or felt through being inventive and thoroughly creative.”

Kirkland blared music as he mixed oil and water on his canvasses. In so doing, he developed the dynamic resist paintings of the second half of his career. As he had with the watercolors, Kirkland worked on flat surfaces experimenting with the reaction of the substances. These initial floating abstractions were generally of bright colors that appear to be exploding across the canvas. Through this work, Kirkland explored his own thoughts on the limitless boundaries and mysteries of space.

His new technique yielded equally wonderful results when he turned his attention to the old walls and buildings seen during his travels to the Roman ruins, Burma, India, and Cambodia. Of the rich organic shapes that emerged out of his memories, Kirkland wrote, “This series…[carries] overtones pertaining to places experienced in travel, only the paintings definitely do not represent places – just ideas stimulated by the arrangement of paint on canvas. In these paintings, the observer must participate.”

No longer hemmed in by the limitations of sheets of watercolor paper, Kirkland had large canvasses stretched so he could spread out and paint big. He again turned to the mysteries of space as he continued to perfect his technique. He called these paintings color vibrations for the way the paint appeared to actually vibrate across the canvas. Color fields of floating forms supported multiples of dots that followed and enhanced the underlying color patterns in these paintings.

Kirkland maintained a rigid schedule working six days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., sometimes longer. Yet he barely finished one painting a month. The canvasses he used for the dot paintings started at 16 inches square with the largest size being 75 inches by 168 inches. Kirkland said, “The large size of the paintings, and the very complex way of using little tiny dots, creates active instead of static canvasses. I discovered from a friend with a calculator that there were over 77,500 dots in a painting that is 75 inches high and 100 inches wide. I must say that is a good many dots. But I would not be able to do the painting, and achieve the vibrations of color and tricking the eye into moving around the canvas in any other way.”

But working on such a grand scale created its own set of problems. Sculptor Robert Mangold remembers stopping by Kirkland’s studio and witnessing the artist at work. “The biggest shock he ever gave me was when I went in on a weekend and he was hanging in a harness. I always wondered how he reached the middle of those paintings. He had developed this harness thing and he would climb up on a stepladder and hang out over the painting and make these dots. He used to paint with dowel rods he’d dip in the paint. I started off talking about what I came to talk about but after a while I realize that I’m not talking because I’m watching him and he’s not talking because he’s into what he’s doing. Finally he said, ‘What did you come for?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess I came to watch you paint because I’ve forgotten.”

The fun of these pieces, Kirkland said was that he could explore the mysteries of space, to visualize what might have happened billions of years ago. He was thrilled to read Carl Sagan’s book The Dragons of Eden and quoted Sagan where he wrote, “the only other type of person in an endeavor to which his kind of scientist could relate is the creative artist, mostly the painter. The painter works through the imagination and visualizes his dreams.”

Kirkland allowed no limits whether physical or mental to stand in his path of discovery through art. He demanded greatness of himself as he did of the many students he nurtured, cajoled, and flat out scared. However, none of this would have happened if Vance Kirkland’s father had had his way. –OR- Traits Kirkland developed no doubt at an early age.

Kirkland started painting as a boy growing up in Convoy, Ohio, a small farming community west of Cleveland. His father and grandfather, both doctors, wanted him to follow in their footsteps. Kirkland had other plans, though. He made a contact at the Cleveland School of Art, applied and was accepted. School, Kirkland quickly realized, was much harder than he first thought. He was ill prepared, as all the other students had some previous training. After several months, one of his teachers told him he was hopeless and that he should go home and dig ditches. He even failed his freshman watercolor class for using unusual colors in his compositions. Refusing to give in, Kirkland simply worked harder. By graduation, he had so improved that his paintings had received junior and senior year first prizes for watercolor, were awarded honorable mention at an exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art and he was asked to stay on at the school, was given a fellowship and started teaching beginning watercolor.

After his fellowship, Kirkland received an offer from the University of Denver to found the school’s first fine art department. The thought of pioneering in the West was thrilling to him and despite the fact that he was young for such a position – just 22 years old, he wrote, “I felt confident and knew I could handle the job.” In January 1929, armed with a graduate degree in art and teacher training, he left the Midwest for what he was warned by his professors would be a cultural wilderness.

To the art community, Kirkland may have seemed like a throwback to a past era, perhaps even disappointing in the normalcy of his appearance. He wore silk suits he had made in Hong Kong while visiting there and was always well groomed. In his later years, he walked with a cane and some times crutches and occasionally a wheelchair. The years of leaning over a table to paint had damaged his legs, hips and back, causing arthritis and resulting in two hip replacements. Sally Storey, who knew Kirkland along with her late husband Lewis, through the Denver Art Museum, recalls the cane coming in handy when he started telling stories. “When Vance got going, he would bang that cane on the floor for emphasis,” said Storey. “But you always knew he wasn’t that fierce.”

The first trip Kirkland took abroad was to Italy with fellow artist Albert Olson in 1930. On Capri both met Anne Fox Oliphant, a children’s librarian from Philadelphia, who after seven years of courting, chose Albert even though Kirkland also proposed. Olson brought his bride back to Denver but their marriage was short lived. He died in 1940, leaving Kirkland and the widow a chance to rekindle any possible romance. A year after Olson’s death, Kirkland married Anne.

At DU, however, Kirkland was less then satisfied with his position. Unable to focus on his own work and angered over the administration’s refusal to accredit his classes and offer degrees in art, Kirkland was fired four years after arriving in Denver. But he was well respected by his students many of whom began to drop by his studio for instruction. Eventually, Kirkland started teaching again, this time out of his studio. “I have found it to be a most satisfactory arrangement.” wrote Kirkland. “By carefully selecting students, a very gratifying standard has been maintained. This way I can continue my own work, working along with the students.” He took his newly formed school one step further when the University of Colorado offered class credit to their students who studied with Kirkland starting in 1933.

After more than a decade of successfully running the Kirkland School of Art, the Chancellor of DU asked Kirkland how he felt about coming back. “Vance said to him ‘You’ve got to be kidding! After what I went through,’” says Hugh Grant, Director of the Vance Kirkland Museum. “The Chancellor finally asked what it would take to get him back. Kirkland thought he would end the discussion by saying, ‘First of all you have to give me a salary larger than yours and second, complete autonomy for my department.’” Much to his surprise, they agreed. In 1946, Kirkland returned to DU as chairman of the Arts and Humanities bringing hundreds of students with him.

Kirkland’s relationship with the deans at DU, however, distracted and annoyed him once again. A friend of the family’s, Karin Bond, spent the summer of 1955 with the Kirklands and remembers many wonderful parties and discussions but also the constant frustration he felt from the school. “Every night when he came home from work he’d say, ‘Guess what I told them at the university today,’” she recalled. “He was put out from time to time so he liked to brag a little.” It was, undoubtedly, during the struggle of running the school that Kirkland gained his reputation for being combative.

 "He really had to fight to get what he wanted,” says Grant. One such battle ensued when he was not allowed to teach life drawing of nudes, a basic in any fine arts school. “Vance figured the deans thought anyone who would do nude drawings would probably hold orgies in the room,” he recalls. To win over one particularly stubborn dean, Kirkland sent a postcard of a different Picasso nude drawing every day for a month. Kirkland finally got his way.

 

Though it wasn’t just the deans with whom Kirkland argued. Robert Mangold, who was hired by Kirkland in 1961 to teach in the sculpture department, remembers many heated discussions. Their arguments were never personal, however, and Mangold recalls that they always looked forward to seeing each other even though they knew the next meeting would surely spark conflict once again. “Anyone who said Vance was quiet and easy going would be missing the point,” says Mangold. “Normally, I’m not one to shout but if someone shouts at me I shout back. I do remember having done that – the faculty and students hearing us.”

 

But Mangold remembers his elegant presence, too. “You always knew Vance was in the room. He just had this way about him,” he says. “One time we brought our young daughter to an opening wearing this fluffy thing and white gloves. I introduced her to Vance and as he began to lean toward her, she stuck her hand out. Vance took her hand and kissed it. We never knew she had seen this kind of thing before but Vance had this quality. He took her around and told her about the work, this little 3-year-old girl!”

 

Kirkland retired from teaching at DU in 1969 and his wife Anne passed away the following year leaving him entirely to his art. He contracted hepatitis most likely while traveling abroad and his health began to decline. Yet the ideas for new paintings kept flowing out of him. Over the last 10 years of his life doctors would give him six months at a time to live. His will to create was so strong it literally kept him going. Three months before he died, Kirkland had friends strap him to his chair while he painted so he wouldn’t fall over when he passed out from exhaustion. He painted up to the last two days of his life and left one painting unfinished. He was still planning yet another series of work and maintained his charming sense of humor to the end. His last words were to the nurse who asked for his arm to which Kirkland replied, “Only if you give it back.” On May 24, 1981, at the age of 76 Vance Kirkland surrendered to the hepatitis that so weakened his body but not his spirit.

 

Grant recalls, “Vance wanted no memorial ceremony or funeral service of any kind because he felt they generally made people sad. Instead, he wanted people to go to his studio or somewhere else and enjoy his paintings, which he considered positive. He said, ‘People don’t need to bother with me anymore – the paintings are enough.’”

 

Today, it is still possible to visit Vance Kirkland’s studio by appointment in its original Arts and Crafts period building on 13th Avenue and Pearl Street. Always on display are more than 70 pieces by Kirkland covering the major periods of his work, as well as selected Colorado sculptures, paintings and ceramics and about 2,000 decorative art objects that augment his collections. The joy, excitement, angst, and curiosity that went into his work surround the viewer who ventures into this oasis in the heart of Denver. 

 

 

In addition to his paintings, Kirkland will also be remembered for is his tireless support of the arts: not only in his own contributions but in that of the hundreds of men and women who studied under him, as well as in those who have yet to attend the school of fine arts he built for DU, and, of course, in the Denver Art Museum’s growing contemporary collection. In a lecture he gave to his students Kirkland wrote: “Most people think of art as something far removed from life, something far-out, unnecessary, a useless frill of education. Many students achieve an education, even a Ph.D., without even touching man’s achievements in the arts. Try traveling around the world sometime and confront yourself with the civilizations of the world, and you will soon realize how much art man has produced because he has needed it. There is so much to enjoy and so little time. Life is too short.”

 

The Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts carries most of Vance Kirkland's work, as well as a stunning collection of Colorado's finest artists.

  

Dream House Redemption

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How one couple’s labor of love became another’s saving grace.

Lisa and David Johnson owned a home in Country Club but things were not right. Call it a midlife crisis in their relationship – but they knew something had to give. Compounding things, Lisa got sober and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. It was time for a change, so when Lisa saw the advertisement in the Sunday paper for the Blue Cube she suggested that they take a look – just for kicks – and maybe get some ideas for remodeling their home.

 

“We walked up the glass stairs in the entrance and my husband said, ‘I want this house.’” she recalled. “That’s exactly what happened.” They looked at it several times more but made their decision quickly. They didn’t even have time to put their house in Country Club on the market before they moved.

 

It’s no wonder the Blue Cube appealed to the Johnson’s immediately. For years they’d been adapting their modern sensibilities and furnishings to fit into architecturally traditional homes. Set on two and a half acres in a secluded Cherry Hills neighborhood, the Blue Cube is 10,000 square feet with two spacious offices, four bedrooms and a workout room, as well as a gorgeous second floor kitchen that opens dramatically into the dining and living rooms, and walkout balconies on either side. If each room were a country, the pantry would be Spain, complete with a dumb waiter that originates in the garage and carries groceries straight up. “Oh, and this is one of my favorite things about the house,” Lisa said, walking to one end of the 175 foot hall that runs like a spine down the expanse of the house. “It’s like you’re in a museum. It’s so dramatic.”

 

Though a more perfect home for the Johnson’s didn’t exist before the Blue Cube, it was built entirely to the taste and specifications of another couple, right down to the paint. Seven years ago, award winning architect Michael Brendle, best known for designing libraries, schools and other public buildings like the Boetcher Concert Hall at the Performing Arts Complex, received a call to develop plans for a home in the same genre as his commercial work, essentially, lots of glass, steel and other more modern materials. For Brendle, the thought of adapting his contemporary concepts into a home was a dream. The idea of it all got even better when he toured the proposed site. There was a house on the property that would be razed, but before doing so, Brendle had a chance to talk to the previous owner. That conversation gave him a major inspiration.

 

“The old man living there told me if you get up on this roof there are great views,” recalled Brendle who took the man’s advice and climbed up to see for himself. “That is what really generated the idea of putting the public spaces upstairs; to catch the views. Basically, we flipped the house upside down.”

 

Brendle’s clients provided another key concept: the desire for separate living and working spaces. “They had specific needs,” said Brendle. “She was a writer and he was a doctor, so they needed spaces that felt like you were leaving the house to have a sense of privacy.” And, playing off the concept of telling a story, Brendle came up with the idea of creating a home that unfolds as you move through it, much like discovering the plot of a novel.

 

What Brendle ultimately designed was a house with two distinct structures providing separation between work and living. The offices are in one space on the upper level with the guest suite below, while the second house is all about living and recreation with family room, kitchen, workout and pantry up and three bedrooms below. The two areas are connected by a glass bridge that gives the feeling of floating over the landscaping outside. It also creates that 175 foot long vista that Lisa enjoys so much. “The house is essentially one room deep,” said Brendle, “so you have a sense of transparency as you walk through. You have a sense as you look through whole layers of glass that you are more a part of the environment. It got so long because it is one room wide but it is all about capturing the light. In a traditional home you get the same light depending on where the windows are, but here you are surrounded by changing light all day. And, each room is very different, that way each space can be individually designed. The house feels like a collage, but it is about expressing the nature of the spaces it is surrounding, whether it is protecting the private spaces or opening up the public spaces.”

 

While the upper level is almost entirely blue glass and steel supports – even the steps throughout are glass – the lower level is private and secure. “Everything in the lower level is concrete or brick and sanded stainless steel. The places that needed privacy like bedrooms are enclosed, and all the others are in glass.” And, Brendle remarked, “Even though people stop and look at the house, you never feel like you are on display.”

 

Over the three years it took to design and build the Blue Cube, Brendle and fellow designer Tania Salgado also helped select the furniture, paint and other interior fixtures. Brendle recalls, “We worked closely with the couple solving their needs. That house responded to them because they were very involved with the process.” And he added, “Houses are so personal. This one is all about being open. The couple we worked with was totally into the concept. It was an incredible collaboration.”  

 

Unfortunately, that couple that worked so hard on creating their dream home divorced just eight month after completion and put the house up for sale. Brendle recalled, “They thought building a house would change things and in reality it didn’t make any difference in the end. It was very disappointing for us to have spent that kind of effort then have it all go away for them. They didn’t get to enjoy it the way we conceived it.”

 

House projects are, of course, notorious for causing fissures in relationships. Though Brendle’s couple thrived on the experience but divorced after, the average couple does not. Often they find that their tastes are completely at odds, or one person becomes obsessive, or, worse, the house comes to define the people. “I knew a couple in Evergreen,” recalled Christina Lammerman, a real estate agent with Gerretson Realty, Inc., “who worked on a house for five years. When it was done and they didn’t have contractors to complain about or light fixtures to pick out, they realized that they didn’t have anything in common. They worked so hard -- it was really sad.”

 

Whatever fissure finally cracked open and split apart their relationship, the man and the woman who built a home so uniquely their dream went separate ways. Across town, the Johnson’s were dealing with issues of their own. Over the last year and a half, after Lisa’s recovery from addiction, she and David worked through a lot of change. Though they didn’t know what they were looking for, a new house was in their renewed future. Lisa joked, “This is David’s mid-life crisis, this house – at least he didn’t go out and get a girlfriend.”

 

Upon seeing the Blue Cube, its drama and modernity alone was enough to get the Johnson’s to make an offer almost immediately, but that it was available and needed next to nothing to complete – mainly landscaping – was the clincher. “We don’t have the patience to build a house,” said Lisa, laughing. “We put a kitchen in at our old house and it was not a pretty thing. That’s why we wanted this place – it was all done”

 

As they walked through the house on their initial visits, they loved the way the living spaces were up and the bedrooms were situated on the lower level and private. They made the guest suite below the offices their master bedroom, while their kids took over the bedrooms on the other end of the house. “It’s perfect because we can let the dogs out the doors from our bedroom on the grass level,” said Lisa. “Actually, this whole house is perfect for us.” And she added, “We bought somebody else’s dream home. It wouldn’t work for a lot of people.” Indeed the Blue Cube wouldn’t work for most people, like some of their neighbors for instance, who complain vociferously about the house. But Lisa and David have always liked modern, and see theirs as an attraction to the neighborhood filled otherwise with overdone, ornate mansions.

 

Of course, there’s the issue of living with glass that makes the Blue Cube a challenge. The Johnson’s have the house washed every three to four months inside and out, which can run a couple thousand when all is said and done. And though you’d think it would be expensive to heat and cool, they have radiant floors and industrial systems that help reduce some of the cost.

 

Their only complaint is the noise that echoes and bounces off the glass walls, but otherwise, can’t imagine leaving, especially when they consider the views from every room on the top floor. Sitting in the music room across from their offices, Lisa looks out over their property as a storm rolls in off the mountains. “We hang out here a lot in the mornings and on the weekends,” she said. “It always feels like we’re on vacation.”

 

When asked if she feels too exposed in a glass house, Lisa quickly replies, “I like it. I don’t have any secrets, you know?”