How a shrewd eye for upcycling resulted in a stunning home with stories behind every wall.
By Lisa Marshall
Photos by WeinrauchPhotography.com
Show Molly Steele old school lockers and she sees quaint cubbies for her kids’ muddy shoes. Hand her rusted rings from whiskey barrels and she envisions frames for her favorite family portraits. Give her a pile of weathered tin and her mind conjures up an elegant wall collage.
“I really like the idea of taking someone else’s junk and turning it into something beautiful,” Molly explains. That’s apparent in her newly remodeled home, which is part industrial, part rustic, part barn-inspired and packed with discarded treasures upcycled into unique accents.
When Molly, a portrait photographer, and her husband Doug, a cybersecurity specialist, first set eyes on the house in Boulder’s Rose Hill neighborhood two years ago, it was far from their dream home.
“To be honest, he hated it,” Molly recalls.
In 2012, they’d downsized from a 6,000-square-foot colonial in the bustling D.C. suburbs to Rose Hill, where the mountains, a slower pace, and the endless options for biking and hiking drew them. After a few years in a house half that size, they’d begun to miss having separate home offices for themselves and separate bedrooms for their three kids. They were in the market for something with room to expand, but only if they could stay in their beloved neighborhood.
While Doug was on a business trip, an executive rental two houses up from them came on the market and Molly put an offer on it, sight unseen.
Upon Doug’s return, they toured the house and discovered a Miami Vice look that was more ’90s Florida beach house than 2017 Colorado mountain bungalow. Deep maroon, forest green and bright purple faux finishes covered the walls. Other outdated designs included white built-in bookshelves, circular windows and blue carpets. The kitchen was tiny but the lot was huge and the Flatirons view to the southwest was spectacular. Molly could see potential: “I told Doug, ‘Trust me, you just have to have a vision with this house.’”
After closing, the Steeles hired longtime Boulder contractor Ron Monahan and design consultant Heather Vermeer to help bring Molly’s vision to life. Then the fun began.
“Molly would come in daily with her finds—stuff she’d picked up at antique stores or barns or things she’d seen online—and say, ‘How can we use this?,’” Monahan recalls. “It was an off-the-charts fun project. It was like watching kids play.”
After tearing down the kitchen wall to create an open floor plan, Monahan erected stout, hand-hewn Douglas fir timbers to delineate the kitchen from the great room. Instead of wrapping the kitchen island in barnwood to match the beams, Molly opted for a do-it-yourself industrial touch. She and Doug bought a slab of cold-rolled steel, sprayed it with vinegar and water, and left it outside to dry.
Serendipitously, they forgot about the steel and it rained. When they wiped it down, a stunning patina of rust and silver emerged. “It was a happy accident,” says Molly, who topped the island with black soapstone and illuminated it with birdcage lights she found on sale at Target. For the backsplash above the kitchen cabinets, she used plain subway tile from Home Depot. “You don’t always have to spend a fortune to make things look good,” she notes.
To create an office for herself, Molly asked Monahan’s stonemason to craft a weathered, imperfect brick wall from salvaged materials to partition the former living room from the great room. “He left out a few bricks and deliberately made it crooked; I was teasing him the whole time,” Monahan says. Today, the wall is adorned with family portraits framed by those rusted whiskey-barrel rings.
For a powder room off the kitchen, Molly got discarded fence wood from a friend, whitewashed it herself and used it for the room’s wainscot and door trim. On the ceiling, she installed vintage pressed tin from a five-and-dime store in the Midwest and strung a chandelier she found on Craigslist to give the bath a “rustic-refined” feel.
For her new laundry room, she took inspiration from Pinterest and topped an old sewing-machine base with a countertop of discarded fence, then plopped an inexpensive galvanized tub into it that she weathered herself.
Pay It Forward
An aquamarine door on sliding metal tracks is the entrance to Molly’s new office. Amid the home’s sea of mellow earth tones, it’s a bold statement. “I just really wanted a pop of color,” she says, explaining how she and the craftsmen who did the home’s exterior stucco covered plain manufactured-wood sheets with Venetian plaster to craft the door. Inside the office, her collection of antique cameras lines a shelf and a bare bulb attached to a farm pulley partially lights the room.
A metal wall collage adorns the landing that leads to her downstairs photo studio. “When clients ask where I got it, I just have to smile, knowing that it used to line someone’s chicken coop.”
“Molly would come in daily with her finds—stuff she’d picked up at antique stores or barns or things she’d seen online—and say, ‘How can we use this?’”
But perhaps her favorite story involves those salvaged school lockers. “Everything here has a story behind it,” Molly says with a smile. She spotted the 12 well-worn, paint-peeling treasures at Boulder’s Resource Central (formerly Center for ReSource Conservation). She couldn’t resist such a find, and dragged the lockers home to the new mudroom they had added and asked a construction worker to pry them open.
Inside, she found old school papers covered in dust, an obsolete dictionary and a decades-old Bible, with a name, date and inscription scrawled inside: “To Randall: From Mom and Dad. Dec. 26, 1994.” The Steeles didn’t want to throw the Bible out—“bad karma,” Molly says, so Doug tracked down the owner through a Google search. Randall Rayback suspects he left the Bible in a locker in 1994, when he was 9 and attending Bible study at a Christian school in Lafayette. Molly returned it to him just in time for the birth of his own son. “The fact that we could give it to him and he’s passing it on to his son is really special,” she says.
Storied finds and upcycling aside, the Steeles did invest in a few new things for their 4,400-square-foot house. For example, the floor-to-ceiling glass doors that fold like an accordion create a seamless transition from the home to the spacious backyard. High-end Thermador appliances make cooking—one of Molly’s favorite pastimes—a pleasure.
Even the family’s three dogs—Crowley, Abbey and Rosie—got in on the remodel. Although they might not give it their wag of approval, the dogs got their own shower in the home’s 1,000-square-foot addition.
And today, even Doug is thrilled with their home. “We love it. We go away for a trip and we can’t wait to come back,” Molly beams. “We still can’t believe we actually get to live here.”
Feature Home Resources
General Contractor: Ron Monahan Construction Inc., 303-444-0715
Design Consultant: Heather Vermeer, HKvermeer@gmail.com, 303-715-8333
Kitchen Timbers: Wood Source, www.woodsource.com
Kitchen Countertops: Dorado Soapstone, www.doradosoapstone.com
Folding Glass Doors: NanaWall, www.nanawall.com
Recycled Doors/Lockers: Resource Central, www.resourcecentral.org
Laundry Tub: McGuckin Hardware, www.mcguckin.com
Birdcage Lights: Target, www.target.com