Born of creativity and passion, this house — and its owners — breaks all the rules when it comes to conventional ideas.
By Lisa Marshall • Photos by WeinrauchPhotography.com
When it came time for Colombian-born artist Marcela Ot’alora G. to name her newly built home (as is customary in her home country), she chose a surprising moniker for a bright-orange house with vivid multicolored trim and a bright-blue fence.
She called it “Susurro,” or “murmur“ in Spanish.
“I just love that word,” Marcela says, as her husband, Bruce Poulter, chuckles slightly.
The paradox is not lost on either of them. “This house is anything but a murmur,” acknowledges Bruce. But that’s OK, because—as they often tell visitors who question their unconventional aesthetic—“who says things have to match?”
Part home, part art installation, part gathering place, the duo’s bold, whimsical 3,500-square-foot north Boulder creation proudly breaks all the rules when it comes to design, color and decor.
Built almost entirely by their hands, it features artwork on the ceiling, poetry verses on the floor, handmade furniture, light fixtures and kitchen cabinets, and more than 50 one-of-a-kind wall colors cobbled together with cans of discount “oops” paint. Despite the closeness of neighbors, the enormous windows have no blinds. As Marcela explains, it would take away from the views of Mount Sanitas to the west and obscure the home’s tree-house feel when the enormous elms surrounding it leaf out in summer.
If you look closely, you can see a host of creatively “fixed” mistakes, like the length of trim in the dining room that came up a bit too short, and was filled in with Marcela’s colorful handmade tiles; or the spot of blue paint on the ceiling that doesn’t quite match.
But somehow, in its mishmash of broken rules and improvisation, the home comes together beautifully—creating a space that oozes creativity and challenges those who enter to think outside the box.
“It’s startling, and people appreciate that,” Bruce says. “A space like this gets people thinking that anything is possible.”
The two met 15 years ago, introduced by their two third-grade daughters, who’d become fast friends at school. Marcela, who already had a master’s in fine arts, came to Boulder to study at Naropa. Bruce, a Rolfer, was living in the Nyland cohousing development in Lafayette, which he helped found.
She moved in with him for a time, but it soon became apparent that they needed to be closer to Boulder, in a space they could create together. In 2005, they bought a boxy, circa-1910 home in a quaint tree-studded neighborhood near North Boulder Park. Renovating it to their liking would have been a colossal and expensive task, so they tore it down and started from scratch, with two main goals: to use as much recycled material as possible and to create a work of art.
“I am an installation artist, and I see this as an installation piece,” says Marcela, 53, who is also a psychotherapist.
Adds Bruce, 58: “We wanted to let imagination and creativity drive what we did and create a space that invited people to do the same.”
So they scoured recycle yards for doors and windows, and drew up architectural plans around what they’d gathered. Then they got to work, with Bruce doing the electrical and plumbing, and much of the carpentry, while Marcela offered her artistic vision.
“I can make things, but I cannot make them functional,” she says, pointing to a 120-pound porcelain chandelier in the living room that she created and Bruce electrified. “He makes things work.”
In all, the project took six years, with the couple and one of their teenage daughters sharing a 480-square-foot studio over the garage for a year as they toiled to complete their masterpiece.
It was worth the wait.
Inspired by Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who used whimsical irregular forms and bright bold colors in his buildings, the house has an almost Dr. Seuss-esque feel when you approach it.
Out front is a blue curvilinear “wishing fence” made of a recycled railing and dozens of wine bottles, into which passersby are invited to place a wish (one recent wisher inserted a note that says, simply, “I want to kiss you”). The concrete below the entrance to the front gate is adorned with bits of colorful plates and stones, as if signaling that once you step across this threshold you’re entering a wondrous place.
Wooden posts on the front porch are encased in brightly colored porcelain cylinders that Marcela made and Bruce carefully installed in a way that assured they would not crack in Colorado’s fickle climate.
The enormous bright-yellow front door is emblazoned with a green hand-painted tree and a brass hand reaching out to touch those who enter.
Inside, the pair’s love of art, poetry and each other is evident in unlikely places.
The living-room ceiling has been transformed into an installation of black-and-white photographs by Robert Park Harrison—famous for his thoughtful but undeniably bleak installations, lamenting man’s destruction of the environment.
Lines by their favorite poets are scrawled in artful arcs across the floor and up the railing to the second floor. And rooms are decorated with furniture the couple made or at least improved together, including a full-sized couch they crafted from scratch and stuffed with down. Over their bed, a white heart crafted out of buttons says it all.
But not everyone loves the home.
“A lot of people say ‘I love your house.’ But some of them say, ‘Oh my god. What are they going to do next?’” Marcela laughs.
For them, though, and the people who gather there to play music and write poetry, create art and talk politics, it’s home and much more.
Their advice to anyone setting out to build a home: “Learn all the rules–and then forget them.”