This couple polished their north Boulder home to brilliance after it fell into utter disrepair.
By Lisa Marshall
photos by www.weinrauchphotography.com
Tiffany Myers and Steffan Knapp were definitely not in the market for a fixer-upper. After remodeling their ’70s-era Wonderland Lake home and plunging headlong into their work, taking on anything else would be overwhelming. But that didn’t stop Tiffany from perusing real-estate websites “just for fun.”
A self-described “house stalker” with an affinity for all things vintage, she’d get home from her job as human resources director for Whole Foods, type in “built before 1950,” hit “search” and flip through descriptions of homes she never dreamed of buying.
Then one evening in 2009, it appeared—a 1940s barn-turned-church, a funky-one-of-a-kind north Boulder treasure. It had the rich history Tiffany longed to surround herself with since she was a kid, but with the open, lofty feel she and Steffan both loved. She glanced at the asking price, said “forget it” and closed her laptop. But every time she repeated the search, there it was again.
“I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Tiffany recalls.
Built in 1943 as a storage barn for agricultural equipment, the long, narrow cinder-block structure sat alone in a large windswept field for decades, while suburbs sprang up around it. After changing owners seven times, in 1982 the barn fell into the hands of the Sts. Peter & Paul Greek Orthodox Church, whose parishioners worshipped within its walls for 14 years. In 1996, Boulder author and artist Kerstin Lieff converted the church into a home for the first time, replacing low ceilings and chopped-up rooms with a glorious open floor plan, complete with exposed wooden beams, a spiral staircase and glass garage doors that vertically open from the living room onto a lap pool, water feature and
The house changed hands once more in the mid-2000s, and while the yard needed a lot of work, the property was still occupied and “lovely” when Steffan and Tiffany first paid a visit. After months of watching the price drop, Tiffany dragged her more practical husband (an IT manager for a Denver firm) along to take a look inside, assuming he’d talk her out of it. But he loved it too.
Turning a dream into their dream home proved more difficult than they ever imagined, though. Over the next year and a half, they watched it go vacant, go into foreclosure, go up for auction, go back to the bank, freeze up and languish unoccupied (except for critters and tumbleweeds) for months as they tried to buy it. “I have never tried so hard to give my money away,” Tiffany jokes.
After the foreclosure and the cold winter months that ensued, the plumbing in the walls had frozen and cracked, leaving stains and holes in the brightly painted walls. The in-floor heating tubes beneath the stamped-concrete floors had ruptured. The doors and appliances had been stripped. Even the toilets had been destroyed by the cold. “It was so sad,” recalls Tiffany, of a day they returned to look at it again.
Through protracted effort, they finally bought the house from the bank for roughly half its original price, but then had to dedicate another two years of sweat equity and a small fortune to undo damage and restore it to its former glory. With that task complete, and their own funky blend of old and new resonating throughout the place, the couple, both 47, say the journey has been well worth it. “Sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough and you just need to polish it and make it your own,” Steffan says. “This place was worth salvaging.”
When the couple bought the home in 2011, it had no working plumbing or heat, and they embarked on a real-life version of The Money Pit (the Hollywood movie about a young couple caught in a never-ending fixer-upper).
For six months, they showered outside in the poolside shower, cooked breakfast on the barbecue grill, and warmed themselves via a stand-alone fireplace they bought from McGuckin Hardware and put in the living room. Stumped on what to do about their destroyed heating system, they turned to Jim Eastman, a self-proclaimed “heating artist” with Niwot-based Marmot Heating. “It was about the worst I’d ever seen,” Eastman says of the home’s heating system. “It became obvious right away that the tubing in the floor was beyond repair.”
To salvage their modern, high-efficiency boiler and give the couple the radiant-heat system they wanted without having to take up wall space for radiators, Eastman thought outside the box and ordered a series of sleek silver radiator panels from Germany. They now hang from the ceiling rafters, providing both efficient heat and a unique look.
In all, it took about 18 months for Tiffany and Steffan to get the interior comfortably livable. (With restoration as their primary goal, they did little to change the two-bedroom, two-bath, 3,000-square-foot structure). Then they tackled the neglected pool, mosquito-infested ponds and overgrown tangle of an orchard.
“We had our moments, but luckily we were never on the ledge at the same time,” Tiffany says. “We just kept saying, ‘We will keep going with this until an obstacle presents itself that we cannot handle.’”
Thankfully, it never did.
Something Old, Something New
Walk through the house today and the couple’s reverence for the past is evident everywhere. Vintage film reels hang on the wall alongside antique clocks. Decades-old pinball machines and Great Depression-era dresses (including Tiffany’s grandmother’s wedding dress) are on display, and a 1900s-era hand-cranked phonograph in the living room crackles with the sound of an Italian ballad.
In a nod to both the home’s agricultural roots and the couple’s dry sense of humor, one bathroom wall is adorned with an antique manure spreader and a rusted metal sign that reads “Hog DeHairer.” Even the new furniture, including an Anthropologie chair made from recycled radiators and two silver Restoration Hardware Aviator chairs inspired by World War II bombers, looks vintage.
The couple took a more modern approach in the kitchen, installing a stainless-steel bar with matching stainless bar stools and backsplash. Elsewhere, much of the décor can’t be pigeonholed into a certain era or style. Take, for instance, the glass-top table that Steffan, a tinkerer, crafted out of an assembly-line sorting table he found on Craigslist. Or the rehabbed decorative fireplace mantel that rests against a wall with no fireplace behind it. “I’ve been collecting all these things for so long,” Tiffany says, “but I never felt like I had a house that fit them. This has been like finding a museum for my artwork.”
Even the house dogs, Sarah and Blu, are settled in as if they’ve always belonged here, wandering amid the shady fruit orchard, swimming in the seasonal pool and lazing by the fireplace.
How do Steffan and Tiffany feel about their home now, after all the hard work they had to do? It feels more like home than anyplace they’ve lived before, they agree.
“To me, this is a part of Boulder’s history, and we are the current caretakers,” Tiffany says. “I feel really proud that we were able to resurrect it again.”