This home by Haystack Mountain is a crossroads for two cultures, especially in the kitchen, where cuisines from different countries are continually cooked up.
Photos by WeinrauchPhotography.com
“When I first came to the United States I was on a fiancée visa. I didn’t think about the place; I just focused on Steve. I wanted to see if we could live as a couple,” Thanya says. But she began to see their clapboard house differently when an American friend visited and exclaimed, “Your house is so big and beautiful!”
As Thanya began to visit in other American homes, she realized her house was special—although the location seemed normal enough, as Thanya grew up in a rural province where her family grew rice and bananas.
The room Thanya finds most special is the kitchen, where she recreates Thai dishes. “I took over the kitchen,” says Thanya, who was a software engineer in her native country. “Thai ingredients aren’t the same (as American cuisine), so I moved Steve’s ingredients to a place I don’t use as often.”
She didn’t move them too far away, though, because Steve is quite the cook himself. He’s always been a restaurateur and managed Boulder’s Chautauqua Dining Hall for many years. He also owned Walnut Cafe, Masa Grill and Rocky Mountain Joe’s Cafe at various points in his career.
When he cooked up his home’s design with architects Adrian Sopher and Steve Vosper of Boulder’s Architecture Inc., Steve took inspiration in part from the 1898 Dining Hall. Just as Chautauqua wasn’t intended to be a fussy place, his house, while traditional, isn’t fussy either. “You can ding it up a bit and it just adds patina,” he says of his home’s design.
Steve was single when he built his home, but he had an eye toward the future. “I certainly didn’t build a bachelor pad. I built a family home.” And he wanted horses, too. “I met the Argentine polo players in the area and I started buying Argentine horses and playing polo. That was my life for 12 years.”
The barn, paddocks and pastures reflect that passion, as does the house, with its polo memorabilia and orientation toward the outdoors. A skylight in the home’s center brings natural light to the corners, and clerestory windows bring in the mountain views upstairs.
The wraparound porch is a serene spot to sit and enjoy the horses, the pastures, the foothills and the “big sky,” Steve says—all arguably best in autumn, when the fields are burnished and fall’s shifting light reflects off the land.
Steve was so pleased with his new home that he commissioned an oil portrait of it. He worked with a Colorado artist, Stephen Smalzel, on what felt right. Eventually, Smalzel ran up Haystack Mountain with a camera and took pictures. He painted what he saw, mostly sky, foothills in fall color, the patchwork of harvest time in farming country, and the house. The house itself is represented in just 2 square inches of the 24-by-30-inch painting.
Happy with his home, his horses and his career, Steve took time off four years ago to visit a friend studying medicine in Thailand. There he met Thanya, and love struck fast. (Did a shared passion for cooking ignite a passion for togetherness?) After two weddings—one here and one in Thailand—life began for the couple in their Longmont country home.
The family expanded when Jessie arrived. Jessie, now 2, and her parents spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Thanya and Jessie even wear matching aprons. “When I put mine on, I put hers on too, and she helps me. She’s a big helper,” Thanya says proudly.
The couple also holds a private “cooking club” at their home on certain Fridays, when international friends gather to chop, chat and learn the basics of ethnic cuisines from each other. “I still haven’t found American friends who like to cook and enjoy cooking with friends,” Thanya says. “I am not sure if it’s a part of the culture. Some like to invite friends for teas or drinks, but I like to invite friends for meals.”
The club’s members all learn together, each taking a turn at the “teaching role.” The LeBlangs cook Thai, of course, and Mediterranean (Steve brings that to the table), as well as Italian, Indian and even foods from Belarus. “After cooking, we will have the best meal ever,” Thanya says. “We are so proud after learning to cook from each other.”
In addition to culinary adventures, Steve and Thanya share life adventures. When Steve happened upon polo, he jumped right in. When he met a woman with charm, intelligence and warmth, but still-rough English, he led with his heart. Thanya moved to the United States and has never looked back, trying new adventures like horseback riding, skiing and photography. “I just try new things; it’s part of my life. I like to learn everything I can,” she says. Now she’s trying her hand at entrepreneurship. She and Steve recently opened Suki Thai Noodle House in Boulder, a fast-casual restaurant that cooks up healthy, flavorful food based on the street-vendor fare found in Bangkok.
“I never get tired of cooking,” Thanya says. “I am happy doing it.” And we’re betting Steve and Jessie are happy about that, too.