This landscape endured some hard knocks before a couple revived its pervasive beauty.
Just inside the rusted gate, beneath a dying 75-year-old willow, she saw it: A lone framed door standing in the middle of the yard, opening to a tangle of wilted and overgrown flower beds.
“I saw that and I knew this place was meant for me,” says Tiffany Myers, an avid collector of antiques—including old doors. “I figured whoever thought to put that there was a kindred spirit. I felt like I’d discovered my own secret garden.”
Five years later, Tiffany and her husband, Steffan Knapp, have transformed the neglected 1.3-acre property tucked in a north Boulder suburb into a paradise, complete with a fruit orchard, a 75-foot lap pool, flower gardens bursting with fragrance and color, a sizable vegetable garden, and a prominent water feature with a cascading waterfall backed by a painted wall adorned with a trompe l’oeil Buddha and a metal serpent.
While it took years of sweat equity (and considerable cash) to get the yard to its glorious state, the couple is reluctant to take full credit for it. “This is a resurrection story,” Tiffany stresses. “It was all there. It was just a matter of cleaning things up and bringing them back to life.”
The property’s history is indeed a rich one. The land was once part of a much-larger homestead that predates, by generations, its current Orange Orchard subdivision established in 1973. The house was originally built as an agricultural storage shed in 1943 (see the Spring 2015 issue for photos of the restored house). It went through seven owners as suburbia sprang up around it, before it was converted into a Greek Orthodox church in 1982.
In 1996, Boulder artist and author Kerstin Lieff and her husband, Bernie Lieff, a CU professor, stumbled upon the place—boarded up and occupied by birds. Rather than leveling it, as the neighbors strongly suggested, they kept its shell of stout wooden beams and turned it into a work of art with an open, lofty ambience, a spiral staircase, and two glass garage doors opening onto the backyard with a Buddha on the wall of the lavish water feature.
Bernie had always dreamed of having an orchard, so they planted trees. Kerstin was a competitive triathlete, so they dug a lap pool. In the front yard, they placed a lone door—a whimsical yard ornament of sorts, opening to beds of fragrant flowers.
After Bernie sadly succumbed to melanoma in 2006, Kerstin sold the home. “I loved that house and everything we put into it, but it was just too much to be there with him gone,” she says. The buyer soon let it go into foreclosure, and it languished vacant for more than a year before Tiffany and Steffan (after a lengthy process) were finally able to buy it in 2011.
Weary to Wondrous
Their aim from the start was not to radically remodel, but rather to revive. “We loved the concept Kerstin had created and wanted to bring it back,” Steffan says. They had their work cut out for them. As contractors tackled replacing the burst pipes and blown-out heating system, the couple pushed up their sleeves, enlisted family members, and busied themselves outside with the help of Boulder arborist Fred Berkelhammer.
“I was amazed when I first saw the place,” says Berkelhammer, of the abundant and diverse trees spread across the expansive property. Towering cottonwoods shaded the backyard, sprung from what Berkelhammer suspects were probably once irrigation ditches used by local farmers. Plum, peach, pear, cherry and apple trees burst with colorful blossoms across the spacious front yard. And rows of elms, Russian olives and evergreens provided privacy borders from neighboring Jay Road on one side and a small pocket park on the other.
Unfortunately, several trees had to come down, including a towering willow that was rotten to the core and threatening to topple over onto the house. Other trees and shrubs had been hit hard by a year of no water. A small water trough in the front yard was so overtaken with mosquitoes and murk, they weren’t quite sure what it was at first. “We literally took out semis full of dead stuff from across the property,” Tiffany recalls.
After passing through the electric gate, you’re greeted by the fruit-laden orchard. White lilies bloom, and flower beds once blighted with bald spots have been filled in with rhubarb, edible flowers and lavender that Tiffany uses for sachets.
The lone door (now painted orange) still opens onto blossoms in the flower garden, presided over by “Sven”—a tall, “anatomically correct scarecrow” crafted by Steffan from numerous recycled garden implements and automotive parts. “We’ve been meaning to make Sven a girlfriend,” Tiffany says. Nearby, the trickling water trough sends soothing sounds throughout the garden.
Every tree in the fruit orchard has been tenderly pruned and lined with mulch to hold in moisture and nutrients. Verdant ivy grows over the home’s gray cinderblock exterior, making the house appear to have sprung out of the ground.
Bringing the 13-zone sprinkler system, the condemned pool and the hot tub back to life was an epic and costly task that took four years to complete. “We had to pace ourselves,” Tiffany says. While they sank money into interior repairs, the couple tackled chores they could do themselves outside, before slowly shifting their attention toward more costly and technical projects as funds allowed.
Home at Last
With the bulk of their work now behind them, Steffan and Tiffany are finally reaping the rewards. The raised garden beds are home to strawberries, tomatoes, corn, herbs, peppers and other edibles, and Steffan points to the spot where he’ll grow hops for his own home-brewed beer, and the hives that will soon house honeybees.
A large patio with bright orange curtains to block the afternoon sun is the perfect place to repose in the bent-willow chairs and take in the pool and lavish water feature. Around the corner lies a smaller patio hidden beneath a leafy grape arbor. It contains an artfully tiled wall with a shade bench and an outdoor shower where Steffan and Tiffany bathed while waiting for their indoor plumbing to be repaired.
Already the couple has put their vintage cider press to use, and churned out jars of plum and pear preserves for friends and guests. On summer evenings, Tiffany often lazes in the pool with her dog, Blue, while Steffan sips Scotch on the porch and gazes at the Flatirons.
Lieff says she hasn’t been back to the house since she sold it, in part for fear that it had been scraped or so remodeled it would be unrecognizable. She’s touched to hear the current owners took such great care to preserve some of what she and her husband created all those years ago.
“I think it would make Bernie so happy,” she says. “I’d love to meet the owners sometime.”
By Lisa Marshall
Photos by www.weinrauchphotography.com