Editor's note: Indie Design Blogger Jeanne Connolly loves to see how creative people put their houses together. In this series, she'll be sharing some of her favorite homes, by taking us inside the unique private spaces of metro Denver and beyond.
Absolute magic is the first thought that comes to mind when describing the bohemian home of singer/songwriter Gabrielle Louise. Her 1970s Ranch-style abode in the Walker Ranch area is the musical muse not just for Gabby, but for many of her talented friends. Follow Gabrielle's Facebook page to find out more about upcoming house concerts in Denver and beyond. Whether she is sketching, singing, writing music or hosting a house concert, Gabrielle is creating magic at home any chance she gets. You can see why creativity flows endlessly in this space once you have finished through this incredible house tour.
Westword: What’s in your artist toolbox?
Gabrielle: I use a lot of different instruments to create and write music: My voice, the guitar, keyboard, ukulele, the mountain dulcimer and recently, the Peruvian percussion instrument that emulates a drum kit, the Cajon. My record player is just as important to me as any of the instruments that I play. Listening to music on a good system, and digesting what you hear in a focused atmosphere, is just as imperative to the creative process as writing or recording. You can’t write good music if you’re not listening to good music!
This space in general has the focused atmosphere I need; to think, plan, and feel inventive. In addition to writing songs here for my records and preparing for their performances out on the road. I also coordinate multi-media events and productions, often with an environmental or activist theme. One such production was The Muse’s Market. I enjoy writing short stories, essays, and poetry, coupled with my love of photography.
Additionally, I edit documentary film and live concert footage, craft beaded jewelry. Most recently, I’ve begun to paint and draw. I don’t need much for most of these expressions aside from my notebook along with some quite time and beauty. A few key tools that keep me going are my typewriter, my art box (containing my water-color pencils and water-color journals), my bead kit, and my canon camera.
Where can we find your artwork?
What’s your neighborhood?
It’s called the Walker Ranch Area in Golden. It’s a very small community west of Boulder.
Favorite thing about that neighborhood:
The proximity to open space and state parks. There are many, but Walker Ranch is right outside the front door, and Golden Gate State Park is just down the road. Those two are my favorite. The house is fairly equidistant to Nederland, Golden, Boulder, and Denver, so any activity, from mountain sports to city culture, feels accessible.
Is there a hidden gem in your neighborhood?
Best local creative resource:
The Coal Creek Canyon Improvement Association is a great space to present concerts and events. They are just down the road and foster a wonderful sense of community in the area.
Do you rent or own your home?
I own it.
What’s the square footage?
Do you create your art at home?
Yes, absolutely. All the time.
Define your home’s style?
Well, it was very 1970s when I first moved in. It was built in 1973 and many of the original stylistic choices remain. Since I purchased it myself, a lot of improvements have been made in a more New Mexican style. Iron chandeliers, hand-carved furniture, an adobe heated floor and Saltillo tiles. A major facet of the home is its plant life, which I spend a significant amount of time cultivating in the summer months. This year I was traveling too much, but in years past my nine-bed garden has been as much of a creative expression as any of the music I write.
What are your favorite artistic touches?
Again, my favorite aspect of the home is tending to all the plants. My succulent garden has grown over the years, and the morning glory vines engulf the deck each summer. Last year I got this crazy idea to plant the mantle and I’m tapping my toe waiting for the Baltic ivy to climb all the way down the stone face of the fireplace. I also love the candle chandelier, which looks stunning when burning with real tea-light candles, but can be fitted with LED candles for more casual use. A major facet of the home is the beautiful original artwork painted by John and Karen Garre from Livingston, Montana. The large piece above the mantle seems to mirror the sunrise when it burns in through the eastern picture windows in the mornings.
What inspires you about your home?
The funky way it was assembled together in pieces. The walls are a kind of charmingly crooked. Some of the cabinets are the funniest shapes you’ve ever seen. It was obviously put together by hand by the man who was going to, and did, live in it. I love the way it’s laid out on the land – this person must have camped on the property for a long time first – because it’s kind of nestled in an outcrop of large boulders and a pine tree grove on the north side, and overlooking a stunning view of El Dorado Canyon. At night, the Denver city lights come sparkling through that jagged opening in the ridge-line. Also, Coal Creek is rural enough that from the deck at night you can see all the stars sharply hanging above you. It’s common for the moon rise to perform its accent framed squarely through the open French doors. Nature really has a way of moving in and out of this house, and I think the original builder must have planned for that.
What is your favorite piece?
I suppose it’s a strange thing to find the floor artsy, but it really is. It’s terribly organic with a pattern all it’s own of shifting and spiraling color and texture. You don’t see too many adobe floors today, but it brings the feeling of outside in, and it’s very soft and cool on your feet to walk on. The warmth it invites in terms of light and color is lovely, but also in the winter it’s literally warm, by water tubes set inside of it, and to walk on a warm floor in the cold, windy Coal Creek winter is an amazing luxury. Before the floor was done, and it took a very long time to finish, I spent my winters within a four-square-foot space in front of the wood stove!
Have you had any design challenges?
Budget was a concern the whole time. Aside from that, I would say the biggest challenge was swapping the kitchen and the living room spaces because of all the plumbing. The original home only included the main space – the section with the gambrel roof, and years later, they must have added on the space alongside the road. So naturally the kitchen was located in that first space (just under the loft) because the house was essentially just one room. I wanted a lot of light in my kitchen, so we moved it to where the addition had been built, and thus were able to turn the room with cathedral ceilings and the hearth into the living room. That felt so much more appropriate, because now you can sit in rocking chairs by the fire.
What are your guests' reactions?
When I’m on tour I rent the house out on AirBNB, most often to honeymooners, but also to climbers and hikers wanting to enjoy the nearby open space, or to other artists wanting a space to work. When I am able to personally greet guests, they always seem to be stunned at how specific and unique the house is. For some reason I get a lot of comments on the antique appliances. I find them kind of a footnote, but I guess people are charmed by them. I’ve had all five star reviews on the AirBnB review system, which I’m proud of. I am sure that some guests have found the spot too antiquated and remote feeling (there’s no TV for example) but I’m grateful that they were polite enough not to mention it.
Have you repurposed any materials in your home?
Oh my, yes. Almost everything came from Habitat for Humanity or Re-Source in Boulder, with the exception of very few materials. Chris Garre, who designed many of the updates in the home, was religious about finding used materials. He and I are both very eco-conscious and wanted to have a low impact with the project of updating the home. It’s amazing how patient we had to be to find the right pieces come up at a cost we could afford, but the outcome is much more charming than buying all new stuff made in China. For example, the 1950s appliances we found for the kitchen on Craigslist are much more appropriate for the feel of the space, and, though small, there are many advantages – one is that I never loose a piece of produce rotting in the back of the fridge.
What’s your favorite DIY project?
I sure did love planting on top of that mantle. I just kept thinking in my head the whole time when I was designing the drainage system and when we were on ladders towering twelve feet above the ground with bags of potting soil in our hands, “Look, Ma! We planted the mantle!”
Did you indulge in any of your rooms?
Chris Garre did a great job on the bedroom, and we’re not really done yet. We’ve got big plans for a velvet theater curtain at the top of the spiral staircase, which would close off the loft if need be with a lovely tasseled chord with a little Romeo and Juliet balcony on the other side of that. Even now the space is pretty cool. It’s got a nest of a queen bed surrounded by white mosquito netting, and a Mexican chandelier in the center of all that ceremonious looking fabric.
Best design advice?
Design for you, not for anyone else. I think a lot of people design a space so that it could sell at a later date, or they make it “generic enough to rent." I think people will enjoy inheriting a space more when they can feel that love and intention that was poured into it.
Do you have any creative organization tips?
Wow, that’s so specific to each person. Maybe the only thing I would say is that it’s important to live in a space for a long time before making choices about it. You have to feel your way through.
What’s your favorite time of day to create?
The morning is incredible here. I’ll often wake up around sunrise in the summertime because so much light comes into the loft. You would think the house is on fire. I’ll dramatically throw open the French doors and begin my routine of watering all the potted plants on the deck. Throughout the morning, the ridge line glows cobalt blue, and as the day progresses the contrast on El-Do canyon starts to bring details into focus. The birds sing and chirp all around you and the goddamn squirrels won’t leave my chaise alone. But I love to come here and journal my plan for the day, or just watch the morning unfold with a cup of tea.
In the colder months, I spend almost all my time in the kitchen, at the funky little table under a column of warm sunlight. New to the home since I moved in is a south-facing window, which throughout the winter lets in a beautiful soft glow that slowly crawls across the room over the course of the day. I’m searching for the perfect stained glass piece to fit there and color that light this year. The kitchen also has a wonderful natural reverb. It is the perfect place to practice music.
At night by the fire is the best time to type up song ideas or to play with other musicians. This home has been host to many other creative people for concerts, jams, parties, collaborations, retreats, etc. Authors have stayed here at length to work in silence, painters, filmmakers, and many many musicians on tour.
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