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  • Writer's pictureLeslie James

Restoring My Denver Square, One Story at a Time

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

My Origin Story

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for a good story. In my earlier years this manifested in a love of reading and never ending dress up parties and cosplay.

As I got older, it transitioned to vintage clothing and antiques. Oh this ring was worn by some famous lady who had an affair with Alexander Hamilton?! Wrap it up and send me on my way.

But as it came time to rent our first place in downtown Denver, I finally met my storytelling match -- historic homes. My first love was the Cornwall Apartments -- an old building off 13th Avenue, designed by Walter Rice. She had it all -- original Douglas fir floors, a lovely tiled fireplace, a built-in china cabinet, original radiators, lovely columns on the large porch, and great flow. The building itself was a bit rough around the edges (pre-restoration), but she set the tone for what we were looking for when we went to purchase a home.

Our Beloved Denver Square

Fast forward a few years and a few hundred homes toured (thanks Ryan!), and we fell head over heels for an 1898 Denver Square near City Park.

Brick Denver Square in City Park

She combined some of the ornate features of a Victorian -- solid oak pocket doors, handcrafted mouldings, high ceilings -- with many of the more streamlined elements of a Craftsman -- natural wood, simple gables -- in a supremely functional American Foursquare design. I could wax poetic about all of the unique details of each Denver Square I've visited, but I'll save that for another day.

Given our budget, she needed some love, including the removal of the industrial indoor-outdoor carpet, refinishing of the sky blue floors and repair of more crumbling plaster than I ever thought possible. But underneath the grime and dust, she had great bones.

Plus, as we got to know the former owner, we learned that she had a really great backstory as well. So the story goes -- a white podiatrist married the love of his life, who happened to be black. Facing the disapproval of his family and friends in his hometown of Boston, they moved to Denver to build their lives together. Our front sitting room was the doctor's office. I'm still trying to track down their names, but I often reflect on what they'd think about the evolution of their house.

Restoration of Our Denver Square

It's been more years than I care to admit, but little by little our house has revealed herself to us, one restoration project at a time. First it was stripping the paint and staining the woodwork (and finding a whole slew of 1930s newspaper clippings in the process). Then it was fixing sagging lathe (thank you Big Wally's), plastering and painting everything. Then it was refinishing all of the air vents, door knobs and window hardware to match the push button switches in the house. Then it was converting a sitting room to a bathroom that felt original to the home. Now it's getting ready to install a deep-enough-for-a-modern-kitchen-but-still-period-appropriate 1929 Kohler apron-front, high-back kitchen sink.

As I stare down my kitchen remodel that's been more than a decade in the making, I realized that the part I LOVE most is finding the unique pieces and incorporating their stories into my own space -- evolving my house's own story and bringing her back to life. I've found that I have a knack for finding pieces, even if it requires digging through a junkyard or putting in some sweat equity to get them looking good. I love working with craftsmen to make beautiful things. And I love connecting people to the right resources and right elements to bring them joy.

So I've decided to take a break from my life in tech, and jump right in. Introducing Denver Squared. Whether you are looking for a statement piece like a stained glass window that came out of a local church, or little accents like reproduction push button switches, I'd love to help you on your journey.

Follow along, and I'll continue to share my favorite finds and restoration resources. And maybe along the way you can be inspired to figure out your own house's story and how to refine it with thoughtful, inspired pieces.

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