Design Solutions: Eastern Influence

HighCraft Builders embraces Japanese artwork and culture to convert a dark, dated home into a light and relaxing modern retreat.

authors Kyle Clapham | October 14, 2020

Inspired by Japanese art and culture, homeowners in Fort Collins, Colorado, wanted their living space to reflect shibui design, an aesthetic that values minimalism, craftsmanship and the use of natural materials. The dark interior had been covered in wallpaper, and the beige stucco exterior with chunky newel posts and metal-tube deck railings made the residence feel even more dated.

“There was wallpaper throughout much of the house, and that was the first thing they wanted to go,” recalls Kira Koldeway, general manager of design and business development for HighCraft Builders. “So, we actually started with that—stripping all the wallpaper and repainting the entire interior—even knowing that we would potentially be doing a pretty sizable remodel later on.”

The clients asked for the Zen principles of balance and contemplation to guide the design-build process. They had collected quite a few pieces of art from their travels around Japan and sought to incorporate them into the house cohesively. As a result, HighCraft transformed the once dark and dated home into a light and relaxing modern retreat with a meticulously planned art gallery.

Clean Lines

The existing house already utilized a relatively open living concept, so the primary goal became tailoring the space to the owners. HighCraft removed a wall between the formal dining room and kitchen and repurposed the old dining area as an art gallery to display their collection of Japanese sculpture. To fully honor each Japanese sculpture, certain pieces had to face a particular cardinal direction and also be displayed at the correct height in relation to other works of art in the room.

“Our trim carpenters had to think like gallery curators,” Koldeway explains. “To get it right, we worked closely with the clients to meticulously plan their gallery layout and lighting. Shelving, wall frames and pedestals were built to exact specifications to properly display and honor the individual pieces of Japanese sculpture.”

The kitchen layout, which had been a throwback to the ’90s, now boasts clean lines, minimalism and balance. Slate tiles were replaced with wide-plank European white oak flooring, and the new cabinet doors are a white oak slab with horizontal grain stained black. For the island countertop, the company installed a durable quartz with modern waterfall edge that flows down to the floor. A dual-tone kitchen faucet in black and brushed gold complements the artwork in the next room.

“We definitely focused on clean lines, and that’s really apparent in the cabinetry and door styles that we chose,” Koldeway says. “We liked the strong contrast of black and white, so that was our base color palette. Then the artwork was able to speak loudly on top of that—the bright colors in the Asian-inspired artwork just sort of sing when on that black and white, stark background.”

HighCraft ordered authentic shoji sliding screen doors from a manufacturer in New Jersey who specializes in the custom product, but the company went out of business and never delivered the doors, she adds. The design team sourced authentic washi plant-based paper from Japan and had the handmade sheets shipped to Colorado. Local artisans commissioned to build the door frames cut the rigid paper to size and applied it to each one, then craftsmen carefully installed the doors.

Back to Back

Cherry cabinets, brassy hardware, busy wallpaper and ugly carpeting had previously disfigured the master bathroom. The homeowners desired an area with his-and-her sinks, his-and-her water closets that are hidden, an oversized steam shower, deep soaking tub and a large walk-in closet; however, the existing master bathroom was far too small to accommodate all of their requests. HighCraft ended up sketching 15 different layout options before landing on the final solution.

The company borrowed square footage from exterior storage to expand and transform the master bathroom into a 400-square-foot, spa-like retreat. The additional space contains a copper soaking tub and a large, chromatherapy and aromatherapy steam shower. Just beyond the shared mirror and vanity with his-and-her sinks, sliding shoji screen doors hide his-and-her water closets. The back-to-back sinks (as well as commodes) lend a symmetry and balance to the remodeled space.

“Their priority was to have two water closets, which is pretty unusual for a master suite. We had to make them subtle and concealed,” Koldeway notes. “We landed on the design with the back-to-back double vanity, and the water closets are hidden away, so that you don’t necessarily know they are there. They also wanted a sizable closet, a soaking tub and a steam shower.”

The shared vanity base cabinet is textured melamine along with brushed nickel drawer pulls. The countertop is a single piece of formed concrete with integrated sinks. HighCraft installed a high-volume tub filler and special heater to keep the water at optimal temperature during a long soak in the custom tub. Cedar plank stepping pavers, set in loose river pebbles, provide more natural elements that help bring the outdoors inside.

The project also included a new front entry door and stairs to the basement, updated mechanical systems and other cosmetic updates throughout the house. Natural flooring, a metal stair railing, and simple yet substantial front door better match the design style of the homeowners. A modest rock garden supplies a natural base for the interior stairwell, which was functional but outdated.

HighCraft widened the powder room, installed a backlit mirror and replaced the pocket door with a sliding shoji door to make the space brighter and more inviting. The concrete countertop has an integrated sink, and the mirror-mounted wall faucet adds a touch of simple elegance to the room.

Great Work

Hidden and unwelcoming, the colonial-style elements of the front entrance did not agree with the homeowners’ tastes. The natural cedar door is warm and inviting; like a magnet, it draws visitors up the clean and wide walkway lit by lantern glow at night. A new, black tiled roof, white stucco siding and shoji screen-like garage doors suggest Japanese-inspired design. New windows allow additional natural light to enter the house, and the simplified landscaping invokes a Zen aesthetic.

The upper deck, located off the living room, captures panoramic views of the northern Colorado landscape but had become a heat sink, rendering it virtually unusable on hot summer days. The metal canopy and screen provide privacy and filter intense sunshine, creating an outdoor living space that can be enjoyed year-round.

Cutout shapes on the metal privacy screens and canopy mimic leaves and vines, enabling sunlight to dapple the decks below. The lower cedar deck can be used as is or eventually converted into an enclosed tatami room with traditional mat flooring.

A spiral staircase gives a bird’s eye view of the Zen garden below, which is filled with large boulders resting in a bed of gravel, framed by rows of neat pavers, beach pebbles and cedar decking. The side yard landscaping includes a dry stream bed made from gravel, river rock and larger moss rock boulders that define an imaginary riverbank. The homeowners’ stone Buddha sculpture sits on a custom stucco base, and an owl tree sculpture stands next to the garden wall.

“The relationship speaks for itself, in that they allowed us to just continue moving through the house,” Koldeway explains. “We weren’t originally planning to do the basement, but we ended up working our way down to the basement and remodeling there; and then out into the backyard, putting in a swim spa and working through the landscaping. We built a really great relationship with these homeowners, and they trusted our team—we just had a great working relationship.” QR

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