In 1917, business tycoon Charles Boettcher built a game preserve in the mountains outside Denver. The air was cool, the vistas breathtaking and, far from urban noises, city life receded. Nearly 100 years later, the casual visitor to the Boettcher Mansion embraces much the same experience.
Inching along Lookout Mountain Road from Golden, the narrow ribbon of asphalt hugs the mountain. Cars creep slowly sharing the road with bicyclists hunched over their handlebars, both ascending into the clouds on a foggy day. And while there are new houses surrounding the mansion, the architectural gem resides as it always has: nestled among pines, hidden, solitary, facing a view of the Continental Divide.
Fortunes have been made and lost in Colorado. A striking example of riches-to-rags is the Leadville shack where Baby Doe, the widow of silver king Horace Tabor, froze to death. In contrast, Charles Boettcher–hardware merchant, sugar beet magnate and banker to silver miners–made a fortune that lasted. His name is associated with cultural buildings, but none is as intimate as the Boettcher Mansion.
Recognized as a monument to the Arts & Crafts movement, the rustic game preserve is a national destination for those who adore architecture from the early 20th century. “We don’t know if Charles wanted a house like this, or simply hired the great architecture firm of Fisher and Fisher and let them dictate the style,” says director Cynthia Shaw McLaughlin, “but I suspect he let them decide. They were masters at blending the house with the site.”
The Boettcher Mansion is owned by Jefferson County, open to the public, and rented for events and weddings. Aside from those practical uses, the house also serves as headquarters for the Colorado Arts & Crafts Society, a non-profit devoted to Craftsman architecture and style.
Art historians credit Englishman, William Morris, as founder of the 19th century Arts & Crafts movement. In a reaction against machine-made goods of the Industrial Revolution, those caught up in the Morris aesthetic championed the handcrafted. The elegant stained glass lamps and windows, beaten copper hardware and hand-thrown pottery are associated with the period. Morris drew inspiration from earlier decades, particularly the medieval, when fine workmanship reigned, guilds thrived, and individual craftsmen flourished.
That’s not so unusual today because the mansion’s designers have drawn from regional craftsmen to refurbish both interior and exterior. Jim Friel, who owns an iron works in Arvada, forged the lanterns and several interior fixtures out of recycled steel. Coated with black powder for a finish, the lanterns will last forever. “You don’t have to do anything to protect steel except let it weather,” he says.
The American Craftsman style prevalent in early 20thcentury bungalows evolved from the English aesthetic and remains popular today. You’ll see many of the same touches at Boettcher Mansion in Colorado Craftsman bungalows although on a more modest scale.
But there is one striking departure. Most of the Craftsman bungalows are distinctly American with a worldwide flavor. A hint of a Chinese roof, a Roman arch, perhaps a Japanese entry: American Craftsman style borrows freely. Always comfortable trying on a detail or flourish from another culture, Americans pulled from cultures as they might wear Italian jewelry or a Japanese jacket.
In contrast, the Boettcher Mansion remains true to the English aesthetic, from the rustic stucco exterior and half-timber frame, to the Tudor touches in arches, massive walk-in stone fireplace, clipped gables reminiscent of English cottages and the great hall with a high ceiling and exposed framing. In keeping with the English theme, much of the wallpaper in the mansion is a reprisal of William Morris’s, with its stylized flowers in earth shades of green, red and gold.
Cynthia notes rustic lodge elements as well. The exterior is fashioned from rocks collected at the site—massive stones, rough-hewn for both foundations and walls. “The rocks blend the house exterior with the land on which it sits—and refers to the Adirondack lodge look. And collecting the rocks and wood from the site was in keeping with the Arts & Crafts aesthetic of the day,” she says.
The Boettcher interior changes dramatically, as if discarding its tweedy hunting jacket for a more formal and sophisticated black-tie affair. The horizontal windows, divided windowpanes and lavish use of wood accompany hand painted stenciling, floral wallpapers and Arts & Crafts furniture. The Boettcher furniture comes from Prairie Winds, a Colorado-based furniture studio. It’s a contemporary legacy from the design firm of the time, Stickley, based in Manlius, New York, an American firm dating to Gustav and Leopold Stickley in 1900. Morris might have designed rich hand-woven tapestry fabric for chairs, but the Stickley furniture is sympathetic to the flavor of the Morris age: simple, beautifully finished with open joinery, unpainted wood.
Those who clamor for the Craftsman age often are beguiled by the attention to wood throughout the interior. Lustrous oak balustrades, polished paneling with built-in bookcases and wide window casements lend distinctive touches to a style that can be cozy and informal or dignified and elegant. The interior of the Boettcher Mansion remained intact, although some window updates deviated from the originals. The furnishings had long ago disappeared and Cynthia was left with just two old photos that captured the wicker furniture and period lighting fixtures.
“It’s not always possible to replicate the past. It’s not always practical or affordable. You have to go with what you like and dislike and think about what the building is used for today. It has to work in the modern world,” Cynthia says. Still, Cynthia is a devotee of the Arts & Crafts era. Returning that sensibility to the mansion is intuitive for her.
Original furnishings that remain, like the large white porcelain sinks, are augmented by wallpapers and colors true to the age. Ceramic pots, wall friezes, even faceplates for light switches are etched with an Arts & Crafts design. “We agonize over every little detail,” Cynthia says, “Every detail in every room has been factored into the whole experience. But we have been fortunate to take our time.” Even the mullions, or wooden dividers in the windows are painted a dull gold within a frame the color of terracotta. Little by little, the Boettcher Mansion takes on a Craftsman luster unlike any other public building in Colorado.
Although grand in scale, the mansion remains unobtrusive in its surroundings, obscured by pines and girded up by gathered rock walls. “Our inspiration has come from the outside,” Cynthia says, looking out to the patio, “which dictates the look of the inside. Our palette of golds, greens and terracotta was taken from nature. This home was built to stand the test of time. I think Charles would be happy to know that it lives on.”
- Bradbury & Bradbury wallpapers; P.O. Box 155, Benicia, California 94510; 707-746-1900;www.bradbury.com.
- Friel’s Iron Products, 7010 Grandview Avenue, Arvada, 80002; 303-422-8388. Jim Friel does custom steel work.
- Prairie Winds Furniture at 1491 West 124th Ave, Westminster, 80021;www.prairiewindsfurniture.com.
- Davis and Shaw (furnishings), 1434, Champa Street, Denver, 80202; 303-534-7291;www.davisandshaw.com.
- Helen Foster stencil patterns available through Michael FitzSimmons Decorative Arts, 311 West Superior Street, Chicago, Illinois 60610; 312-787-0496; www.fitzdecarts.com.
- L & J.G. Stickley, Inc., One Stickley Drive, P.O. Box 480, Manlius, New York 13104; 315-682-5500;www.stickley.com.
- Karen L. Hovde, interior design consultation; 888-385-3161
- Historic Boettcher Mansion, 900 Colorow Road, Golden, 80401; 303-526-0855;http://mansion.co.jefferson.co.us. Also home of the Colorado Arts & Crafts Society.