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Justin Cucci does most of the recipe development for his Denver restaurants at home, so his kitchen workspace had to be functional—and big. A massive island has a walnut butcher-block top and vertical-grain walnut sides.

STARTING FROM S C R A T C H How do you redefine the classic Victorian home? A Denver restaurateur known for his mad-scientist approach to design did it one modern detail at a time. story by CHRISTINE DEORIO • photography by DAVID LAUER • styling by NATALIE WARADY

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The living room’s plaster walls were stripped away to reveal the original red brick, now painted a cool gray color. Black Hound Design Company created the sleek new steel fireplace surround. Restoration Hardware’s Durrell leather sofa and chairs gather around a vintage Moroccan rug from Kat & Maouche.

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Justin Cucci loves a good design challenge. He is, after all, the chef and restaurateur who transformed a gas station, a mortuary, and a brothel into stylish Denver eateries. So when he first set foot in this 1890 Victorian in Highland, he didn’t see a perfectly lovely historical home; he saw what he could change. “When most people move into a Victorian, they try to make everything look Victorian,” he says. “That was the last thing I wanted to do. I really wanted the juxtaposition of two styles colliding.” The contrast Cucci had in mind was pairing the ornate finishes of Queen Annestyle architecture—which this house retained, despite having previously been converted into

Facing page, top right: From the outside, the home’s classic American Queen Anne architectural details—a dominant front-facing gable, spindle work, shingles that resemble fish scales—give little hint of the sleek modern details within. Facing page, bottom right: A coat of gray paint transformed a set of plastic panels that Cucci purchased from a local architectural salvage business into a sculptural room divider.

six apartments, then back to a single-family home—and the stripped-down materials of modern, industrial design. To merge them, he turned to Jessica Doran of Jessica Doran Interiors and Kevin Stephenson, principal of Boss Architecture, who had previously helped bring Cucci’s visions to life at restaurants Linger, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Vital Root, and El Five—and knows just what makes him tick: “Justin is always pushing the boundaries of everything he does,” Stephenson says. “If an idea hasn’t been twisted around and flipped upside down, he just can’t believe it’s the right answer.” This project’s architectural gymnastics involved opening up compartmentalized

Black Hound Design Company built the dining area’s custom banquette, and Denver woodworker David Kremer dreamed up the walnut table’s ingenious design: When guests come for dinner, Cucci simply lifts up the hinged waterfall edge, places a removable base under it, and pulls up stools from the nearby island.

main-floor living spaces to make way for a central showpiece kitchen, turning four upstairs bedrooms into three tricked-out suites, and incorporating a new steel-clad addition. The result is a family home for Cucci, his wife Denielle Nadeau, and their two daughters (ages 5 and 16) that’s equal parts classic Victorian and urban loft, an unexpected—and delicious—combo. 5280 Home: Marrying Victorian and modern sounds tricky. How did you decide what to preserve and what to update? Justin Cucci: The rule was, if it’s original,

let’s not touch it, but if it was added later, let’s scrap it. Now we have a really moderncontinued

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STARTING FROM S C R A T C H Cucci gathers with his family— wife Denielle Nadeau and their daughters, Fiona (left) and Ella— in the main floor’s large cooking space. Design highlights include a butcher-block-topped island and super-sleek cabinetry by Armony. Facing page: Black Hound Design Company created the kitchen’s steel bookshelves, which slide to conceal or reveal a freezer, powder room, and the basement door. IKEA’s Rimforsa containers hold an impressive assortment of spices.

“MOST OF ALL, I WANTED A REALLY BIG AREA TO WORK IN AND MAKE A MESS.” —Justin Cucci

looking house, but with stained glass and Victorian trim around the windows. By removing the plaster interior walls to reveal the brick underneath, you actually brought out more of the original details.

Yes, but it’s funny because I grew up in New York City, where you never, ever painted brick. It was sacrilegious. But I’m so tired of seeing raw brick; it just doesn’t do anything for me anymore. So we painted it. The kitchen is clearly the heart of this home. What were your must-haves?

Most of the recipe development [for my restaurants] happens here, so I had to have a combi oven, a Wolf range (with dehydrator, wok ring, griddle, and grill), a teppenyaki grill, and a giant butcher block to cut on. Most of all, I wanted a really big area to work in and make a mess. And a place for all your cookbooks?

The steel bookcases that hold my cookbooks slide to reveal—or conceal—a powder room, freezer, and the basement. We incorporated as many built-ins as we could; I just hate having to buy cheap IKEA bookshelves. Your dining area reminds me of a restaurant booth.

I wanted an intimate breakfast nook, but I also wanted to be able to have people over to eat. So local woodworker David Kremer

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STARTING FROM S C R A T C H

Black Venetian plaster walls give the master suite a moody vibe. A salvaged plastic panel—painted to resemble steel—creates a division between the suite’s sleeping and reading areas. Denver woodworker David Kremer built the custom walnut bed and wall niche.

Bellewood wallpaper by Rebel Walls— from Denver wallpaper purveyor WallTawk—transformed daughter Fiona’s room into a scene from a storybook. The intricate millwork, now painted white, is original to the house.

“I LIKE MY IDEAS WHEN SOMEBODY ELSE SHAKES THEM AROUND.” —Justin Cucci

Right: In the master suite’s sitting area, an Earth chair and ottoman, vintage midcentury pieces by Brazilian designer Percival Lafer, rest atop a vintage Moroccan rug. Far right: The master bathroom’s cast-in-place concrete sinks match the hexagonal concrete wall tile, selected by interior designer Jessica Doran of Jessica Doran Interiors. Facing page: A new addition at the back of the house accommodates a mudroom and pantry, expanded secondstory master suite, and third-story deck. For this part of the structure, the team at Boss Architecture chose an “anti-Victorian” skin of industrial metal bar grating, which has been allowed to rust. Hexagonal pavers stray into the water-saving, faux-turf lawn.

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designed a walnut table with a hinged edge; it pops up, we put a movable base under it, and we can fit 10 or 12 people here. There must be a story behind that screen in the living room.

Years ago, I bought those plastic panels from an architectural scrapper, and I never knew what to do with them until we removed the wall between the entry and the living room. It felt weird to sit with my back to the front door; I wanted a wall, but I didn’t want a wall. So we cut the panels to fit, painted them to match the steel fireplace enclosure, and made a screen. Do you have more architectural details just waiting to be used?

I have three storage units filled with them. I had a lot of tall, vertical metal blades salvaged from the old Cherry Creek post office that we used to create a privacy screen in our side yard. I have 40 or 50 more that will eventually conceal the greenhouse we’ll build by the garage.

Tell us: Have you always had a passion for design?

I think it started when I would try to inject ideas into my restaurants, but without a good sounding board to make my ideas better, I wasn’t as thrilled with the results. I like my ideas when somebody else shakes them around. You’re pretty good at shaking things up, too.

It’s probably just a good eclectic upbringing in New York City where, stylistically, things blend into each other all the time. Architects are schooled; they know the right things to do at the right times. But I say, let’s not worry about those rules. Let’s worry about how it feels.

DESIGN PROS > Architecture: Kevin Stephenson, Boss Architecture Interior design: Jessica Doran, Jessica Doran Interiors Construction: Mark O’Brien, Squareroot Inc.

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Profile for Christine DeOrio

5280 Home magazine feature: Starting From Scratch  

How do you redefine the classic Victorian home? A Denver restaurateur known for his mad-scientist approach to design did it one modern detai...

5280 Home magazine feature: Starting From Scratch  

How do you redefine the classic Victorian home? A Denver restaurateur known for his mad-scientist approach to design did it one modern detai...

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