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Industrial Chic

A landscape in Lowry shows you don’t need a lot of space to make a big impact

Thom Billadeau and his partner, Rob Rubin knew they wanted to live in a loft, so they went looking in the same place everyone looks when they want a loft in Denver: LoDo. “We would fall in love with a loft and we would go back at night and say, ‘We don’t want to live here,’” says Thom.
LoDo wasn’t a good fit, so they expanded their search. They found a loft in the refurbished steam plant building in Lowry, a mixed-use neighborhood created by the redevelopment of an old Air Force base east of downtown. The fabulous space however, came with something most lofts don’t: a courtyard. “Loft and courtyard don’t go together,” says Thom, which presented a design problem—how to integrate the spaces as well as have them fit in with the unique overall building.
Small space challenges

Thom and Rob wanted to fit in quite a lot of different aspects in their small yard: a hot tub, fireplace, sitting areas, water feature, softening plants, and an outdoor kitchen—tall order for a 1,500-square-foot space. They worked with Denver-based Phase One Landscapes to integrate their desired uses for the area. “The elements incorporated into the design were driven by the owners, and the inspiration for the design was to harmonize with the existing elements of the steam plant. The whole aura of a commercial Air Force base steam plant doesn’t have a lot of frill to it,” explains Dave Graham, president of Phase One Landscapes.

Starting with a concrete wall that the builder put in, Phase One played off that feature and other industrial elements in the building itself by repeating materials, especially the workhorse of industrial design, concrete. Stepping past the front gate, visitors find a colored concrete entry pad edged in buff stone. Just to the side of the entry, there’s a built-in concrete wall with a BBQ nestled in for a seamless look. Also just off the entry is one of the space’s most striking elements, a unique water feature with integrated planters. The fountain has three musical rivulets of waterFormed by thick concrete, the fountain has three musical rivulets of water spilling from triangulated metal pipes set into a concrete backer, falling into a rectangular pool formed by the thick concrete walls. The metal tubes were chosen to echo a decorative element made of the same tubes above one of the building’s entry doors, just past the courtyard and easily visible from the space. Above the water feature, there are several concrete planters containing an herb garden and ornamental grasses.

Like nearly every other aspect of the landscape—necessitated by space constraints—the water feature was designed to perform multiple duties. “It was set there to greet visitors as they walked through the gate, to provide an herb garden location for the owners, and to have an area on the top to plant more green,” says Graham.

Thom says the usefulness of the water feature even extends past his own courtyard because the sound of the water reflects off the mass of the building and can be heard inside by other residents. “Everybody else in the loft building always says I did the courtyard not only for myself but for everyone,” he chuckles.

Across from the water feature is a gravel planting bed featuring variegated iris, Karl Forester feather reed grass, sedum “Autumn Joy,” and a unique granite sculpture designed to hold floral arrangements Thom bought from a Boulder artist. A stone pathway moves between this bed and the water feature leading to a sitting area and the landscape’s undeniably coolest feature, a massive concrete fireplace.

Light my fire

Fireplace Dominating the entire space is the fireplace. A thick rectangular concrete pad rises from the ground. Embedded in this pad, gas flames reach up from a rectangular section filled with glass beads. The pad flows into a concrete wall perpendicular to the courtyard wall, and from this perpendicular wall, there appears to be a frozen concrete wave form branching off to float above the fire, creating a show-stopping sculpture that appears both organic and industrial at the same time. This unique fireplace was born of necessity. “Form followed function,” says Graham. “The fireplace could not be a traditional fireplace. It was developed to essentially separate the more private area from the more public area of the entry.”

Thom wasn’t sure exactly what to make of the unique design when he saw pictures of it being built while he was out of town. “They sent me these pictures and I thought, ‘It looks like a bridge, you’re going to be able to drive a car up there!’ It turned out that the scale was perfect. It defines the courtyard very nicely in terms of the private space,” he says.

Just past the striking fireplace, a hot tub in the ground benefits from the privacy it provides. The hot tub is not unique—it’s a typical commercial hot tub—but its placement certainly is, it’s sunk into the ground in a concrete vault surrounded on top by paver stones, some of which can be removed to service the hot tub. This clever arrangement saved Thom and Rob the expense of an inground hot tub in a climate where they are very uncommon. “When we were talking about building a hot tub in the ground, people were coming up with astronomical bids,” says Thom. “Rob said, ‘Why can’t we just sink a regular hot tub in there?’ So Dave came up with the design to do that.”

Turns out the odd marriage of loft and courtyard was a good match. “I think my favorite part is that everything has come together as a whole. It just fits, it all feels contiguous,” says Graham.

Thom agrees, and says his favorite thing about the landscape is “the way it flows as an extension of the loft. It seems like additional rooms.”


Landscape architect and general contractor: Phase One Landscapes; Plant supplier: Alameda Wholesale Nursery; Welby Gardens; Concrete walls, water feature, fireplace surround and entry patio: Colorado Hardscapes, Inc.; Hot Tub: Mr. Pool, Inc.; Fireplace: Home and Hearth Outfitters, Inc.; Electric: Dania Electric; Gas: The Gas Connection

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