Measuring only 900 square feet, the house was small. But it was on an oversized double lot that measured almost 6,500 square feet, with a tiny structure in back that they could rent out.
In those days, the little house – with its yard large enough for a sprawling game of Denise’s beloved badminton – was perfect for the young family. For the next 15 years, they lived in its close quarters, keeping it just the way it was, with occasional modifications.
For their son, Aidan, born in 1998, Steve and Denise created a bedroom on the landing outside their bedroom, which took up the tiny home’s entire second floor.
When Denise’s cousin came from Ireland for an extended visit, they tucked a mattress into a storage closet off the stairs, and dubbed it the “Harry Potter” room.
When the kitchen became too crowded, Steve dug a hole in the ground just beneath it as a new home for a clunky boiler that was taking up valuable space. A washer and dryer went into the home’s one bathroom.
The entire family streamlined their possessions, giving away anything that hadn’t been used for a year, clothes, toys and board games gone as soon as they were outgrown.
“For years,” Denise says, “we prided ourselves on our efficiency. People used to tell Steve, ‘It’s a good thing you married a European. They’re used to small spaces.’
“We got great at passing things along.”
To that end, Telluride’s legendary Freebox “was a close friend,” and received weekly donations from the Greens.
Although the kids grew up knowing how to pick up after themselves, when they became teenagers, their parents decided it was time to expand.
Ciara and Aidan, now 17 and 13, needed space to study and to hang out with their friends. Denise wanted a laundry room. Steve wanted storage space for his equipment and gear.
The little red house wasn’t big enough, but they weren’t ready to say goodbye to it.
LITTLE HOUSE, BIG QUESTIONS
In 2009, Steve and Denise started discussing a renovation. Steve, the owner of Telluride’s Shamrock Construction, could do much of the contracting and building work himself. But questions remained: Should they demolish the rental unit behind the house, and build a new house in its place, or expand only the little red house?
With a limited budget, and with the house under restrictions as a “contributing structure” to Telluride’s Historic Architectural District, they knew the changes they could make would be small. So the couple drew up plans and submitted them to the town’s Historical and Architectural Review Commission, to await review.
“They weren’t used to personal home renovations,” Steve says of HARC, “and they were used to professional architects submitting plans.”
The review took a year, but finally, HARC gave permission to renovate both structures on the family’s double lot.
Within weeks, Steve had gutted the back house. A few weeks later, Denise and the children left for spring vacation, while Steve stayed behind to finish the bathrooms.
Six weeks after starting work, he had renovated the back house into a two-story, two- bedroom house, and the family moved in.
Now Steve went to work on the red house, expanding it to 1,400 square feet, yet still keeping its intimate feel of a long-ago miner’s home (and meeting HARC’s requirement that he preserve its original shell).
For starters, Steve jacked the house up from its foundation, moving it onto the front lawn.
Steve reports he got the idea after working on three similar projects, in which he lifted houses to add basements. “I never would have thought you could add so much to a house with just that move,” he explains of the lift, but “those remodels gave me the confidence to do my own.”
Moving the house was a family affair. “All of us helped to push it,” Denise recalls, showing pictures of the whole family shoving the little house on giant rollers, carting it off its foundation.
The new basement would provide most of the space they so desperately needed, encompassing almost everything the house was now missing – bedrooms for the kids, a TV and game room, and at long last, a laundry room for Denise.
“Look at Aidan’s face,” Denise says, showing pictures from the renovation, of Aidan looking reflectively at the pit the house left behind. “Aidan can’t stand change. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t stay in the hallway forever.”
Today, Aidan is happy with the change. “There’s more space for everything,” he says, so he can now hang out with his friends in the basement without worrying about the noise, and throw his hockey gear into the new mudroom behind the kitchen.
The basement rooms are small and cleverly done. A tan, dirt-concealing carpet extends down the stairs and into the kid’s rooms. Steve built the kids’ beds with storage drawers beneath them. Aidan and Ciara picked out the paint colors for their rooms – for Aidan, a cool green to match his Lizard Head hockey team posters on the walls, and for Ciara, tan with sleek black bird decals from Target on the wall behind her bed.
In the basement laundry room, there’s even a heated tile floor, in the same brown marbled Home Depot porcelain tile throughout the house. “I spend a lot of time in here,” Denise says. “It had better be heated.”
Inspired by the Harry Potter closet, they’ve tucked a storage space for books and toys behind a built-in bookcase on the basement stairs. Inside, the family’s board games that survived those Freebox purges – Settlers of Catan, Scattergories and Mancala—are stacked neatly in a column for future play.
THE HARRY POTTER HOUSE
Indeed, the Harry Potter label has taken over the renovation. “We call this the Harry Potter house,” Ciara says, because “there are lots of little secret nooks.”
With the visiting cousin long gone, the original Harry Potter closet now stores the family’s musical instruments. The Greens are avid musicians and have a full fleet of amps and guitars – acoustic, bass, and electric – as well as sets of shakers and rhythm sticks.
On the ground floor, they knocked out the wall to Ciara’s old room and created a living room. “It used to be,” Steve says, “that you walked into the dining area and dropped your stuff right by the table.
“Now we have a place to eat, a place to sit, a place to cook, and a mudroom in the back to store stuff,” he says, and grins at Denise, knowing she loves the opportunities for organization.
In the kitchen, the family went for modern clean lines and stainless steel appliances, putting in a Bosch dishwasher and a Kitchen Aid stove, flanked by Home Depot 1960s-style, teak-like flat panel melamine cabinets and a large bar connected to the dining area. “Our former landlord, the one who owned the house from 1974-1993, joked when we sent him pictures,” Denise says, laughing, “that we’d swapped mining shack decor for a Manhattan loft in one fell swoop.”
Behind the kitchen, which used to hold a large bathroom and a washer/dryer, Steve has popped in a small powder room and a much-needed mudroom. “What every Telluride family needs,” he says. “A place to store ski boots.”
Whenever they could, the couple used salvaged materials to add some creativity to the renovation. “I knew we would use a lot of stuff from Home Depot,” Steve admits, “but I didn’t want it to look” like Home Depot. To that end, he points out the dresser he bought from a friend’s yard sale and refurbished as a vanity for the powder room. “Something as small as that changes the feel of a house.”
Upstairs, Steve and Denise’s space upstairs is small, but smartly designed. In what used to be Aidan’s bedroom, they created a compact joint office. They added a bathroom to their bedroom, leaving the shower and sink open and part of the room, enclosing only the necessities. Their closets, formerly open, are now concealed with simple flat panel doors. The ceiling is vaulted, giving the room, like many features in the tiny house, a feeling of space.
Light and space are themes throughout the 900-square-foot house – in the kitchen, where ample daylight and efficient design make the room feel bigger than it is; in the dining/ living area, where the bay window still grants a commanding view of the town and the peaks that surround it; in the kid’s rooms below, where daylight windows make the basement rooms feel light and airy.
When I ask Steve about how he’s achieved light and balance in such a small space, he shrugs. He shrugs again when asked how long he spent on the remodel. “Just about seven months,” says – as if he’d just popped on a layer of paint and adjusted a few cabinets, rather than gutting a whole house, raising it off its foundation, adding a bedroom and remodeling it from top to bottom – “and we were back in.”
“Closer to eight months,” Denise clarifies, softly.
A softness pervades the house. You can feel it when the family sits down to an Irish dinner of roast beef and mashed potatoes and says grace, and in the way they listen to each other, close and quiet, from years of living in close quarters. It’s there in the way they move around each other, Ciara calmly preparing a salad on one side of the bar while talking about her plans for the weekend while Steve unloads the dishwasher and Denise slices homemade bread. This is a family that works well together.
The inside of their new home is different, as Aidan is quick to tell you. But it’s still very homey. And it still has those views of Ajax and Ballard from the central window, showering the little red house at the top of the hill with a state of grace.