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A Cowgirl’s Downtown Cave

Home theater profession treats his daughter to a dream loft transformation.

Growing up in the bluegrass countryside of Kentucky, Ashley Harper Smith became obsessed with nature. “I was never happier than when I was in the woods, horseback riding with my sister,” she recalls.

With her busy schedule, she yearns for those idyllic days. “I’ve always had this dream of living in a tree house surrounded by woods and nature and horses,” she says.

Her father is an architect, interior designer, furniture designer and manufacturer, and a home theater designer, as well as the president and founder of First Impressions Themed Theatres Inc. in North Miami, Fla. Jeffrey not only helped his daughter select her new residence in the trendy Denver LoDo District, but he also orchestrated the loft’s interior architecture and managed all of the construction detailing, furniture design and technology installation.

“Ashley lived in two previous places near downtown before she asked if I would help her look for something downtown,” Jeffrey says. “We agreed that a space in one of the historic loft conversion buildings would be the ideal choice, and we were fortunate to [find] one in the WaterTower Lofts complex.”

Jeffrey attests that it’s one of LoDo’s few historic brick-and-timber buildings that lent itself to a residential renovation, thanks to a multitude of noteworthy architectural attributes—from heavy exposed timber beams to interior brick walls, forged black-iron structural strapping, high ceilings and large, tall windows.

“I was immediately drawn to the warm feel of the exposed brick and the beamed ceilings, and began envisioning something majestic—like a grown-up’s tree house with woodsy green and earth tones,” Ashley says.

Jeffrey set about tackling a complete makeover for the 1,200-square-foot space, which had reclaimed plank oak flooring. While the apartment’s views of the Rocky Mountains to the west, downtown to the east and Coors Field figure prominently in the floor plan, technology drove the design. “For me,” Jeffrey says, “it’s always ‘form follows function’—how everything works to provide maximum viewing and great lighting control to compose a space that is as brilliant functionally as it is beautiful.”

The home’s centerpiece is the open family room/theater/dining area. About 20 feet long and 20 feet wide, the space works well for small and large gatherings and movie nights.

As with the majority of Jeffrey’s large-scale projects, virtually every component of the design, aside from the antique pieces and collectibles, was custom designed and manufactured by First Impressions in its South Florida quarters, then shipped cross-country in the company’s specially outfitted semi for assembly and on-site installation. “The entire loft was preassembled in Florida, including all major furniture and electronics components, draperies, fireplace,” Ashley says.

For maximum theater viewing, Smith placed all the screening elements between the two window areas along the room’s far wall. The components are grounded by a custom-designed digital fireplace clad in Absolute Black granite, with a 42-inch LG television mounted directly above it.

Four 14-foot-tall motorized blackout shades that descend from the ceiling flank the fireplace and serve as the backdrop for the Vutec motorized screen, a 103-inch 16:9-format PearlBrite screen. The technology’s selection and placement work together to maintain the integrity of the room’s architectural elements.

To avoid an unsightly pole mount, the Sony Bravia SXRD 1080p projector is mounted on a custom bracket attached to a structural column. The Canton Chrono 505 center-channel speaker is housed in the custom-designed cabinet below the television. Two Canton Chrono 507 DC floor-standing speakers flank the fireplace, with the Canton Chrono AS 525 SC-powered subwoofer tucked in the far corner.

Two Canton Chrono 502 bookshelf speakers are mounted on Canton LS 650 stands at opposite ends of the main seating grouping, a custom sectional in full-hide, butter-soft distressed leather. Velvet accent pillows with faux pony-skin inserts underscore the “cowgirl chic” theme.

The family room/theater, like the rest of the loft, epitomizes Jeffrey’s self-described decor scheme as “unique eclectic”—a personalized mix of chinoiserie, Indonesian Arts and Crafts, and Western-retro funk all blended together to convey a fresh, casual and timeless feel. But pulling it all together wasn’t as easy as picking out fabrics: Ashley challenged her father with the caveat of using environmentally responsible furniture, upholstery and finishes exclusively.

Synthetic fibers weren’t allowed. As a result, the custom furnishings are made from rattan, abaca and bamboo, all of which are paired with sustainable vegetable-dyed leather upholstery and organic hemp fabrics. For example, the family room’s sumptuous leather-clad custom sectional features organic-cotton in-fill with jute and horsehair, cushion springs made from 50-percent recycled metals, and pillow cushioning made from 100-percent recycled fibers (white plastic bottles).

All of the cabinetry and built-in stains are mainly water hyacinth-based, while some wood finishes are beeswax with walnut-shell coloration; others are fish oil, milk, water or coconut bark. Low VOC paint is used on all nonbrick surfaces. Natural stone and marble countertops stand in counterpoint to the loft’s reclaimed wide-plank oak flooring and original timber-beam ceiling.

“I doubt there’s any other historic loft in all of Denver that has as much technology packed into this amount of space,” says Jeffrey, taking into account the home-entertainment, lighting-control security aspects, and the climate setting.

“For me, this loft is the embodiment of a warm, romantic lodge—like a mini barn in the sky,” Ashley says. “When I first saw the space, I envisioned something majestic yet rustic—a home that would be comforting and inviting and a refuge from the day-to-day demands, but I never imagined it would look this beautiful.

“Working with my dad was an incredible collaboration,” she adds. “We have different tastes, but everything came together very well. For the first few days after the place was completed I would step inside and look around, and tears would come to my eyes. I was so incredulous that this was actually my own home!”