An Architectural Handprint

Daniel Katebini of Heft creates a Boulder masterpiece for his parents, where the arrangement and form of spaces are sculpted by light and sweeping views of the foothills.

WORDS: Emily O’Brien | IMAGES: James Florio

 

A fifth-generation Boulderite, Daniel Katebini knows how the power of good design and perfect location can make two people live happily ever after. Daniel grew up exposed to all facets of the industry and began drawing two-point perspectives early on because his parents, Mike and Nooshin, were trained environmental land planners and landscape architects. They later transitioned to focus on building and development. Having Daniel design a home for them was always something they’d discussed.

So when Mike and Nooshin purchased a historic home with four parcels located in Geneva Park, slightly north of Boulder’s Chautauqua at the base of the foothills, their talks became more serious. Daniel is now an architect in NYC, splitting his time working at the prestigious firm Snøhetta while running his own office, Heft, but at the time he was just starting his career in Brooklyn. Mike and Nooshin renovated the historic home, sold it and split the land to house their new home on the remaining space.

Daniel quickly learned this situation would be different—very different. It not only was the first design launching his company, Heft, it was also a massive opportunity for someone of his age. Plus, there were no other designers to bounce ideas off of; the design and aesthetic fell largely on him. Working nights and weekends, from afar most of the time, was just par for the course. It helped that Nooshin acted as the general contractor.

Daniel stripped down the design to how his parents wanted to live their life, ditching the idea of formal dining or living rooms. The programming is bespoke to their lifestyle; all parts of the house are used and lived in. With the intention of it being their forever home, special consideration was placed on universal design. Daniel incorporated an elevator, wide hallways, and a basement designed for live-in help.

“Universal design is always a critical design factor, but it becomes much more personal when you are envisioning your parents living there for the rest of their lives,” says Daniel.

The exterior is a carved masonry block rooted into a sloping site, appearing as if it’s emerging from the earth, akin to the rock outcroppings of the nearby foothills. It holds a strong presence from a distance, but as you approach, this shifts to a more human scale. The warm woodcuts chip away at the scale of the cool gray masonry facade. Hand-cut Kolumba bricks with varied texture and coloration, manufactured by Petersen Tegl in Denmark, add a sense of permanence.

Working with a narrow north-south site, Daniel created a sky-lit, double-height atrium near the north entryway, utilizing light to warm the northern side of the home year-round.

“When you first enter the building, you are greeted by an atrium full of sunlight. The light shifts throughout the day, capturing warm morning light or the varying colors of Colorado sunsets,” says Daniel.

The interior walnut block acts as an anchor, physically supporting the abstract white volumes above it, and the added wash of natural sunlight creates a balanced spatial composition. The block houses the kitchen, service spaces, and elevator and offers a continuation of the exterior wood. Walnut doors blend seamlessly into the block, even their hinges hidden from view. Radiating out of the atrium sits the rest of the home, two his and hers offices and four bedrooms with adjoining baths.

The modern, minimalist design is a departure from the typical suburban homes Mike and Nooshin were most familiar with as builders.

The exterior is a carved masonry block rooted into a sloping site, appearing as if it’s emerging from the earth, akin to the rock outcroppings of the nearby foothills. It holds a strong presence from a distance, but as you approach, this shifts to a more human scale. The warm woodcuts chip away at the scale of the cool gray masonry facade. Hand-cut Kolumba bricks with varied texture and coloration, manufactured by Petersen Tegl in Denmark, add a sense of permanence.

“There was a lot of dialogue and education to get my parents comfortable with a modern design, but they were open-minded and trusted me and the process,” says Daniel. “I definitely don’t think it would have been something they’d have designed for themselves, but now they love contemporary design.”

“As opposed to a room being defined by four walls, we defined spaces abstractly through implied volume, daylighting, and ceiling heights while using a minimal amount of walls and materials.”

He adds, “As opposed to a room being defined by four walls, we defined spaces abstractly through implied volume, daylighting, and ceiling heights while using a minimal amount of walls and materials. The kitchen and living room are great examples of the spaces being defined primarily by the ceiling design. The kitchen is conceived as a walnut block, which is supporting the mass above it; there are very few freestanding walls on the ground floor except for this block.”

When you are in the kitchen, the warmth of the wood and weight of the mass above you create an intimate atmosphere. Daniel says, “Conversely, there is a tectonic release as you transition from the lower ceilings of the kitchen into the double-height living room. This expansion is furthered by floor-to-ceiling windows, which allow the living room to seemingly extend into the garden.”

“Daniel has done a beautiful job as far as keeping the north and south side balanced with the light and the sun,” says Nooshin. The majority of the exterior walls are floor-to-ceiling windows; you can be inside all day and still feel like you’re outside.”

A large portion of the exterior Flatiron-facing southern wall of the home can be slid open to create ideal indoor/outdoor living. Making the home flexible enough to accommodate large events—because they love entertaining—was a necessity. The space feels just as comfortable with two people as it does 20.

Due to the overall complexity of the build, Daniel admits coordinating intricate and unique details with subcontractors that were not accustomed to such exacting design was his greatest challenge. The cantilevered interior and exterior spaces necessitated complex structural steel coordination, and the interior minimalist features such as the white barren walls left little room for error to be disguised with cornices or baseboards—the design simply didn’t have any. There’s also a recessed handrail constructed of white quartz, so as not to stain with use and age. They went through several subcontractor bids, many simply refusing to bid due to the specificity in detailing.

“Once we found subs willing to take on the challenge, we had to be incredibly hands-on and communicate constantly in order to achieve the results we wanted. Portions of the project ended up becoming much closer to a design-build delivery method. Nooshin would be in the field every day, directing subs and sending me photos of field conditions while I sketched design solutions,” says Daniel.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

The couple walks to Pearl Street daily. Daniel swears their happiness from living in this home will add more than a decade to their lives. While working together as a family wasn’t new, working with Daniel as the architect certainly was. Nooshin says that he had a great way of really listening to them and then giving them what they wanted.

Remember when you were little and you made your handprint in paint for your parents and they hung it on the wall while bursting with pride? Mike says that he sees his son’s handprints everywhere—hung all over the house.

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