Original Splendor

A meticulous renovation of this early 1900s mansion has resulted in a mix of old and new, a classic backdrop to the owner’s love of artwork and antiques.

NATURE’S BOUNTY Just off the vestibule is a wet closet, perfectly placed for residents and guests to divest themselves of damp or snowy garments. Every edge and corner of the entryway ceiling are graced with plaster fruits and nuts. Photo by Andrew Farino.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the stately mansion on Washington Street owned by real estate professional Douglas Kerbs was just another law office or mishmash of condos—the fate of so many of the Governor’s Park neighborhood’s manses built by Denver’s tycoons in days gone by. There are, however, a few clues that give it away. There is not more than one mailbox, and the antique granite rams that flank the door seem to say “come in” or “go away,” depending on the light.

The house was built in 1911 and was home to the Dunkley (a financier) and Kassler (a water magnate) families. Eleanor Roosevelt was said to visit in her day, bringing with her cuttings of exotic plants. Kerbs was not in the market for a new home, but was enthralled by the period details and intact nature of the large home. He describes it as having rhyme, reason, and intent. Even then, the home sat empty for several years after its purchase in 2008. He began painstaking renovations in 2013.

One enters, stepping into a foyer without being immediately confronted by a massive staircase. The piping decorating the barrel-vaulted ceiling is, upon closer inspection, revealed to be fruit done in plaster—original to the home.

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BEAUTY SALON The gilded wood of the antique salon set is original, but Kerbs had the pieces reupholstered in a pearlescent patent leather. The chair against the far wall features a Versace fabric. Black walls and a large mirror add some modern touches. Photo by Andrew Farino.

To the left is a salon, complete with a salon set, gold side chairs, and a backgammon table purchased on vacation in St. Barts (part of Kerbs’ vast collection of rare and interesting furnishings). Lest you think that he lives in the past, however, one must take note of the upholstery—in various cases pearlescent patent leather, a Versace print, and hide-on hair. The walls are painted a sleek black.

Flanking the foyer on the right is the formal dining room with new chandeliers and Ralph Lauren wallpaper juxtaposed with an antique table (below it a now nonfunctioning mechanism used for summoning servants from the butler’s pantry) and circa 1890 ivory-and-bone pagodas originally purchased in the 1940s by an ancestor of the Sarkisian family of fine art dealers. Kerbs’s devotion to contemporary art is visible here too with a large piece by local painter Brian Comber.

OLD MEETS NEW The largest room on the main floor serves as a gathering spots for guests with a grand piano and the original carved wood fireplace surround. Sofas from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams blend easily with the room’s antiques. Photo by Andrew Farino.

Continuing into the house, one enters the drawing room, a traditional gathering spot featuring a piano and comfy couches in silver velvet from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams that lend a Hollywood regency feel to the space. “The idea was to really come in and combine eras,” says Kerbs. Abstract art adorns the walls, and the wood carving that graces the fireplace is original.

At the back of the house is the conservatory, a light-filled space with a marble and granite checkered floor that was likely once filled with plants. The windows here slide up into the walls like pocket doors. The kitchen (one of two— there’s also a catering kitchen) features elegant platinum-finish chandeliers and subway-tile walls.

Before one heads downstairs to explore further, note must be taken of what was once the original telephone room; it’s now a display of Kerb’s extensive collection of silver.

RACK ‘EM Hardwood floors offered a clue that the basement of the home was used for more than storage, possibly even as a billiard room as it is today. The pool table is from the 1930s, and the wall art featuring Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe is by a protégé of Andy Warhol. Photo by Andrew Farino.

As evidenced by the way the hardwood continues on the lower level, it was space that was lived in and used—most likely as a billiards room just as it is today. The 1930s-era pool table is enhanced by artwork from Siros Ariya, one of Andy Warhol’s “kids” who worked at the Factory during Pop art’s heyday. “These are all sketched and then hand painted,” Kerbs says of the images of Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe. “They aren’t prints, which makes them quite unique.”

Next door is an eat-in wine cellar, featuring barrelstave racks and a working Victrola. The large table is actually an ornate door that Kerbs purchased in Portugal and topped with glass. On the floor you’ll see a pair of rams carved from stone—the set Kerbs originally fell in love with. It was years later when a friend told him about a couple that was downsizing and no longer had need of the granite guardians that now front the house. (“I think they look great out there, but we needed to rent a crane,” says Kerbs.)

Upstairs, of course, one finds bedrooms—formerly five, now four post-renovation. Here you’ll find what Kerbs calls the Versace room; in this space and on the landing of the grand staircase are pieces bought from the famed Italian designer’s estate sale as well as other pieces finished in Versace fabrics and with Versace accessories. Bathrooms throughout include original fixtures as well as many chosen to mimic the original look when they had to be replaced. Unusual for the day, every bedroom had a walk-in closet.

DINNER IS SERVED A large-scale portrait by local artist Brian Comber draws the eye to the far wall in the dining room. The Ralph Lauren wallpaper replaces hand-painted wall coverings that were damaged beyond repair. Photo by Andrew Farino.

The large master suite offers some more contemporary detailing as it’s Kerbs’s private space, “really kind of the antithesis of the rest of the home,” he says. Moldings are painted black in contrast to a pale grasscloth wallcovering. The bed is a custom piece with a patent leather headboard, and chrome offers “a little pizazz and flash” with pieces from RH Modern. The closet incorporates ideas gleaned from the Yves St. Laurent boutique in New York. “I’ve always wanted to have a closet that was like a store, where you could actually find things and see things,” Kerbs says. “I loved how the apparatuses were floating out of the ceiling, so I created the same thing. The idea is that these are slightly tiered, so you can just stand here and kind of look through and pick, pick, pick.”

The house additionally features a third floor, originally built to house the servants that kept the home running smoothly. Kerbs has turned that space into a comfortable and private guest retreat with bedrooms and a sitting area.

Even the yard is a showcase for both Kerbs’s collected artwork, including a dramatic partial mold for a nearly life-size bronze piece of a mother and child, as well as his careful restoration—for example, of the Chinese-style lanterns that were original to the house. “When you restore or renovate, but especially restore,” says Kerbs, “you do it from the standpoint that you keep the integrity of what the house originally was.”