Boulder is one of the nation’s most beautiful destinations. Adored by residents and visitors alike, the city of more than 105,000 residents is lauded as an outdoor lover’s dream. It’s no wonder so many people who travel here decide to make Boulder their home. It’s hard to resist the appeal of the mountains, trails, and public park system boasting almost 50,000 acres of open space.
Beyond the natural outdoor attractions, there’s an incredible collection of outstanding restaurants and bars, shopping, and activities the whole family can enjoy. Boulder is truly a world-class city.
When those transplants (and fellow Coloradans) start searching for real estate, they’re met with another surprise: Boulder’s wildly diverse architecture. While the wide range of architectural styles may be unexpected due to the city’s size and rural location 45 minutes northwest of Denver, Boulder is home to a celebration of home styles that have shaped western expansion and the nation as a whole.
Boulder is a hotbed of new development, though tight restrictions are in place to ensure the city maintains its unmistakable character and charm. Let’s explore the design aesthetics that have made this area a unique destination with the five most popular architectural styles.
We start with the flexible and functional Contemporary style, one of the country’s most popular go-to designs for new homes. Prevalent throughout Boulder, Contemporary homes encompass trends and the needs of the day through natural elements while blending various architectural schools of thought. It’s not unusual to discover a Contemporary home that incorporates Craftsman and midcentury modern design elements, which we highlight below.
Standard Contemporary residences are engineered for today. They are sustainable homes, using repurposed or recycled materials and constructed with an energy-efficient footprint. Wood, stone, and glass are utilized to significant effect here and enable the space to cut a bold profile. The open, highly livable floor plans complete the aesthetic, with luxury-minded Contemporary houses often the ideal home for entertaining.
Much of current contemporary construction, particularly in Boulder, makes excellent use of technology to help improve the home’s efficiency and the property’s level of comfort. As a general rule, these homes are some of the most lifestyle-driven dwellings in the market. The more its comfort and convenience systems can improve your time in the house, the better.
The Craftsman architectural style originated in California, though it didn’t take long to make its way across the Rockies to Boulder. The Craftsman and its various iterations are traditional and straightforward, taking a cue from the early 20th century Arts and Crafts design movement. Its distinctive charm has led to modern interpretations by new builders. Characterized by its deeply natural aesthetics, the Craftsman form is prominently featured in Boulder.
The Craftsman blends seamlessly with its surroundings. A spacious, welcoming front porch enhances the home’s warm, rustic sensibilities. Variations include the Bungalow, arguably an even more livable version of the Craftsman. A large porch and oversized columns, representing sturdy tree trunks, usher guests into an open floor plan that is equal parts functional and comfortable.
This architectural style became desirable with the University of Colorado’s faculty and staff, thus resulting in an era of Craftsman and Bungalow development across the city. In particular, communities in and around downtown Boulder and the University of Colorado campus showcase this home style.
Incredibly popular even today, mid-century modern designs owe their evolution to two distinct design movements of world architecture. Combining elements of the classic Prairie School style made famous by pioneering American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the forward-looking aesthetics of the International and Bauhaus designs, the popularity of the mid-century modern endures is far more popular than its predecessors.
More than most other styles, mid-century modern homes exude a specific type of lifestyle. Defined by clean, sweeping horizontal lines, a low-pitched hipped roof, and overhanging eaves, the streamlining effect helps these homes blend boldly into the surrounding landscape. Floor plans are open, large floor-to-ceiling windows allow maximum light, and the transition from indoor-outdoor living is seamless. Futuristic for their time, there’s now a retro-cool vibe about this form, making it a popular and sought-after style in Boulder.
Driving through Boulder, it’s easy to see just how vital mid-century modern is for the city’s overall aesthetic. Several notable mid-century modern buildings and homes in Boulder, including the former First Christian Church designed by architects Thomas Nixon and Lincoln Jones. However, architect Charles Haertling is perhaps the most well-known contributor to Boulder’s love of the mid-century modern movement. Examples of his work are the Willard House and the Volsky House.
Of course, no matter what Colorado city you find yourself in, you’ll encounter the state’s most prominent house form, the mountain style design. This form of architecture doesn’t necessarily follow a single form. You’ll see influences of everything noted on our list in the mountain style, from Craftsman to midcentury modern to Ranch. More importantly, though, are the materials and how the home complements its surrounding environment.
The primary purpose of the mountain home is as a retreat. Stone and wood facades, rock or stone fireplaces, and an abundance of natural elements throughout the home’s interior give it a remote, secluded sensibility. Wide, wood-planked floors, oversized wood columns, and expansive wood balcony decks evoke the image of European ski chalets. Many of Boulder’s homes (and those built further west, deeper into the Rockies) copy this design. Additional amenities, such as interior saunas or outdoor fire pits and hot tubs, are the rule, not the exception.
Most of all, the mountain home defers to its surroundings. The house should not disturb its environment. The best examples of these naturalistic abodes are those built away from urban areas to take full advantage of the view, to capture commanding mountain peaks, or to follow the sun’s path from every room. It also doesn’t hurt if you can ski in and out, the apex amenity of luxury mountain living. Many of Boulder’s most sought-after architectural gems are those mountain estates that meld into the landscape instead of boldly standing apart from it.
Probably the most ubiquitous of America’s homegrown architecture, Ranch elements are found in houses dating back to the late 19th century. Appropriate for Boulder and the rustic landscapes of Colorado, the classic Ranch is romanticized as a western creation, including the uber-fashionable California Ranch, a favorite for communities across the United States.
Predominantly single story (though some will have spacious open lofts), Ranch homes have low-pitched roofs, long footprints, and comfortable, open living spaces. This style may take other forms, too, such as those with a U or L shape framing a large backyard at the rear of the home. Unsure if you’re in a Ranch? Simply look for the obligatory sliding glass door that opens into an inviting back lawn.
The Ranch’s popularity stems from its relatively simple design aesthetic and ease of building quickly and cheaply. Many early master-planned communities use the Ranch as their base home style. Modern Ranches, including those in Boulder, feature more complex and expansive footprints while still adhering to the design principles that make the home design so sought after.
It’s worth noting that some of Boulder’s most exciting architecture are those buildings that represent a moment in time. Whether it’s a one-off home built for an eccentric owner or a public structure whose design elements drew a connection with the area it was meant to serve, the city has its share of architectural eye candy.
A few of Boulder’s many notable pieces of architecture are the I.M. Pei-designed National Center for Atmospheric Research and the William Village Sterns Towers, aka “Will Vill” towers. Both exhibit distinct Brutalist designs, with the former inspired by the local environment and the latter a reflection of the practical needs of the University of Colorado campus.
In addition, Boulder has many curiosities, buildings that don’t follow a specific rule of design but intend to impress their audience with something they’ve never seen. The aforementioned architect Charles Haertling was a master of fun, fantastical forms, some of which still stand in Boulder. His noteworthy contributions include the Brenton House, otherwise known as the Mushroom House featured in the 1973 sci-fi spoof “Sleeper,” and the geometric white concrete of the Boulder Valley Eye Clinic.
Are you ready to explore the best of Boulder’s diverse residential architecture? Whether you’re trading homes locally or relocating from further afield, contact Patrick Westfall today to begin your homebuying journey.
From the beauty of Boulder luxury homes for sale to the splendor of downtown Boulder real estate, allow Patrick’s knowledge, expertise, and years of experience to be your guide to one of the country’s most spectacular luxury real estate markets.