Slow Hand: Salvaged Building Materials Transform a Small Condo in Boulder

Piece by salvaged piece, a Boulder carpenter turns a basic box into a sunny, inviting home.

| March/April 2011

  • In his office, Greg installed a cork floor and built a sleeping/meditation loft using reclaimed cedar, redwood and oak.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The space below the stairs—formerly an awkward, difficult-to-access closet—became a bike garage and clever roll-out storage drawer. The storage area doors are made from reclaimed oak.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Greg tucked a tiny closet and a sweet spot for breakfast or dinner beneath the stairwell.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The bedroom features a beetle-kill pine floor and reclaimed trim and baseboards. The dresser was a thrift-store find.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Greg’s south-facing living room is bathed in light all day long. He found his furniture in thrift stores and Dumpsters (Boulder college kids throw away some pretty good stuff).
    Illustration By Nate Skow
  • Greg can harvest kale well into October on the sheltered, sunny deck. In winter, he keeps fresh food growing just inside the deck’s sliding glass door.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Greg can harvest kale well into October on the sheltered, sunny deck. In winter, he keeps fresh food growing just inside the deck’s sliding glass door.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Sustainably harvested cabinets, LED under-counter lights and recycled glass tile give the galley kitchen an updated air. Greg opened up a wall to bring in light.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Greg’s south-facing living room is bathed in light all day long. He found his furniture in thrift stores and Dumpsters (Boulder college kids throw away some pretty good stuff).
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The space below the stairs—formerly an awkward, difficult-to-access closet—became a bike garage and clever roll-out storage drawer. The storage area doors are made from reclaimed oak.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Every nook and cranny is an opportunity for storage. Bookshelves take up otherwise- wasted space at the top of the stairs.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison

Greg Miller finds his 816-square-foot home excessive, though the two-bedroom condo near downtown Boulder, Colorado, barely registers in a town where the average house size is around 6,000 square feet. But Greg’s a roving carpenter who once called a 1948 Dodge school bus in the Ohio woods home and who journeyed for six years in a van. To him, 816 square feet feels like too much.

“This is the first normal place I’ve lived in,” Greg says, and sometimes he’s overwhelmed by all that square footage. “All we really need is a place that’s dry and warm—the basics. You can’t be in more than one room at a time. So why have more than one room?”

Greg bought his unassuming condo, just blocks from Boulder’s lively farmer’s market and Pearl Street Mall and within walking distance of hiking, transportation and entertainment, seven years ago. “It was a basic apartment. I like to take places like that and transform them,” he says. “You can do so much when the four walls are already up. All the hard work is already done.”

Taking It Slow 



Greg was able to practice slower, more intuitive carpentry (a method clients don’t always appreciate) for his own renovation. He took three years, working mainly during the winter when his business was slow, and often basing his plans on what salvaged materials he found. This work flow suits him. “I’m not a big planner,” he says. “I like just letting things evolve.”

Greg’s goals were to make better use of his space, beef up energy efficiency and bring in more natural light. The condo’s large south-facing deck and sliding glass doors, which let sunshine into the living room all day long, were a great start. Elsewhere, Greg cut holes in interior walls to let natural light penetrate dark rooms, and took advantage of every possible nook and cranny to create storage. He insulated around all windows, box sills, exterior plugs and the ceiling; replaced the windows with low-E glass; and installed insulated blinds throughout the home.    



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