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

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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