Features & Essays Home & Garden

A New Vision in Old Town

A modern stunner offers a new take on neighborhood living.

When Rucker Hill, owner/builder of Rucker Design Build, builds a home, he throws himself so fully into every detail that leaving the place behind once the project is complete is often bittersweet. “Honestly, there’s not been a project I’ve done where I haven’t cried at the end,” he says with a laugh. But the trade-off for Hill and his wife and RDB partner, Rebecca, is some future homeowner’s happiness. “I feel really blessed to be doing a job where I’m impacting people’s lives in a positive way,” Hill says.

Since moving to Fort Collins from Dallas in 2014, the Hills have gained serious momentum with their business, upgrading and reimagining the old and spiritless into modern, homey retreats that incorporate the natural beauty of their surroundings. Rucker is the creative spirit and the labor; Rebecca manages the business, the budget and project timelines. The couple’s latest project—a 3,862-square-foot, four-bedroom, rustic-modern stunner on Mountain Avenue in Old Town Fort Collins—has been their biggest undertaking to date, a home a year in the making, which Hill designed and built from the ground up.

The inspiration, in this case, began with the land: a prime piece of real estate on a particularly covetable stretch of Mountain Avenue, across the street from City Park. The property had been on the market for a while, the price had dropped and it was too great an opportunity to pass up. So they bought it. Contemplating what came next was a bit tricky, though, Hill says, because new construction in Old Town is a rarity and, while they wanted to create something fresh and modern, they also didn’t want to the place to “stand out like a sore thumb” in the established community full of older homes. “We spent a lot of time driving around, taking pictures of people’s houses so we could figure out how we’d complement the fabric of the neighborhood,” he says.

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But before they could do much of anything in terms of building, the couple had to deal with the existing home on the property. They’d gotten the rare green light from the city’s historical review board to tear down the home, but they were reluctant to demolish it. “It was tiny and old, the original house,” Hill says, “but it deserved another life. And I try to upcycle and recycle where I can.” So they put an ad on Craigstlist: Free House. “We gave it away to the people who were most qualified for moving it,” he says. “We loved that it wasn’t going to end up in a dumpster.”

My son has this book that we love, called Beautiful Oops! It’s about how all these mistakes lead to amazing new opportunities. I called that mistake my ‘beautiful oops.’

Thus freed, Hill set about creating a new home that would fit both the property and the neighborhood, initially taking inspiration from a traditional farmhouse down the street, as well as the layout of the original home and outbuildings on the property, which had reminded him a bit of an old farm. He designed a sprawling home with a big barn-like base, a large garage and secondary structure, then submitted the plans to the city. “They just laughed at me,” he says. “I was grotesquely over the square footage allowed. I’d just missed that particular detail.”

But the miss turned out to be a lucky one. “My son has this book that we love, called Beautiful Oops!,” Hill says. “It’s about how all these mistakes lead to amazing new opportunities. I called that mistake my ‘beautiful oops’. We pushed for different solutions and we ended up having a better house in return.”

The blueprints underwent a bit of a makeover—more outdoor space here; a raised eave there—but the lofty, barn-like main building of the house remained and today is connected by a lower-level breezeway to a stacked-stone office, above which rests a cantilevered “floating” master suite. (On the other side, hidden from street view, is a one-car garage with two large storage decks built into it.) Meantime, the architectural and design details—from the stacked-stone walls and foundation (all quarried from Arkins Park and painstakingly hand chiseled); the enormous front shutters on barn door tracks; the locally sourced Douglas Fir used inside and outside the house—all lend the place a woodsy rusticity, even as the overall aesthetic is planted firmly in modern territory (with a few nods to mid-century design).

“We were truly intentional about every square inch of property.”

The first floor of the home features the main living space: a large dining room, a back mudroom with custom cubbies for storage, a bright, open kitchen and a cozy sunken living room—“such a romantic way to separate spaces,” Hill says. The dining room is the largest room on the floor, but it’s the living room that begs for lounging, with a fireplace featuring a built-in bench and a whole wall of windows, designed, Hill says, so that homeowners can curl up and watch the snow fall all the way from the sky to the ground. Low windows in both the living and dining rooms are situated so that once summer comes, the view will be of the native grasses, swaying in the wind.

“We were truly intentional about every square inch of property,” Hill says, “from those grasses to the placement of the trellises outside the kitchen windows, so when you look out while you’re cooking, you’ll see hummingbirds at the honeysuckle on the trellis.”

Given his focus on nature, it’s no surprise that windows play a huge role throughout the home. They’re everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, bathing the place in natural light and offering a constant connection to the sweeping vistas, or the treelines, or, yes, the grasses and gardens just outside the house. In fact, the piece de resistance of the house may well be the two-story stretch of floor-to-ceiling windows spanning the kitchen and dining rooms, in front of which floats an elegant, industrial-style staircase.

Head down the stairs and there’s a comfortable living area filled with natural light (more windows!), a bedroom and bathroom, a kitchenette and an unfinished room currently intended as storage. Head up the stairs to the second floor, and exposed scissor trusses hint again at the home’s quiet rustic-barn vibe. (“When you look in from the outside, and it’s lit up at night, it’s almost like you’re looking at an old hayloft,” Hill remarks.) Here, you’ll find the family bedrooms connected by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom, as well as the laundry room, which opens out to a big, open deck. Down the hall? The sun-soaked, tranquil master suite, featuring exposed beams and a vaulted ceiling, a spacious, modern master bathroom (with the same dramatic vaulted ceiling), and a balcony that looks over City Park.

In fact, connecting to the neighborhood and to the world outside was a priority throughout the design process, Hill says. “It’s a front porch community. People like to meet and greet in the streets here, so I wanted to have spaces where people would be encouraged to do that.” This played out everywhere in and around the house—in the sunken fire pit situated right out front, with a hand-cut wooden bench that easily seats a crowd of people; in the porches, decks, breezeway and balcony; on the back patio with the grill and picnic tables; in the French doors that open from the home’s office right out onto the front lawn. “You can be working and look up and see your kids playing in the yard, even open the doors, and you can be connected,” Hill says. “When we start this process, I design the things that I’ve always wanted.” That indoor/outdoor connection, the craftsmanship, the attention to detail. But then it gets bigger than that, he says. “I want the things that I create to impact people and their families and their relationships and their friends. If my designs don’t affect the quality of life—and interaction with the natural world—in a positive way, then I’m not doing my job.”

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  • Wow. Design Matters. Details Matter. And I certainly feel the elevation of the quality of life.

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