Photos by David Patterson
When it comes to home design, “new” doesn’t always mean starting a project from scratch. Just ask Carolyn Jenkins. She’s been buying, renovating, and flipping houses in Houston, Texas for over 30 years. Once upon a time she was a schoolteacher with a need for a creative outlet; home renovation was her medium and quickly, her gallery of over 100 homes made her a name long before HGTV streamlined the concept. She acted as the primary general contractor and did all her own design work with a tried-and-true formula of how much she was going to sell a home for before she even took ownership of a property. Then she found “the one”.
The Jenkins family had been visiting Steamboat for over 25 years. They were always on the lookout for a place to buy and serve as their summer home. They could have built something from scratch and with Carolyn’s experience and knack for design, could have easily made a new home look old, but when Kevin and Jane Bennett put their home on Princeton Avenue on the market, “It was love at first sight,” Carolyn said. “It had everything I wanted and more.”
The original log cabin was once home to the familiar names of James Crawford, F.M. Light and Charlotte Perry, co-director of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, but it became Carolyn and Rick Jenkins’ in 2016. And unlike Carolyn’s business in buying and flipping homes in Texas, this purchase was different. All the formulas and plans to resell went out the window before she even crossed the threshold. This was the place Carolyn wanted to put all her wishes and dreams into no matter the cost. Just the sight of it made her happy and she knew there would be years of memories in the forecast.
The original structure of the cabin was captivating; it had all the charm of a beat-up, well lived in cottage, and the creek and garden in the backyard confirmed she could never look at another house. But Carolyn knew there was work to be done to breathe new life into the old bones of the home and make it her own. And she knew what she wanted. Through recommendations, as well as her trusted gut-feeling they were the right team, Gerber Berend Design Build was able to deliver.
Some of these existing details included re-purposed Mediterranean columns in the entry courtyard, simple carved log column and beam portal at the main entrance, and a steel-clad window seat bump-out at the guest suite.
“We knew from the onset that a successful project needed to seamlessly integrate the existing historic cabins with the new spaces by referencing the current rusticity while at the same time bringing it forward with a unique and fresh interpretation of a comfortable and primitive style.”
Maintaining the integrity of historical elements was important to the Jenkins’. They incorporated reclaimed materials whenever possible from timbers and timber skins to floors and barn wood siding. They also enhanced existing art like the stained glass windows that were already on the property. And when it was time to expand the home, Gerber Berend made sure the outer structure additions blended with the colors and textures of the original log cabin, providing a seamless marriage between something old and something new.
While there was an eclectic appeal to the outside of the house and property, inside was filled with a hodge-podge of antiques the Jenkins inherited from the previous owners. Carolyn wanted to keep and use what was already there for inspiration. Chests, distressed doors, bureaus, or iron pulleys became the centerpieces of a room. The empty spaces were filled with just the right amount of art, textiles, and furniture, enhancing the natural beauty of each room’s focal point.
The renovation wasn’t always easy though. While part of the remodeling was simple and straightforward for Carolyn and the Gerber Berend team – the master bedroom and bathroom, as well as the expansion of the garage and caretaker unit overhead, didn’t change much of the detail and structure of the original home – when it came time to discuss adding 1,298 square feet to the lower level, another 1,000 square feet to the main floor, and over 2,300 square feet of outdoor patio space to make this tiny cabin into a 4,458 square foot dream home, Carolyn and Gerber Berend slowed down the construction process considerably.
“The more time you take, the better product you get,” Carolyn said about the six months it took to draw up the plans. “Gerber Berend allowed me to work with them from the beginning. They heard what I wanted and just ‘got it.’”
Carolyn sat with lead design associate Tanya Lillehoff to go over every detail, tweaking and moving things around until it was just right. She knew expenses were going to be greater than her business homes, but some ticket prices were down right jarring. The roof was her biggest sticker-shock. In Texas the cost for materials, labor, and engineering didn’t have to factor the weight of the heavy snowfalls in the mountains. When she learned the whole roof had to be replaced and got the estimate for the cost, surprise was an understatement.
She faced other unexpected expenses such as re-chinking the logs on the existing home and the cost of labor and materials was nothing compared to her experiences in Texas. But when she blew her budget, she held steadfast: this was her forever house, and she wasn’t about to back down or cheapen her vision until it was exactly how she wanted it.
Since their home renovation was completed in 2017, Carolyn and Rick return every summer to spend as much time as they can in their fairytale-come-true. Carolyn poured so much sweat and love into every crevice of this one-of-a-kind home, and she made sure their children could share in the awe of her masterpiece. With friends and partners, their son and daughter visit often and enjoy the warmth and beauty she’s created. And they have made some memories of their own: the Jenkins’ son got married two years ago at Perry-Mansfield, and their daughter was recently engaged on the cabin’s balcony overlooking the exquisite gardens Kevin Bennett started and the Jenkins have preserved. May through October, the home on Princeton Avenue mesmerizes all who happen to sight a new bloom, a butterfly, or bee paying homage to their historical site.
And while some artists are known to be the most critical of their work, it’s certainly not the case for Carolyn. This time, her work wasn’t for sale and she plans to keep it for years to come. “Don’t get caught up in the cost,” she advises to anyone considering renovating a home they plan to live in for the next 5-20 years. “Think of it like buying a nice pair of shoes. Buy the ones you want – not the cheaper ones.”