A stained glass ornament hangs from the window in Karin Lanham’s home office, shining enticingly in front of an astonishing view of the mid-portion of the Vail Valley. The ornament, titled, “Marburg” is etched underneath a picturesque view of a German city dating back to Medieval times. As Karin sits working, the trinket reminds her of her roots, and how far she has come. “I’ve had such an incredible life, and I don’t want to forget where it all started,” she says. Karin has fond memories of Marburg – despite being dragged almost daily into a bomb shelter as a small child. Perhaps it was the very ugliness of World War II that drew her irresistibly to the inherent beauty and artistic designs she found everywhere in the ancient city.
Today, Karin’s office is filled with light and bright beginnings as she contemplates the latest
purchase for her popular boutique in Beaver Creek, Karin’s; or sorts through baskets full of samples and fabrics for her design business, Karin’s Interiors.
Her home on Whiskey Hill, high above EagleVail, is also reminiscent of a bright new beginning, where she and second husband Gene Lanham settled some 30 years ago. Born in Germany during World War II, Karin came to the United States in 1961, living first on the East Coast and then migrating to Colorado with Gene. “My husband was a pilot,” Karin explains of the birds-eye view and Gene’s passion for it. (Gene also holds records in boat racing and raced Formula One). In those days, she recalls, “You could still fly into Avon on Rocky Mountain Airways.” The Lanham home, a duplex, climbs three stories up the steep hillside. Built in the more practical style of the early 1980s and typical of the blossoming ski resort area, the home’s views and wide, generous decks were draw enough for this intrepid couple. The front deck overlooks all of EagleVail and Avon, as well as Mountain Star, Wildridge and well beyond. The back deck is surrounded by gardens and an idyllic mountainside. “We live out there in the summer,” says Karin of the decks. “I truly love my home.”
The home on Whiskey Hill opens through two glass doors: to the right, husband and wife offices; the door on the right opens onto a surprisingly gracious and timelessly soigné home. The house may have been built more than three decades earlier, but the insightful architect created soaring ceilings and windows tall and wide enough to claim the prize of the view beyond. Karin has capitalized on those strong lines, making them come alive with the grace of the French countryside. Her taste, she explains, runs to “French comfortable” – a mix of both period pieces and modern touches. She pairs European with Asian, while adding a touch of the contemporary for balance. Some of the furnishings in the home are antique, while some are replicas. “I use old pieces I love to live with and change them as taste changes.” Travels abroad have proven inspiring. Still, she says, “grandiose is something I like to look at, but grand isn’t something I like to live in.” Beautiful things, yes, but, “I like a room to feel comfortable.”
The lovely living room typifies her philosophy, and is both a delight to the eye and a quiet repose. Two wide and comfy sofas drawn up in front of the impressive cement-cast fireplace, she and her husband designed, don’t face the astounding view, but each other, creating a cozy conversation area.
Beautifully tailored, the sofas have been reupholstered three or four times, because, advises Karin, when you find a comfortable piece of furniture, there is no reason to replace it. The neutral color scheme is inspired by trips to France. “The French love to decorate with beige and beige.” The neutral color scheme of beige-on-beige sofas, Berger chairs and drapery panels “makes the room look so much bigger,” while it adds tranquility and creates the perfect foil for the striking Chinese pieces mixed with the rich European woods. Karin’s beloved Oriental rugs draw it all together.
Two Chinese Fu dogs sit alert and waiting on a carved French sofa table. A German secretary desk is adorned with a Madonna lamp. Above an Italian inlaid chest, hangs a very special painting of Karin and her sons Tommy, who passed away 14 years ago, and Chris. A side table holds a charming little pillbox collection and a delicate oval cabinet is topped with an Indian lamp upheld by a baboon, while another Chinese figurine lays at its feet. A gorgeous six-paneled, Chinese screen sits decoratively at one end of the room, beautifying the utilitarian staircase leading to the second floor. Small paintings from another era combined with a large contemporary painting that hangs boldly on the stairwell add to the timeless feel. And, there are touches of blue-and-white Chinese pottery scattered throughout. “It never goes out of style,” explains Karin “It makes people feel comfortable.”
Old World Charm
Karin acknowledges her own tastes have much to do with her background. Growing up in the family 500-year-old home in Marburg in war-torn Germany left its mark. Eager to turn to the grace, elegance and timeless beauty of the home she shared with her mother, sister, brother, grandparents, aunt and cousin, Karin was drawn to design from a young age, for which her grandmother claimed she had a special knack and encouraged her. The family had no money, so she handcrafted vases in art classes, and was constantly rearranging
pictures and furniture in new and innovative ways.
Karin’s flare for the usual and artistic is on display in the striking black-and-white dining room that holds both Old World elegance and a little country charm. The inspiration for the color scheme came from a 200-plus-year-old, black-and-white Brunschwig & Fils print, a classic pattern that has never gone out of style. “I’ve know about this print for a long time,” explains Karin, who had a local seamstress cover the dining room walls with the fabric. Complementary black-and-gray plaid drapes and chair cushions mix to perfection with cushions of a similar toile print. The tabletop is an antique French piece, set at an unusual angle that offsets the inherent squareness of the room and lends additional aplomb. “It changes the dynamics of the entire room,” says Karin. An exquisite Bombay chest from Argentina, with inlaid oval peacocks, sits near the window. It and a delicate table, set with a silver tea service, came from South America where, explains Karin, Germans fled after the war and formed a colony of talented craftsmen. An impressive black buffet carries through the antique feeling, but is new and lends weight to the room. Next to it sits a charming black-and-white settee – a dumpster-diving prize her little Westies, Milli and Rowdy, love, and is accessed by a black-velvet footstool.
Country Farm Charm
In the kitchen, the Old World glamour takes a provincial turn, highlighted by decorative roosters and cows – including a ceramic cow’s head hung high under the skylight – and a wonderfully surreal farm painting. “The original cabinets were oak,” notes Karin. But no no when she installed a black island, they no longer worked. She repainted the wide-paneled cabinetry a surprising, but very effective white-and-black combo-white upper cabinets and black below, adding balance and a spaciousness to the room. Modern stainless steel appliances are paired with a porcelain sink, and Karin had the original brick brown tile floors removed and wood floors installed. One kitchen wall particularity draws the eye in this homey room. Covered in memorabilia and intertwined with small paintings, it is Karin’s own “Memory Wall.” It is something she incorporates in her interior design work. “I try to have people create a memory wall.”
At the top of the staircase is a charming room of blue-and-white French Country Chic. Her mother loved blue and white, and once Karin and her sister swore that when they grew up, they would never use blue and white in their own homes. But each of them ended up doing just that. “My sister has a blue-and-white kitchen,” and Karin and Gene’s second home in Tucson, AZ has a blue-and-white scheme throughout.
Past an open walkway overlooking the living room and kitchen, Karin has created an exquisite retreat of personal favorites. “Dona Nobis Pacem” is scripted high above the doorway on fabric-covered walls. The script is from the Catholic Mass and means, “Grant us peace.” The house is filled with family heirlooms and pieces collected from travel.
Karin has adorned walls with smaller favorite paintings. “They all mean something to me,” explains Karin. Two, particularly remind her of her beloved grandmother, “She is always in the back of my head.” As she states in a book by author and friend, Steward LaCasce, appropriately titled, Karin, “I feel like, whatever I am, whoever I am and wherever I have arrived in life, I’ve gotten there by standing on the shoulders of the strong women who came before me in my family.”