The House

Discover the House Inspired by Victorian Industrialists

Discover the House Inspired by Victorian Industrialists

In 1860, Denver was little more than a campsite on the latest edge of the Western frontier. Then Victorian industrialists transformed the mining outpost into a modern metropolis.

In the summer of 1860, Denver was rugged and lawless—what you might imagine when you think of the Wild West. While many intrepid explorers sought the adventure (and associated danger) of gold and silver mining on the Western frontier, David Moffat saw something far more valuable: a diamond in the rough.

Steam was changing the nation's way of life. It made travel faster, output greater, and precision finer. But these 19th-century innovations were slow to reach Denver. Thomas Durant, a friend of Moffat and vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad, went so far as to declare Denver "too dead to bury." With no connection to the national rail network, the city was nothing more than a campsite on the edge of the frontier.

Moffatt was already drawn by the lure of the Western landscape, from rust-red rock formations to the deep blue sky above mountain peaks to the wildflowers that grew freely and without human intervention. Yet, like many Victorian industrialists, he was driven primarily by vanity. His greatest motivation was to make a name for himself and leave a mark. And so, he joined other industry titans who gambled their entire fortunes on railroads, bridges, and architectural wonders that transformed a frontier outpost into a modern metropolis.

Despite what his friends back East thought of his risky ventures, Moffat sank every penny he had into the Denver Pacific Railway and Telegraph Company, using the entire weight of his vast wealth to quite literally put Denver on the map. Thanks to him, the first train arrived in Denver on June 24, 1870. And the rest is history.

First came the materials, including those needed to build the Beaux-Arts Union Station in 1881, the Italian Renaissance Revival Brown Palace Hotel in 1892, and the Neoclassical Capitol Building in 1894. Next came the luxurious Pullman sleeper train cars, filled with wealthy industrialists and their families who built impressive homes and softened the rugged Western landscape in the Lower Highlands neighborhood with Victorian opulence.

Centuries have passed, but what Moffat put in motion has never really stopped developing. We talked to Lei Xing, the interior designer of Life House Lower Highlands, about the house's inspiration, which is heavily rooted in Victorian design and the sensibilities of the era's innovative industrialists.

The Facade

Made of concrete and metal, the facade of Life House Lower Highlands reflects the era of industrialism that sparked development in Denver. “We liked the idea of an ultra-modern look outside, with a Victorian reveal inside,” Xing explained, referring to the sleek, handsome exterior with softer touches of 19th-century interior design within. While Denver in the 1800s was considered a rowdy frontier town, the Highlands was all about civilized pursuits: elegant homes, lush gardens, and wide boulevards lined with trees. Through the design, Xing juxtaposed these aspects for a dramatic contrasting effect.

The Wallpaper

In the 1860s, mass-production made wallpaper accessible to the masses. In England, British wallpaper designer William Morris created a series of floral patterns, modeled after the rose trellis in his home's garden. At the time, the designs were seen as radical, as they were considered far too whimsical for the era's sensibilities. Eventually, though, his creations became popular, making their way throughout England and across the Atlantic to New York, Chicago, and Denver.

Inspired by Morris’ floral patterns, Xing created custom wallpaper designs to evoke the Colorado landscape by layering mountains over Victorian-inspired elements. “If you look closely, you’ll find interesting Victorian figures and objects hidden in the wallpaper, in the woods of the landscape.”

The Custom Victorian Mural

For a custom mural, Xing drew “inspiration from the wildflower and the elegance of the Victorian spirit.” Taking the form from nature, he used only a single line to draw on the concrete wall outside Wildflower, the house’s cocktail bar, restaurant, and cafe, creating a bespoke design that speaks to the historical and cultural context of the house.

The Bunk Rooms

According to Xing, the bunk rooms at Life House Lower Highlands are just one way “we’re trying to strike that balance of giving travelers newness and familiarity all at once.” One of the biggest luxuries of the 19th-century is Pullman sleeper train cars, which helped spur industrialization and growth in Denver by giving wealthy industrialists and their families a way to reach the new frontier.

By pairing Victorian design with a modern industrial look, Xing says, “The smoothness of velvet drapery, the softness of the wood, and the bronze details evoke the exciting place in time when modern luxuries arrived to soften the rugged landscape.”

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