Community & Society
If you’ve ever passed through Belcaro and Bonnie Brae—two of Denver’s most picturesque neighborhoods – and wished you could peek inside some of the beautiful homes that grace the winding, tree-lined streets, now is your chance.
Five homes, each with architectural and/or historical significance, will be featured on the 42nd L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour, which takes place Nov. 16 and 17. Each residence will be open for self-guided tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and volunteer docents will be on site to answer questions.
Lauren Horsman and Abby Mercado are chairing this benefit for the Central City Opera and predict that one of the most popular stops will be a Mediterranean villa in Bonnie Brae. The inviting structure has an open floor plan with a vaulted foyer and French doors, hickory floors, hand-hewn beams, step-trowel stucco and copper gutters. An outdoor fire pit provides a welcoming gathering spot on cool summer nights and crisp fall days.
The decision to hold L’Esprit 2018 in Belcaro/Bonnie Brae was an easy one. “We’re there by popular request,” Horsman declares, explaining that ever since 2008, when L’Esprit was held in Belcaro and attracted a record number of guests, there have been numerous requests for an encore visit.
So when the opportunity to return presented itself a decade later, the committee saw no reason to consider other locales. Especially when a couple of important homes in Bonnie Brae also could be thrown into the mix.
Belcaro, which means “dear one” in Italian, was developed in the 1930s by a company owned by then-U.S. Sen. Lawrence C. Phipps. Phipps’ iconic Georgian mansion is located there. His widow, Margaret Rogers Phipps, deeded it to the University of Denver for use as a conference center. It is now a private residence.
Bonnie Brae’s first homes were built in the 1920s on land that had been granted to the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1870. Businessman George W. Olinger, who owned much of the property there, hired landscape architect Saco DeBoer to design the winding streets that are lined with spruce and elm trees.
The neighborhoods adjoin, so guests should find it easy to walk from one stop to the next, visiting the mix of historic homes, new builds and vintage residences updated for modern living. Designers from City Floral, The Tended Thicket, Flower Power, The Lark and others will have festooned each residence with elaborate holiday décor.
Denise Sanderson, a past chair of L’Esprit and adviser to the 2018 edition, notes that while the floral and table-top designers are encouraged to showcase current design trends, they are also asked to “respond to the home they are in.
“We try,” she says, “to steer each designer to the home whose architecture best fits their style. There’s a fine art to finding the houses and then matching them with the appropriate designer; it’s nothing short of magical how it all comes together.”
Sanderson also said that Horsman and Mercado are the ideal chairs for this popular fundraiser. “We’ve had great success with the way it was for 40-plus years, but the time is right to freshen things up a bit by having a younger generation take the reins.”
Horsman and Mercado, who are in their early 30s, met as Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters at Vanderbilt University, where they both earned degrees in human and organizational development. Following their respective graduations in 2009, Mercado moved to Denver after being recruited by an energy venture capital firm. She lives in the Hilltop neighborhood with her husband, Sean, the Western division director of managed care for MEDNAX.
“I made Lauren promise that if I moved to Denver, she would, too,” Mercado said. Which she did, after stops in New York, Washington, D.C., India and Bend, Ore. Horsman resides in the Washington Park neighborhood with her husband, Andrew, and their infant son. She is director of human resources and operations for a major insurance brokerage.
The longtime friends wasted no time building on their shared passion for charitable fundraising. They joined the Junior League of Denver and were soon recruited to revive the JLD’s Kitchen Tour. They chaired it for two years, and are credited with assembling a team that took the event to new heights.
Horsman and Mercado describe themselves as “philanthropically focused with a passion for the arts. And, like many of our friends, we’re part of the Pinterest generation.”
They were introduced to the Central City Opera by Nora Heitmann, a friend from the Junior League who had chaired the CCO’s 2018 Theatre of Dreams Gala. While they appreciate tradition, Horsman and Mercado, along with members of the Central City Opera Guild, feel it is also time to put a new spin on the patron party that for years involved cocktails and a buffet supper held at a home in the tour neighborhood, followed by a private viewing of the tour homes.
Their idea for 2018 is to have patrons gather at a location other than a home—possibly at a shop or gallery in the Cherry Creek North area—with a speaker who can share design trends and do-it-yourself decorating tips.
“We’d like the party to be interactive and educational—a little more than your traditional cocktail party,” Horsman says. “We’ll be targeting a new, younger group so we want it to be high-energy and fun.”
What: L’Esprit de Noël Holiday Home Tour
When: Nov. 16 and 17
Where: Five exquisitely decorated homes in Denver’s Belcaro and Bonnie Brae neighborhoods
Tickets: $25 at the door and at select King Soopers or $23 if purchased in advance on the Central City Opera website: centralcityopera.org/lesprit
Patron Party: Location and special features for this Nov. 15 event to be revealed with the purchase of tickets. Patron party guests also will receive free admission to the tour
Benefiting: The Central City Opera’s education and outreach programs
Please note: No strollers or photography allowed inside the homes. Homes are not handicap-accessible
More information: lesprithometour.com
The 30 years that Joanne Davidson spent as society editor of The Denver Post enabled her to attend events held in many of the city’s beautiful homes. While each neighborhood has its own special appeal, she especially enjoyed visits to the historic residences in Belcaro and Bonnie Brae.
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